Sunday, May 14, 2006

Paul Maurice is the new bench boss in Toronto

TORONTO (CP) - Paul Maurice was three months old when the Toronto Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup.
He fully understands the challenge he's accepted as the 26th head coach in franchise history. Perhaps only after the Chicago Cubs, there isn't a fan base more hungry for a championship than in Toronto.
"In this market it's pretty simple, you win or lose and there's no grey area in there," the 39-year-old Maurice said Friday after being officially introduced at Air Canada Centre.
"You're judged every game here, shift by shift as a matter of fact."
The former Carolina Hurricanes head coach got a glimpse of what his future entailed last week while at home in Windsor, Ont.
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"I'm walking in a mall and I have a guy from a wireless store yelling at me about the leadership of the club and who I should give an `A' to," said Maurice. "And at that point I'm not even coach of the Leafs yet. So I have a sense this is a little bit different."
His hiring was hardly a surprise. He was next in line to replace Pat Quinn the moment GM John Ferguson hired him to coach the AHL's Toronto Marlies last year. While Ferguson did interview two other candidates - Marc Crawford and Andy Murray - Maurice was always destined to be his man.
"I did know from the day Paul was brought in here to coach the Marlies his capabilities as an NHL head coach," said Ferguson, who fired Quinn on April 20.
"He is the ideal candidate and far and away the best fit."
And he was in demand. Other NHL clubs called the Leafs wondering about Maurice but Ferguson wouldn't let them near him.
"I heard from a number of my peers throughout the league to that effect - and it wasn't solely limited to the last couple of weeks," said Ferguson.
The Vancouver Canucks, a source confirmed Friday, did not call about Maurice. Their coaching search continues.
Maurice said his contract with Toronto had a clause that gave the Leafs first crack at him in terms of an NHL job. And that was fine with him.
"In your heart, you have a place you want to be. I wanted to be here," said Maurice.
As first impressions go, Maurice passed with flying colours before a packed news conference. His sense of humour was on full display, something he'll need to count on during the tough times that may lay ahead.
This isn't Carolina, where only two or three reporters cover the team on a daily basis. Maurice will get 15-30 media every single day and get asked the same questions over and over again. His predecessor, Quinn, showed terrific patience with this aspect and Maurice will need to do the same.
Spending a year in this market as the AHL coach was a nice way for him to get acclimatized, even if his team didn't get that much attention.
On the ice, Maurice has a vision of a Leafs team that can skate and play in the new NHL much like Buffalo, Anaheim and San Jose.
"I think the game you're seeing now at the NHL level is far more up tempo. up pace. You see a lot more two-man forecheck, a more aggressive game," said the new coach.
"I believe that's the style of game that will best suit the Toronto Maple Leafs, it's something that we started playing with Marlies this past season."
Maurice guided the AHL team to a 41-29-4-6 record. But perhaps the greatest compliment to his coaching skills was how his young players performed when called up by the Leafs, players such as Jay Harrison, Ian White and Ben Ondrus. They did the little things well, a sign of well-coached and well-prepared players.
"He's a better coach today than he was a year ago," Ferguson said of Maurice. "This hiring is a critical and key step in positioning us back to where we need to be next season and beyond."
It's not clear at this point who Maurice will have as his assistants. Keith Acton was kept on board after the Quinn and Rick Ley firings, but it remains to be seen what his future holds.
"We're going to sit down with Keith and make a determination," said Ferguson. "We're going to discuss staffing at both levels."
Acton would be a good fit as the AHL head coach.

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