In a world filled with new bad news on the daily, Monday’s media availability with Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice offered an inside look at a blessing in disguise – otherwise known as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Peering through the lens of a well-travelled NHL bench boss, one would see 1,614 games of NHL coaching experience, which places Maurice fourth all-time. Coming into focus would also be Maurice’s 740 wins – which has him tied with New Jersey’s Lindy Ruff for sixth place. Naysayers may also turn attention to his 652 losses – an NHL high.
However, what many did not see coming was Maurice’s answer to a question asked as follow up to Jets defenceman Nathan Beaulieu talking about how much he and the rest of the team miss seeing fans in attendance at games.
“I think this is actually great for the NHL and the players to go through,” Coach Maurice said. “Because they truly have an appreciation for how much the fans bring to the building and I certainly – from a coach’s point of view – the national anthems aren’t as good. They’re trying and they’re singing them, but it’s just not the same. We will be really, really happy when we get people back in the building, for sure.”
Not meaning to brush aside COVID-19 as something enjoyable or exciting for his players to deal with, Maurice did make sure to stress the importance of following the protocol and supports that the NHL, True North Sports + Entertainment and venue staff have put in place for the successful return to play in 2020-21.
“We are all so thankful that we are playing,” he reflected. “You can include all of the appropriate qualifiers of how fortunate we are that we can play. But this is nowhere near as much fun. So playing is way more fun than not playing, but it’s way off playing without fans. It’s not nearly as much fun. It’s not nearly as exciting. It is kind of like if there were never any fans in the building, I’m not quite sure how excited you would be to do this job. It’s kind of mechanical a little bit.”
Never one to admit the enjoyment of suffering, Maurice did hint at his role as an antagonist as the head coach of a visiting team. Knowing the feeling of loss better than any NHL coach in history, the Jets’ eighth-year coach did shed some light on his experience of building off the agony of the opposing team’s fans.
“There is not that energy, that juice, that excitement (right now), and that’s true on the road too,” he said. “Sometimes winning the game on the road is even more fun because you depress 20,000 people. That sounds terrible, but it’s true. You come in and you’re out-playing them, the fans are booing their own team. There is an energy that comes out of that. I can’t agree more with Nathan (Beaulieu) on this. I just don’t want it to sound like a complaint.
Beaulieu, 28, is in his ninth professional season, having spent the majority of his time within the NHL’s Eastern Conference (Montreal, Buffalo). However, now in his third season with the Jets, the defenceman has really gained a grasp on the importance of the role played by that of the in-game spectator.
“I think having no fans is definitely wearing on guys more than it goes about, especially with games that are emotional and tight,” Beaulieu said Monday. “If you need that extra boost, if you’re playing a back-to-back, I think we miss the fans more than we (let on). They’re such a big part of our game. That’s the biggest thing I’ve noticed, for sure, for me. But playing the same teams over and over, your video cuts down and you kind of know what to expect when you’re showing up at the rink, so there’s not a lot of surprises. But personally, the fans… you don’t really realize how much you miss them until they’re not there.”
Calling COVID-19 a blessing may be the wrong term, but using the virus and its implications to give both players and coaches a better understanding may be a bit of a silver lining on what has been a very grim past 350 some-odd days.