There will be a new face behind the bench in Winnipeg on Friday night. Well, not brand new entirely, but former Jets’ assistant coach has taken on the role of interim head coach of the club following Paul Maurice’s Friday morning resignation announcement.
Opting to walk away on this own terms, Maurice left the 13-10-5 Winnipeg Jets following eight seasons, to which he was initially brought on in an interim capacity following the firing of Claude Noel on January 12, 2014.
The 54-year-old Maurice has spent eight seasons with the Jets, going 315-223-62, while making five postseason appearances, including a trip to the Western Conference Final against the Vegas Golden Knights in 2018.
“I love this place, I love this team, and that’s the driver,” Maurice said of his decision to walk away. “This is a good team, I’m a good coach. And sometimes when you take over a team and it’s kind of like you’re starting at the bottom of a mountain and you’re pushing a rock up to the top, you can only get it to a certain place. That’s where I feel I’m at.”
Serving as the main man in Winnipeg for nearly a decade, Maurice came to the conclusion that his players needed a new leader behind them on the bench. It wasn’t an easy decision or one that came without some heavy-duty thinking, but time and space certainly came together in the form of a well-crafted explanation on his resignation announcement.
“I would say, I am better positioned than anyone to know that they need a new voice,” Maurice said of his players. “They haven’t quit on me. They’re a good bunch of men. My relationship is strong with all of them, and I’m cheering for them, I am. But when you have a 26-year professional hockey coaching career, you know, they need a new voice. They need somebody to get to that next place. It doesn’t need to be more experienced, necessarily, a more talented guy, it needs to be a different voice, because it’s the right time for it and I know that.”
All class from Paul Maurice. His full quote on his appreciate to the local media, with a couple fun wrinkles thrown in for good measure.
We will miss you, Paul. pic.twitter.com/JDZx5CWIRe
— Carter Brooks (@CBrooksie84) December 17, 2021
Whether it was recent inconsistency on a game-to-game basis, the team’s inability to beat the cellar-dwellers, or the overall poor performance on the penalty kill this season, the veteran bench boss determined that his time had come, and was able to leave the team in a graceful manner.
“If you lose some of that passion for the game, that love for the game, you can still be good, but you can’t be as good as you should be or could be, and that’s how I feel I am,” Maurice said of his mental coaching drive. “So this is where I’m, at today. I think the day I got hired here was a really, really good day for the Winnipeg Jets, and it was a really, really good day for me, and I feel exactly the same way today. This is a good day, this is a good team. They’ve got a great fanbase. They love their players and their team, and I’m cheering for these guys, like, I love these guys. I know that it’s time and that’s a good thing for the Jets, and it’s also a really, really good thing for me.”
His general manager through it all has been Kevin Cheveldayoff. The two convened the past two days and had multiple in-person conversations about Maurice’s place in the organization. The mutual agreement was one that Chevy says was difficult to carry through, but came at the right time organizationally.
“We had a lot of conversations about where he was at in his career, where he was at in his life, where he was at in the game,” Cheveldayoff said of Maurice. “We talked about what the team needed from a player standpoint. We felt we got what we needed. Paul is obviously very honest in his assessment, he just started to lose that fire. In our conversations, some very candid ones between him and I, we’ve learned how to be candid with each other. We didn’t have to be all sunset and roses all the time when we talked. It was clear to him the decision he made.”
Now thrown into the ring with a new coach are 25-some-odd players, who have mainly only had one head coach for the duration of their NHL careers. Following the ‘draft and develop’ model, most the current Jets have been raised through the system. Adjusting to a new shot-caller may be a difficult task, but one that Chevy believes his crew is up for.
“I met with the team after Paul did and talked with them; this is a good group,” he said. “They like each other, they care for each other in that room and I think they’re a good hockey team. I said ‘I don’t like waking up in the morning and looking at NHL.com and seeing where we’re at’ and I said I don’t think you guys do either. But there’s truly only the group assembled right there in front of me when I’m speaking and as I said to them ‘you guys are the only ones that can do this.’ The coach and that, that’s fine but you guys play the game. You guys have to hold yourselves accountable, you have to make sure that we’re not sitting here at the end of the year in exit meetings saying ‘oh man, this could have been, this could have been or should have been’.”
“I don’t have to coach a game tonight, and I don’t have to look for a job tomorrow.”
Maurice then goes on to joke that he won’t be pushing for a job in media.
“Your job is safe, Wieber” @WiebesWorld
— Carter Brooks (@CBrooksie84) December 17, 2021
Maurice’s former players certainly did not see this announcement coming. Their reaction was a mix of shock, gratitude and negative self-assessment.
“Anytime you see something like this happen, whether it’s resigning or getting fired, you definitely don’t expect it,” alternate captain Mark Scheifele said. “You find out two hours ago that this is happening. It’s a big shock. Anytime this happens, you can’t think it’s a good day.”
Fellow captain Josh Morrissey also expressed shock at the news, but fell on his own sword, claiming his own responsibility for the move.
“I think anytime obviously a coaching change happens, whether that’s a resigning situation like today or someone’s fired, you can’t help but feel a lot of that onus on yourself as a player and amongst the players,” Morrissey reflected. “We feel like we’ve been consistently underperforming this year. Obviously we’re still right there, which is great. But for sure, as a player we all have jobs within the organization, within the roster and the team. As a player it’s your job to fulfill your responsibilities the best that you can. When the team’s underperforming, that doesn’t just fall on the coach. The coach can’t go out on the ice.”
“I’d like to thank Paul for what he’s done,” the Jets’ defenceman continued. “He gave me an opportunity to play in the NHL, he’s been my coach throughout my entire career so far. Really valued him as a mentor and as a coach, and his respect for my family through some difficult times and what he was able to do for me. Sad to know that he’s leaving, but very thankful for what he’s done for me on and off the ice.”
Andrew Copp, a player often utilized within both the team’s top-six and bottom-six was visibly rattled in his availability when asked if the news was good or bad for the team.
“I’m still trying to find my bearings, I think,” he said. “It was definitely a surprise this morning. I guess it’ll remain to be seen whether this is going to be a good day. It’s up to the players to decide what it is at the end of the day. If we play like we’re capable of and go on a little run, maybe it will be.”
Longtime linemate of Copp’s, Adam Lowry attempted to dissect the news he walked into on Friday, but also couldn’t find his full voice.
“This stuff is kind of new for both of us,” he said of his and Copp’s reaction to the resignation. “We’ve been pretty fortunate. We’ve had a lot of stability in the organization growing up. He’s been the only coach I’ve had the pleasure of playing under. I don’t think the message was getting old. I think we were just under performing. There are probably some other factors that go into his decision. I don’t think what he was saying was falling on deaf ears or anything like that.”
Now in a very rare position, Lowry will suit up in the NHL under the head coaching direction of new interim bench boss Dave Lowry, who just so happens to be on his first NHL tour while coaching his son.
“I don’t know if the style of game is necessarily going to change,” Lowry said of his team’s potential look under his dad. “That’s what I would expect. He wants us to play fast, he wants us to play with pace. He’s going to come to the rink tonight and try to give us the best chance to win, and make sure we’re as prepared as possible, so we can go out and execute the game plan – whether it’s the same or it changes. We’ll find out about that.”
Digging deeper, Lowry also flexed his ‘history muscle’ in recounting some of the different teams that his father had spent coaching. Making notes of each team’s makeup, style of play and years of service, the depth centreman certainly made a case for his old man.
“Looking at teams in the past that my dad has coached, he wants them to play fast and he wants them to play with the puck,” Lowry added. “He really just tries to hold them accountable to their actions. He’s had different styles of teams. You look at the teams he coached in Victoria, they were bigger, meaner, and more physical. In Brandon they had a little more skill, they were able to play a different style of game. Go back 10 or 12 years ago when he was with the Hitmen, they had such a skilled team – high offensive, high tempo, up-tempo style.”
With Washington having already setup shop in Winnipeg, Friday’s whirlwind news day will soon become even more claustrophobic for those with high blood pressure. The Capitals currently sit tied for first in the Metropolitan Division and are just one point out of first-place league-wide. Taking on a rattled Jets team operating with a new coach, things could get rather dicey come puck drop. Or, as Bruce Boudreau and the Vancouver Canucks have recently exhibited, it could be the start of a long-lasting run.
Only time will tell.
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