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Paul Maurice’s journey to becoming the new Florida Panthers coach included a fortuitous hit of the remote control, and was aided by a college admissions service.
He was watching games one evening in January, about a month after he quit coaching the Winnipeg Jets. He came across the Panthers and quickly told his wife he was intrigued by their club.
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Fast forward a few weeks, and Maurice’s son has been admitted to the University of Miami. It was another sign.
“I’m thinking, ‘Hey, that could be good,'” Maurice said.
The Panthers hope he’s right. Maurice was introduced as Florida’s new coach on Thursday, with the team pointing out he found in a month-long search that his experience – he has the fourth-most games and seventh-most wins of all the coaches in NHL history – makes him the right fit.
“When we spoke to Paul Maurice, it was overwhelming that he was the right man for us,” Panthers general manager Bill Zito said. “He was the perfect person to lead us through the challenges ahead of us as we move towards our ultimate goal.”
Zito called Maurice last week to start the interview process, which led to his hiring. Zito was a longtime agent in the NHL but had never met Maurice, although he had several players who had played for him over the years.
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Everything Zito said to Maurice worked, and worked fast.
“The interview process was wonderful,” Maurice said. “I don’t know how long you spend with Bill, but he can get you talking about hockey in about 15 minutes, can’t he?” motivates me, and that’s what I like. Really smart, passionate people who want to put together not just a great game, but a great program for the community.
The Panthers will become the fourth franchise that Maurice coaches. He started in Hartford in 1995, two seasons before that franchise moved to Carolina. He coached Toronto for two seasons before returning to Carolina, then spent nearly nine years coaching in Winnipeg before leaving there in December.
Maurice just felt he needed a break. And then he watched the Panthers play from his couch about a month later. He didn’t need to take a break anymore, and that feeling was cemented when he started his talks with Zito.
“They’re working on things,” Maurice said. “They have a plan if that happens, a plan if that happens. And they’re ready to work and you know right away, ‘I want to be a part of it.’ So that switch was flipped very quickly and it wasn’t like, ‘I’m not coaching anymore.’ It was, ‘I’m only going to a place where I think I can make a difference.'”
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Maurice has been an NHL head coach for almost 30 years and has yet to win a Stanley Cup.
Same for the Panthers. They made the final in 1996, were moribund for most of the next quarter-century, then shook things up in recent years, won the Presidents’ Trophy this season and have most of their star core – Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad, Sergei Bobrovsky and more – under contract for at least next season.
They have questions about the roster, salary cap complexities to navigate this summer and it’s still unclear if Andrew Brunette – who was promoted from assistant to interim coach when Joel Quenneville had to step down last fall – will be back with Florida. The Panthers want him to stay, and so does Maurice.
But the end goal is clear: the only thing that will make next year an absolute success is hockey’s ultimate prize, and Maurice says he can’t wait to get started.
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“That’s definitely the aspiration and where we want to get to,” Maurice said. “But we can’t run a Cup in October, or in training camp. So what we have to do from day one, and every day, is prepare for that job. And that has to be our focus. We’re not coming on the first day and saying, ‘We’re going to win the Stanley Cup’ because we can’t win it that day.”