Maurice took an unusual path to become the new Panthers coach

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Paul Maurice’s journey to become the new coach of the Florida Panthers included a fortuitous flick of the remote control, as well as help from the university’s admissions department.

He was watching games one night in January, about a month after stepping down as coach of the Winnipeg Jets. He ran into the Panthers and quickly told his wife that he was intrigued by his club.

Fast-forward a few weeks, and Maurice’s son was admitted to the University of Miami. It was another sign.

“I’m thinking, ‘Hey, this could be good,'” Maurice said.

The Panthers hope he’s right. Maurice was introduced Thursday as Florida’s new coach, and the team emphasized that it found in a month-long search that his experience (he has the fourth-most games and seventh-most wins of any coach in league history) NHL) is done by the right person.

“When we talked to Paul Maurice, it was overwhelming that this was the guy,” Panthers general manager Bill Zito said. “He was the right one to lead us into the challenges that lie ahead in the future, as we move towards our ultimate goal.”

Zito called Maurice last week to start the interview process, which led to his hiring. Zito was an agent for a long time in the NHL, but he never really met Maurice, although he had several players who had played for him over the years.

Everything Zito said to Maurice worked, and it worked quickly.

“The interview process was wonderful,” said Maurice. “I don’t know how much time you spend with Bill, but he can talk hockey to you in about 15 minutes, right? So, I’m foaming an hour after the meeting and ready to go. And that’s what drives me, and that’s what I love. Really smart, passionate people who want to put together not just a great game, but a great show for the community.”

The Panthers will become the fourth franchise Maurice has coached. He started in Hartford in 1995, two seasons before the franchise moved to Carolina. He coached Toronto for two seasons before returning to Carolina, then spent nearly nine years as a coach in Winnipeg before stepping down in December.

Maurice just felt like he needed a break. And then he watched the Panthers play from his couch about a month later. He no longer needed a break, and that feeling was cemented when he began his conversations with Zito.

“They’re working on things,” Maurice said. “They have a plan if this happens, a plan if this happens. And they’re ready to go and you know right away, ‘I want to be a part of this.’ So that switch was flipped very quickly and it wasn’t about, ‘I’m not training anymore.’ It was, `I’m just going to go to a place where I think I can make a difference.

Maurice has been an NHL head coach for the better part of 30 years and has yet to win a Stanley Cup.

The same goes for the Panthers. They reached the final in 1996, were moribund for most of the next quarter century, then kicked things into high gear 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 the next season.

They have some roster questions, some salary-cap intricacies to navigate this summer and it’s unclear if Andrew Brunette, who was promoted from assistant to interim coach when Joel Quenneville had to resign last fall, will return to Florida. The Panthers want him to stay, as does Maurice.

But the ultimate goal is clear: the only thing that will make next year an outright success is hockey’s ultimate prize, and Maurice says he’s eager to get started.

“Certainly, that is the aspiration and where we want to go,” Maurice said. “But we can’t do a Cup race in October, or in training camp. So, what we have to do from Day One, and on a daily basis, is to prepare ourselves for that work. And that has to be our focus. We’re not going to come in on the first day and say, ‘We’re going to win the Stanley Cup,’ because we can’t win it that day.”

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