Maurice free of 'wringer'

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. -- In his two seasons behind the Maple Leafs bench, there were no free passes for Paul Maurice.

No pre-season proclamations from management to douse hope for fans and ease the pressure of the coach in a hockey-mad market.

No deep purging of veterans to start fresh, even if it meant an inevitable pileup of losses surely would come with it.

"I wish Ron the very best of luck with that," Maurice said yesterday, referring to his replacement, Ron Wilson who, for the time being, has a clean slate in terms of expectations. "He can build as long as you want there.

"(But) I don't care where you are coaching, (losing) doesn't feel good. If you are not winning, it's a tough job."

It's certainly a different job and a different world where he has landed now, back in the Carolinas where demands aren't quite so intense. Hired on Dec. 3 to replace Peter Laviolette, Maurice is getting his second crack at the 'Canes, a team he led to the Stanley Cup final in 2002.

By local standards, it was frigid here yesterday, the thermometer just above freezing. Temperature is all relative, however, as Maurice learned when the heat was blasted high in Toronto.

"Toronto and the team is a city of extremes," said Maurice, after the 'Canes practice at the RBC Center to prepare for tonight's visit from his old team. "When it's a little bad, it's the end of the world and when it's a little bit good, it's an incredible place.

"There was a lot about that experience I really enjoyed. It is an honour to coach that team.

"And then there were some things, especially in my second year, that weren't nearly as much fun. I think watching some pretty good people go through the wringer (was the worst), players and staff."

So, Maurice began the 2008-09 season on the sidelines, living with his family in the GTA, driving his kids to school and no doubt sickened at some of the noise coming out of the Air Canada Centre. Then an old friend came calling.

Carolina president and general manager Jim Rutherford, who had fired Maurice five years earlier, felt his team needed a change and that the Sault Ste. Marie native's rigid system was the one to make it work. Rutherford also knew that his old pal had suffered, if not always visibly, from his run through that "wringer" in Toronto.

"Any time there is change in your life, good or bad, it becomes emotional," Rutherford said yesterday.

"There is nothing like working in Montreal or Toronto to strengthen yourself."

Maurice is trying to take just that approach, as well. It surely doesn't hurt that the team he coached to a 76-66-22 record in two playoff missing seasons now is in a free fall, losing eight of its past 10. The 'Canes, meanwhile, have dropped their past three, but are 9-7-3 under Maurice's watch.

"This team has a budget and it's a battle for them to win the Stanley Cup every year," he said. "That may sound strange, but there are only three teams that have been in the final twice in the last seven or eight years and two of those don't work on the same budget restraints.

"(Ownership and management) have a pretty impressive mindset here."

REASONABLE IDEA

You won't hear Maurice say the same about the organization that turfed him. He had a reasonable idea of what he was getting himself into when he accepted the job to replace Pat Quinn. But when the reality hit him in the face, particularly midway through last season when he knew he was toast, it was still a jolt.

"I don't know that I loved it in the second year, but I wouldn't change it now for anything," Maurice said of his experience as the Leafs' 26th head coach.

"I enjoy this a lot more."


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