Maurice is no pushover

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Here is a peek inside the man most consider will be the Maple Leafs next bench boss.

Behind that infectious smile, that gracious personality, that shrewd hockey mind, Paul Maurice can be a real (expletive) as a coach.

When he needs to be.

Whichever button needs to be pushed, he will.

If that means extending a welcome hand, he'll do it.

If that means giving you a boot in the rump, he'll do that too.

Whatever it takes.

Just ask Craig MacDonald.

Several years ago, with his Carolina Hurricanes mired in a swoon, Maurice gathered a group of seven players after practice and skated them hard for 12 minutes, leaving them sweating and wheezing.

The session ended with MacDonald, a recent callup from the American Hockey League, collapsing to the ice.

"It's a (expletive) joke is all it was," said then Hurricane Jeff O'Neill, who reacted to news of the additional work by flinging his helmet halfway down the ice. "If that's how he wants to carry on, that's the way he can do it."

O'Neill may not have agreed with Maurice's tactics, but the coach certainly had a legitimate reason to work his guys like a pack of choking dogs.

This was a Hurricanes team that had lost 13 of its past 14 games.

In retrospect, maybe Maurice was wrong. Given how crappy they had performed, maybe he should have skated this bunch of sad sacks for an hour.

As he was reminded about the MacDonald affair yesterday, Maurice admitted that incident has helped him in his duties as the coach of the Marlies.

"We had just brought Craig up," Maurice recalled. "I didn't think it was all that bad (a workout) but it was too much for him.

"It taught me two things. First, when I took the job here, I knew it was important that these guys be in top condition in case they get called up. You don't want them getting up to the NHL and not having the proper stamina to handle it.

"Second, there has to be a correlation between the system of the NHL team and its farm club. If the parent club has a certain system, then guys should be learning it at this level so it makes the transition easier if they get the call."

There has been plenty of opportunity for Maurice to test his theory this season.

As his Marlies faced off against the Grand Rapids Griffins in Game 2 of their AHL North Division semi-final last night here at the Van Andel Arena, no fewer than nine players in Toronto's starting lineup had played at least one game for the Leafs this season.

None looked out of place in Toronto, with perhaps, the exception of youngster Alexander Suglobov, who needs to offset his natural talents with some more disciplined play.

Having said that, Suglobov has been one of the more effective players in the first two games for the Marlies, who evened the series at 1-1 with an impressive 6-3 victory last night.

Under the tutelage of Maurice, Suglobov, acquired at the trade deadline from the New Jersey Devils for Ken Klee, already has three goals in this series, which resumes tomorrow at the Ricoh Coliseum.

It's obvious Maurice's influence already is showing on the kid.

Throughout the season, whenever one of his guys, like Suglobov, was beckoned by the Leafs, Maurice tried to keep taps on the player.

Honest.

But it wasn't always easy.

"It's hard to do down here, where you often play three games in three nights," Maurice said. "And they don't have the Centre Ice package in Binghamton."

No worries.

Should he land the Leafs coaching job as many expect, no one will have a better gauge on the up-and-coming Marlies looking to crack the lineup of the big club at training camp than Maurice.

As defenceman Jay Harrison aptly put it: "Whatever happens, we know our auditions have already started."


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