Maurice doing it his way

GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

It was a case of kiss and tell.

Indeed, the wife of Maple Leafs' new head coach Paul Maurice, Michelle, planted a friendly kiss on Don Cherry after he said a few kind words about her favourite hockey player, a kiss that was witnessed by a couple of million fans waching Hockey Night in Canada.

Moreover, Maurice enjoyed talking about it.

"My late father-in-law, Paul Langlois, who was a big hockey fan, called us one day and told us that he saw my wife give Don Cherry a kiss," the 39-year-old coach said. "Grapes showed the picture of the appreciation kiss on Hockey Night in Canada and we had lots of calls on it. It was good fun."

That was, sort of, an opening for my probing into the private life of a coach who is supposed to lead the Leafs out of the wilderness after a trying 40 years without the Stanley Cup. Maurice has nothing but respect for Punch Imlach, who guided that Leafs championship team back in 1967, but also spoke highly of the man he succeeded at the Air Canada Center.

"Pat Quinn is a great coach," he said. "He did things his way to the point that, when he entered the dressing room, it suddenly went silent. That is how it should be. I do things my way, but that doesn't mean that Pat's system was wrong."

How does it feel to be the kingpin in hockey's Taj Mahal, I asked Maurice, who entered the NHL coaching ranks in Hartford at the tender age of 28?

"Coaching the Hartford Whalers was exciting," Maurice said. "The fans were passionate, even though at times we had only about 6,000 in the arena. They were just as enthusiastic in the home of the Carolina Hurricanes. But in both cities, we sometimes wished the media had been putting more pressure on us.

"Toronto is a different kettle of fish. First of all, it is home. In fact, Ontario is home to our whole family. My wife, Michelle, was a high-school history teacher in Windsor. My folks call Sault Ste. Marie home. My older brother, Mike, lives in Kitchener-Waterloo and my brother Shane is in the Soo."

Maurice, once a promising defenceman, saw his playing career cut short 22 years ago by a freak eye injury. He was playing for the Windsor Spitfires in a practice game against their affiliate team, the Windsor Bulldogs. A puck fired towards the net deflected into his right eye, causing a permanent injury.

"It was my fault because I got my stick up too late and the puck went off my opponent's stick," he said. "It doesn't affect my driving and I can play golf. Mind you, my depth-perception is not the best and I need to know the yardage to the next hole. Most importantly, though, it doesn't affect my coaching."

Every coach should have a thrilling moment or two in his career and Paul Maurice is no exception. When I asked him about it, he said:

"I didn't have one thrilling moment, I had three. The first takes me back when I coached in the NHL all-star game in San Jose and there was a game of legends. My dad stood in the corridor and saw his heroes, Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau and others, go by. The expression on his face made it so special.

"Then there was a practice one day, when Bobby Orr and Ed Van Impe showed the players a few tricks. My third highlight was standing on the bench in my first Stanley Cup game in Detroit."

Now, of course, there has to be a fourth: Stepping behind the bench for his first Maple Leafs game.

So what does he expect from his Leafs?

"In order to be a good hockey player, he must fulfill two components -- conditioning and smartness," Maurice said. "To be a speedy hockey player, you must be smart. Speed is an individual thing, quickness is a team effort. There is no slow way to win in today's hockey."

Somehow, I think, the Leafs might buy into his theory.

GROSSLY ABBREVIATED

A jammed Laidlaw Hall at Upper Canada College honoured the late former president of the Maple Leafs, George Edward Mara, on Friday. Toronto's who's who attended the celebration of the life of the captain of Canada's gold-medal winning 1948 Olympic hockey team who, in one game in Switzerland, scored five goals and assisted on five others scored by linemate Wally Halder ... Toronto's Derek Wall, a former multiple Canadian table tennis champion, passed away last week ... Variety Village, the children's charity, will hold a magical gala evening with top entertainers on Sept. 27 at the Liberty Grand. For tickets at $500, call Michelle Levy at 416-482-0577.


Videos

Photos