Maurice can take heat -- former boss

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

Don't expect beleaguered Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice to wilt under all this, "Will he or won't he be fired?" speculation, Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said yesterday.

As a former boss and long-time friend of Maurice, Rutherford insists that his buddy was quite prepared to deal with the spotlight of being the Maple Leafs coach when he first accepted the post less than two years ago.

"I think anyone going into one of those jobs in Toronto knows the pressures they are getting in to," Rutherford said.

"Paul is very equipped to handle it, believe me."

Maurice should be accustomed to being on the so-called firing line. He often jokes that the noose was around his neck for more than two seasons while he was behind the Hurricanes bench.

Rutherford, who finally was forced to relieve Maurice of his coaching duties in Carolina midway through the 2003-04 season, admitted that Maurice may have been a scapegoat for his team's poor play at the time.

"When things don't go as well as you want, the focus, rightly or wrongly, falls on the coach," Rutherford said.

"But I'm not sure he was the one who deserved to take the fall.

"Paul had been with the organization for 10 years, and I think it was more of a perception thing."

With his Leafs having dropped six of seven games and the entire city calling for management's blood, GM John Ferguson strongly denied any suggestions that he attempted to have Maurice replaced last week.

PUBLIC OUTCRY

Maurice, meanwhile, understands the public outcry that greeted him upon arriving back in Toronto after back-to-back defeats in Dallas and Phoenix.

"You lose three in a row, that's going to come out in this town," Maurice said at the conclusion of practice at Lakeshore Lions Arena yesterday. "Then again, we're not happy with where we are either.

"That's the way it goes."

Maurice said there is no in-fighting within the Leafs dressing room as they prepare to meet the rival Montreal Canadiens at the Air Canada Centre tonight.

"Now is the time is for us to be pulling together, picking people up right now and trying to get the best out of our guys," he said, claiming he accepts the heat he is under.

"I would prefer to have it that way than on the players, the individual players."


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