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Maurice Thriving In Return To Raleigh

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
A friend calls it the Ross and Rachel Factor, this phenomenon that drags otherwise rational people back to the source of their greatest pleasure and their greatest pain.

The allusion is from the television show Friends but in the sports world you don’t have to look a long way to find potent examples. Wendel Clark returned to Toronto as if guided by divine destiny.

Michael Curry was returned to the Detroit Pistons bench after postings elsewhere. A longtime White Sox, Ozzie Guillen returned to the South Side to manage with great success.

And then, of course, there is the case of Paul Maurice, late of the Maple Leafs and the current architect of the Carolina Hurricanes’ appearance in the third round of the playoffs.

They are no fluke. The Hurricanes entered the playoffs playing better than anyone in the East and ousted teams with far superior records, the New Jersey Devils and then the Boston Bruins.

Paul Maurice enjoyed scant success with the Maple Leafs. His teams finished outside the playoffs both seasons and, as Maurice once said, coaching the Maple Leafs brings its own, agonizing loneliness.

“When you make all the right moves, everyone wants to stand beside you and pat you on the back,” he said. “When things don’t workout, you’re by yourself.”

He has plenty of company this year as the Hurricanes have written an intriguing sidebar to the playoffs.

As usual, Maurice is filling reporters’ notebooks and making the oldest credos sound fresh. A Paul Maurice press conference is and always be a revelation. Some guys paint houses. Other guys paint pictures.

“We usually feel if thing go bad, there are mistakes that are correctible,” he was telling reporters in advance of Thursday’s Game 2 of the Conference Finals against Pittsburgh.

“We also don’t expect our team to play a perfect game every night. That way, we can be positive about some of the good things we can do.”

Clearly, this is the coach the Leafs thought they were getting when they offered Maurice a three-year-deal, the first of which was spent babysitting the building during the lockout. He inherited some formidable weapons, a fading but still potent Mats Sundin, lots of playoff experience and expectations to match.

But Andrew Raycroft’s 37-win season would prove illusionary and when the tests came in and showed brand new free agent Jason Blake had leukemia, the season went haywire.

Maurice, along with GM John Ferguson, paid the price but it was damned lonely in the end.

Glad to see he has so much company on the bandwagon. They couldn’t have handed a better man the reins.

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