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Rutherford got to Hall of Fame by caring on, off ice, Maurice says

GM who won Stanley Cup three times was trustworthy through hirings, firings

by Paul Maurice / Special to NHL.com

In 1984 Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice was a 17-year-old defenseman from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, who was drafted by Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League. The general manager there was former NHL goalie Jim Rutherford. Thirty-five years later, their bond is as strong as ever. It was Rutherford who talked Maurice into hanging up his skates and becoming an assistant coach with Windsor in 1987. It was Rutherford, in his subsequent GM roles, who made Maurice coach of Detroit (OHL) in 1993; coach of the NHL's Hartford Whalers in 1995; fired him after the team had moved to Carolina and become the Hurricanes in 2003; then rehired him with the Hurricanes in 2008. "I'm where I am now because of him," Maurice said. Here Maurice shares his thoughts on Rutherford, who will go into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a Builder on Monday, in a special testimonial for NHL.com:

This is a fact: Jim Rutherford fired me twice from NHL coaching positions; in 2003 and 2011. Both times it was from the Carolina Hurricanes.

This is also a fact: If I was ever in trouble or if I ever needed anything or if I was ever in a place where I didn't know where to turn, I would turn around and call Jimmy. By the time I got off the phone I'd feel better.

We've all had challenges in our life. But he was always my one phone call. And that's true to this day.

How can someone who dismissed me from a job -- twice -- be so special to me?

Simple. He's a special person, one who is so very worthy of induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

With Jim, it's all about knowing that whatever Jim tells you, whatever actions he takes, he's doing what he thinks he's right.

One of the things we were good at was separating work life from personal life. But the one thing that connected us: I knew he cared about me. If I knew I was getting fired or things were getting tough, he'd have a real tough conversation with you. And then we could still have dinner the next night because I knew he cared about me.

In that respect, other than my father Denis, he's been the most influential male in my life.

Jim's great strength -- and it's with all people, not just me -- is that his relationships are based on trust. Ours certainly always has been and still is. It's a trust that started when I was 17 years old. And it's a trust that he always has your best interest at heart. He feels that way about me. And that's how the relationship started.

That trust has to be there in good times and in bad times. And I always trusted him. And rightfully so.

I remember the first time he fired me. We'd just come back from the West Coast. It was Dec. 15, 2003. We'd flown all night. And I remember I said to him: "I'm tired."

Keep in mind what the journey for this franchise had been like.

It had started in Hartford when I was hired as an assistant for the Whalers in 1995 then promoted to head coach. In 1997 the franchise moved to North Carolina and became the Carolina Hurricanes. The first two years there, we had to play 90 minutes away in Greensboro because our new arena in Raleigh hadn't been completed yet.

Getting that team off the ground and turning it into a good team, it was an exhausting grind for like nine straight years. Like I said, I was tired. And he wasn't wrong to dismiss me. I understand why he did it.

I'd have come to work the next day and worked my butt off. But I understood. He was doing the right thing. I trusted him. It was the right thing for the team.

From the time I was 17 years old, every interaction I've ever had with Jim, you walked away in a great mood. He had the ability to gauge where you were at and say the right things you needed to hear. Feel smarter, better about yourself. Infuse you with that confidence that he had in you. Long before I had that confidence in myself.

Hey, I turned that Hartford job down three times. And he kept coming back to me and saying: "No, this is right for you." Turns out he was right. And it happened over and over and over again with him over the course of my career. And he was always right.

I'm glad I listened to him dating back to our time in Windsor.

When I was an overage player, I was caught in a numbers game. One day Jim brought me into the office and told me I had two options. One, they could trade me to the Oshawa Generals and I could finish my career there. Or two, stay with the organization and take up coaching. That was a tough conversation. My hockey career was basically coming to an end. And you still have the dream. I don't care how old you are. That was a brutal day. But because of the way he treated me the previous 3 1/2 years, I decided to stay and become an assistant coach. That's how my coaching career started.

At 26 he made me the coach of Detroit Compuware. Nobody gets that opportunity at 26, right? The next year, Mr. Karmanos buys the Hartford Whalers. And not long after that, I'm the assistant coach and then the head coach of the Hartford Whalers. Every time I opened up the door, I was getting another opportunity. Jim always had that faith in me, that trust in me. And that's why you trust him. And he's just right.

Two weeks before the Hall of Fame announcement, we were standing in the hotel lobby at the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver and I said: "You must be getting ready for that Hall of Fame induction." And he made the standard self-evasive joke. And then, two weeks later, well, he got the call.

Jim is going into the Hall of Fame as a builder after his teams won three Stanley Cups - Carolina (2006) and Pittsburgh (2016, 2017). But his real legacy is the lives he's changed because of his friendships.

Including mine.

Congratulations Jim. And thanks.

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