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Maurice facing immediate test as 'Canes coach

by Mike G. Morreale
After failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in back-to-back seasons and watching his team struggle to again find an identity at the quarter pole this season, Carolina Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford decided he had no choice but to shake things up.

The shake-up happened Wednesday afternoon, when Rutherford dismissed coach Peter Laviolette, who had guided the franchise to its first Stanley Cup title in 2005-06, and replaced him with Paul Maurice, the man Laviolette succeeded in December 2003.

Maurice faces an immediate test, as the Pittsburgh Penguins meet the Hurricanes Thursday night (7 p.m. ET). In their first meeting this season on Oct. 23, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each had a goal and an assist in Pittsburgh's 4-1 home win.The Penguins are coming off Wednesday's 3-2 shootout loss to the New York Rangers. Pittsburgh dropped six points back of the Atlantic Division-leading Rangers with the defeat, and has alternated wins and losses in its last seven games after winning its previous six.

"There are times when a coaching change becomes a necessity and this is a situation that we have looked at probably three times over the last year and for different reasons," Rutherford said. "And when you look at it that many times, you begin to realize there's a reason you're looking at it even if you can't always pinpoint exactly what that is. At some point, you have to make a decision."

Rutherford also announced that Hall of Famer Ron Francis will serve as the team's associate coach while the remainder of the coaching staff remains in place. Francis' former role as assistant general manager will be filled by Jason Karmanos.

The move follows a slump that has seen Carolina win just four of its last 10 games. The Hurricanes are 12-11-6, second in the Southeast Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference. They are scheduled to face Pittsburgh in Raleigh on Thursday before hosting the Flyers Saturday and the Capitals Sunday.

"Paul is a guy who understands the game and has a lot of coaching experience," Rutherford said. "One of his best strong suits is his one-on-one meetings with people because you always have a very clear understanding of what the issue is that needs to be discussed. When you leave his office, you have a better understanding of what's expected of you. I think that leadership is important for a team that has players that need to pick their game up."

Maurice, who led the Hurricanes to four consecutive winning seasons and three playoff appearances from 1998-2002, is looking forward to his second tour of duty in Carolina.

"We're not going to try and change the identity of this team in terms of how it played because it played a certain way, utilizing speed and aggressiveness," Maurice said. "We'll try to make some adjustments that we hope will improve the team. But the speed and the things you enjoyed about watching the Carolina Hurricanes before will remain intact. I'm grateful to have a chance to work with some outstanding people on the staff like Ronnie (Francis), (Tom) Barrasso, (Tom) Rowe and Kevin (McCarthy). Clearly, I'll make the final decisions as some point, but it's going to be great with the support of that staff.

"From a personal point of view, Carolina has always been home to me. I have three kids here and when I had an opportunity to come back and join such great people, it was a pretty easy decision. I've passed the point in my career where you worry about the small things and, instead, I'm focused on the big picture. Is this a group I will enjoy working with and can win with? The answer to both is absolutely yes."

Rutherford has been extremely disappointed that the Hurricanes haven't been able to maintain consistency from game to game -- they've won two or more consecutive games on just three occasions this season.

"We have a team right now that is not playing with the kind of confidence it needs," Rutherford said. "We've lost that confidence and because of that, the change was made. Paul and Ronnie will work very closely together heading up what systems will be used for the players, and I feel with this combination we have a very strong coaching staff moving forward.

"It boils down to the fact you're just not totally comfortable with the situation. In the first quarter of the season, I felt we gave some games away and thought we should have had a better record at that point. We have to do everything we can to work out of this."
Hurricanes captain Rod Brind'Amour is one of four players who played under Maurice in his first stint with the franchise. He said the feeling on Wednesday was much like the day when Maurice was let go in favor of Laviolette five years ago.

"I remember the day that unfortunately [Maurice] was let go, and it’s kind of the same feeling that’s going around here right now," Brind'Amour said. "What I do remember about him is that he's real passionate and has a lot of energy and intensity. He’s smart and he’s a real good coach. I said that the day he left, and I don’t think anything’s changed now. If anything he’s probably gotten a little more wiser, and I think he’ll be a great fit for us."

Brind'Amour said he was sorry to see Laviolette go.

"You just hate to see a guy who brought so much, not just to the organization but to yourself personally," he said. "He won us a Stanley Cup, and I truly believe that it was his coaching that enabled us to win. At the same time, that’s a long time ago and it’s in the past, and I understand why moves have to be made. You can’t get rid of 20 guys and start over. It’s easier to start at the top, and that’s what they’ve done. 

"It’s a guy that everyone liked.  Sometimes a coach gets fired and the guys are [relieved], but that’s not the situation. We all had a lot of respect for him and what he did for us."

Carolina center Eric Staal also played under Maurice after being picked No. 2 overall in 2003. He blossomed under Laviolette.

“I was young, I was 18.  I was wide-eyed and didn’t know too much, but from my experience then with Paul I really enjoyed him as a young guy coming in," Staal said of playing under Maurice as a teenager. "He really knows the game very well.  He can determine situations on other teams and with players know what kind of role to put them in, I think he does a great job with that and hopefully he can help us here.

"We're not doing as well as we should be, and I think that's what the bottom line is. Our team, player for player, is better than what we’re showing, and sometimes things like that happen.  For us as players it's difficult, and it's one of those things where as players we didn’t perform as well as we should of, and then a good guy like Peter has to get fired."

News of Maurice's hiring filtered quickly throughout the NHL fraternity.

Pittsburgh defenseman Hal Gill spent two seasons in Toronto with Maurice as his coach.

"I think (Maurice) is a good guy," Gill told before the Penguins' game against the Rangers in New York. "Of course we were losing in Toronto, so it was a tough position for him there and he had some guys that didn't like him, but on every team there are going to be guys that like him and guys that don't like him. I thought he was great and fair with me and I appreciated him. I wish him nothing but the best. I don't know if he's a players' coach, but I think he worked well with the players. I found him to be fair, but he's not going to pat everybody's back. He's more of a guy that wants to get a thing going and work it."

Penguins coach Michel Therrien knows his team's task on Thursday night just got harder.

"For sure (Carolina) is going to be at their best," Therrien said before Wednesday night's 3-2 shootout loss to the Rangers. "It's not an easy thing for a team to play against a team with a new coach or new management because players want to prove to the new personnel that they should have faith in their game. (Thursday) is going to be the challenge that we face."
Maurice was coach of the Hartford Whalers for two seasons, beginning his tenure at the age of 28 during the 1995-96 season. He remained coach of the franchise following its move to Carolina and actually reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2001-02, losing a five-game series to the Detroit Red Wings.

After coaching 604 regular-season games, Maurice was let go by the Hurricanes on Dec. 15, 2003, and replaced by Laviolette after the team began the season 8-12. The Hurricanes finished the 2003-04 season with a 28-34-14-6 mark -- third in the Southeast Division and out of the playoffs.

After being let go by the Hurricanes, Maurice joined the Leafs organization on June 24, 2005, as coach of the AHL's Toronto Marlies. He was promoted to coach of the Maple Leafs on May 12, 2006, following Pat Quinn's dismissal.

In two seasons with Toronto, Maurice compiled a 76-66-22 record. Maurice, who resides in the Toronto area, had been attending college classes since being fired by the Leafs in May. He interviewed with Florida, Atlanta and the New York Islanders during the off-season.

"We're not going to try and change the identity of this team in terms of how it played because it played a certain way, utilizing speed and aggressiveness. We'll try to make some adjustments that we hope will improve the team. But the speed and the things you enjoyed about watching the Carolina Hurricanes before will remain intact." -- Paul Maurice
Laviolette, who coached the Islanders to consecutive playoff berths in his two seasons on Long Island before coming to Carolina, surpassed John Tortorella last month to become the winningest American-born coach in NHL history with 240 victories. He now has 244, and was 167-130-30 with the Hurricanes.

After winning the Cup under Laviolette, the Hurricanes suffered through an injury-plagued 2006-07 season and finished with a disappointing 40-34-8 mark. In 2007-08, the team again got off to a poor start, but remained in first place despite a sub-.500 record through January. The 'Canes then won 17 of their last 26 games — but still lost the division title to the Washington Capitals as Laviolette's team became the first to miss the playoffs two seasons in a row after winning the Stanley Cup.

"I'm thankful to Peter for the job that he did here," Rutherford said. "He played a big part in bringing the Stanley Cup here and I have a lot of respect for him and am thankful for what he's done. I know he'll do well moving forward and I wish him well."

Contact Mike Morreale at

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