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Maurice ready for challenge as Jets' new coach

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- Paul Maurice began his first day on the job as the Winnipeg Jets' new coach Monday.

The 46-year-old with 1,084 games behind NHL benches arrived in Winnipeg on Sunday night, met briefly with his new team Monday and then conducted the morning skate at MTS Centre prior to the game Monday against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Maurice has coached the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes franchise on two separate occasions with the Toronto Maple Leafs sandwiched between. Maurice last coached in the League in 2011 before the Hurricanes replaced him with Kirk Muller. Maurice spent the 2012-13 season in the Kontinental Hockey League with Metallurg Magnitogorsk.

Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff reached out last week to Maurice, who has been working as a TSN studio analyst this season, to gauge his potential interest in taking over the Jets' coaching job for Claude Noel.

"It was very, very quick," Maurice said of his negotiations with Cheveldayoff. "Didn't take long. I wanted to be here."

Maurice cited the team's size, speed and youth as elements that attracted him to the job; however, he also pointed to the need for the Jets "to play a game that has a defensive component in it" as one of his major challenges. The Jets' 3.00 goals-against per game average ranks 26th in the League, and their minus-17 goal differential is 23rd overall.

The Jets sit in last place in the Central Division and have lost five straight games, so Maurice acknowledged he is entering a difficult situation.

"This team is as good as its record," Maurice said. "No team is ever better than its record. Take these numbers and hold them to your heart, because we've gotten everything we've earned."

"[The players] just want this [losing streak] to go away," Maurice said. "They want the anger -- the frustration by the fans is the same as the frustration in the [dressing] room -- they want to find a way out. It's the coaching staff's job to lead the way out."

Maurice pointed to a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring as one of his goals. A postseason appearance would be the franchise's first since 2007, but Maurice acknowledged that such a goal will be difficult for a team with a 19-23-5 record.

"Listen, there is not a lot of meat on the bone, and we are a ways out [of the playoff race], and there is not a lot of time on the clock," Maurice said. "Those are the facts. We've played 47 hockey games, and we have won 14 of them [in regulation or overtime]. That's telling you we've got a big hill to climb, there's no doubt about that."

But Maurice believes that there are reasons for optimism in Winnipeg. How will he turn around a team that now has its fourth coach since the start of the 2008-09 season?

"We need to become a more patient hockey club," Maurice said. "But that has nothing to do with passivity. We need to be very aggressive, but patient in the understanding and confidence that we will play this way, and play one way, regardless of the adversity, and have the confidence that we will have success doing that."

Maurice will also attempt to better define his players' roles, with an eye on building a more defensively conscious club. Part of that task will entail pulling together a struggling club and making his players buy into his system.

"You have to have core values of what you believe in," Maurice said. "And the players in that room will believe in those values or they won't. And if they don't, then they can't be in the room. At the same time, my job is to motivate these guys. My job is to find a way to make them fit, to make them buy in."

With more than two years away from the League and an opportunity to sample a different style of hockey in the KHL, Maurice is returning to an NHL bench feeling recharged.

"I cannot tell how happy how I am, how excited I am, to get behind that bench [Monday], because it's the best League in the world with the best players," Maurice said. "The passion that I have for the game as a coach is far more intense than even when I started. It just grows and grows. I just love this game."

"A big part of the reason why I am in Winnipeg with this group is because I think we can do something special."

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