There was a common sentiment among the Winnipeg Jets players who spoke with reporters Friday following the stunning news of head coach Paul Maurice’s resignation: gratitude.
“He was a huge mentor of mine. I’ve pretty much had him my entire NHL career other than the first half of my first full year,” said Jets forward Mark Scheifele, who was partway through his rookie campaign when Maurice took the helm in January of 2014. “So, he’s been everything I’ve known in the NHL. He’s been there through good times, bad times. He’s taught me lot. He’s been a guy that I respect so much.”
Under Maurice’s guidance, Scheifele had a breakout season as a third-year NHLer in 2015-16 and has been a 60-plus point-producer every year since, including twice surpassing the 30-goal, 80-point mark.
But Scheifele said his admiration of Maurice extends far beyond the game:
“He’s an amazing hockey man, but he’s an even better human being. He cares about every single one of us and I think each and every guy in this room feels that he truly does care about each and every one of us. I owe him a lot for what he’s taught me, for what he’s done for my career, for everything. I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done for me,” he said.
Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey echoed that sentiment:
“He gave me an opportunity to play in the NHL, he’s been my coach throughout my entire career here so far. I’ve really valued him as a mentor and as a coach, and his respect for my family through some difficult times and what he was able to do for me. So, sad to know that he’s leaving but very thankful for what he’s done for me on and off the ice in my career,” said Morrissey.
Maurice’s resigning came as a surprise to nearly everyone, including the players. Maurice informed the group himself Friday morning, first pulling aside captain Blake Wheeler and then addressing the entire team to tell them of his decision.
As the NHL’s second longest-tenured head coach behind only Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper, Maurice had been a steady presence since 2014, guiding the club into contention.
“We’ve been pretty fortunate, we’ve had a lot of stability in the organization growing up, and he’s been the only coach I’ve had the pleasure of playing under,” said Jets forward Adam Lowry.
Asked whether the team had gotten too comfortable, forward Andrew Copp had an insightful response:
“It’s not that we got too comfortable — it’s that we didn’t know how to be uncomfortable anymore,” said Copp, who told reporters he was still trying to gain his bearings in the wake of the announcement. “And when you’re uncomfortable, sometimes that makes you perform that much better … I do think there is something to be said for, when guys are uncomfortable sometimes it brings out the best.
None of the players who spoke early Friday indicated that Maurice’s message wasn’t getting through, or that the coach had lost the room in any way.
“I don’t think the message was getting old. I think we were just under-performing,” said Lowry. “I don’t think what he was saying was falling on deaf ears or anything like that.”
The coaching change brings a particularly personal adjustment for Lowry — his father, assistant coach Dave Lowry, who joined the club’s coaching staff in November 2020, will take the helm as the interim head coach for the remainder of the season.
“Looking at teams in the past that my dad’s coached, he wants them to play fast, he wants them to play with the puck and he really just tries to hold them accountable to their actions. He’s had different styles of teams,” Lowry said. “I don’t know if the style of the game is necessarily going to change, but that’s what I’d expect, is he wants us to play fast, he wants us to play with pace and he’s gonna come to the rink today trying to give us the best chance to win, trying to make sure we’re as prepared as possible to so that we can go out and execute the game plan whether it’s the same or it changes. I guess we’ll find out about that.”
The Jets host the Washington Capitals Friday for their first game under Lowry’s leadership.