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Tuesday, July 5, 2022

The Florida Panthers are the ‘right fit’

Paul Maurice met the South Florida media for the first time as the new coach of the Florida Panthers on Thursday morning and said he was “honored and humbled” to be part of the organization.

Maurice said he and general manager Bill Zito spoke for the first time 10 days ago and those talks “fired him up.”

“In the first 15 or 20 minutes of talking, I felt the fit here. It has been a great experience,’’ Maurice said at the beginning of the 25 minute press conference in Sunrise.

“I don’t know how much you’ve talked to Bill, but he can jack you up about hockey. I was in a lather and ready to go about an hour into the meeting. That is what drives me and that’s what I love. I want to be around smart, passionate people. … It’s not just about winning, it is about building a destination franchise for the fans and not just the players we can draw here. The passion comes out very quickly. I was all in.”

Maurice 55, has been a coach in the NHL for 24 seasons with two stints with the Hartford/Carolina franchise as well as with Toronto and Winnipeg.

He said he was looking for the right fit and the Panthers felt like home right from the get.

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In speaking with FHN on Thursday morning, Zito said that he was “overwhelmed” in speaking with Maurice and that the decision came down to what was best for the Panthers moving forward.

“We took some time and then we did our internal review,’’ Zito said before Thursday’s press conference. “And it was a prudent responsibility to the organization to say, ‘OK, let’s look to the outside.’

”We had talked to a few people and when we spoke to Paul, it was overwhelming. His mastery of the game, his presence, the way he communicated with us, in tandem with his record and the way he succeeded in communicating the game to us.

“You can tell his intellect right away, but is emotional side — his E.Q. — in how conveyed ideas … quite frankly overwhelmed us.”

As for Brunette, Zito said he was seriously considered to keep the job fulltime and that there is a position with the Panthers if he wants it.

Zito reiterated Brunette has time to figure out what comes next.

“Andrew was a very viable and serious candidate,’’ Zito said. “It was incumbent upon us to be very, very thorough. He did an excellent job. But, it was very important we looked toward the future and the challenges of taking this team into this next season. We know the challenges ahead of us and that is where our focus has been.”

Maurice left the Winnipeg Jets after nine seasons after resigning in December saying his team “needed a new voice.’’

Thursday, Maurice said that as a coach he was looking to “take the next step” and felt that he had pushed the Jets as far as they could go with him.

When it came to the Panthers, he said he watched a Florida game in January with his wife Michelle. He said “that’s an exciting team” and she asked “does that team interest you?”

And he said yes.

His youngest son getting accepted to the University of Miami also put the Panthers on his coaching radar.

“But I don’t know about the fit,” Maurice said, recalling the moment. “About 10 days ago I had a phone call from Bill and that’s where the process started. And I got off the phone, and I was ready. I can’t explain it to you. There is a plan here and they are ready to work. I wanted to be part of it. That switched flipped real quick.”

Florida obviously had a big season, winning the Presidents’ Trophy with the best record in the NHL as it lead the league in scoring.

Maurice is not looking to come to town and change what the Panthers do, but does want to add to it.

The Panthers’ legacy will not be built on having the most points in a regular season or being the highest scoring team in the league.

Maurice said now it’s time for the Panthers to take that next step — to toughen up when times get tough and to move their way through the hard part of the game.

”There is a lot of good here,” Maurice said. “I think when you look at historical teams; there are a number of powerful teams and Florida is now one of them. If you want to go back to Detroit in the mid-90s, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay a few years ago … the talent comes first and it needs to be developed and gotten to a certain level. Then there is the next phase and it is not necessarily measured by regular season points or goals for.

“It’s that transition into all the hard things, the investment of the entire group to drive yourself when adversity comes, you’re ready for it. You have earned the right to survive that adversity.”

Florida Panthers coaching history

Roger Neilson 1993-95

Doug MacLean 1995-97

Bryan Murray 1997-98*

Terry Murray 1998-2000

Duane Sutter 2000-01*

Mike Keenan 2001-03

Rick Dudley 2003-04*

John Torchetti 2004*

Jacques Martin 2004-08

Pete DeBoer 2008-11

Kevin Dineen 2011-13

Peter Horachek 2013-14*

Gerard Gallant 2014-16

Tom Rowe 2016-17*

Bob Boughner 2017-19

Joel Quenneville 2019-21

Andrew Brunette 2021-22*

Paul Maurice 2022-present

(*) — Indicates midseason replacement

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