A new-look Paul Maurice made his first appearance on the ice for Winnipeg Jets training camp on Monday. Sporting a mask and contact lenses, while skating glasses-less and attempting to use an electronic whistle, the eighth-year Jets’ bench boss may still be figuring out some of the new protocols, but his sense of humour certainly hasn’t skipped a beat.
“It’s gonna be fantastic,” Maurice told reporters. “It’s such a terrible thing with the pandemic that this is the result of it, but you couldn’t dream of anything better than this, the spectacle of it. It’s gonna be awesome. Somewhere between two and five of the Canadian Division coaches are getting fired, guaranteed. It’s gonna be great.”
Despite his jovial tone, the Jets’ bench boss did also turn his attention to how things may look moving forward from a coaching perspective.
“To be serious, it’s a challenge,” Maurice said. “It’s a challenge running a practice with a mask on. I don’t know how much you watched but we have an electronic whistle now, so you’re pressing a button and it’s not quite as loud, and the battery went on it. So, then I get a whistle stuck in my mask, I’m trying to blow it, I’m trying to scream. It was ugly there for a while. So, there’s some challenges to it.”
Despite the difficulty associated with his whistle-blowing abilities, Maurice does understand the current situation, and the privilege that he and his fellow staff/players have been given. While wearing a mask may prevent the spread of COVID-19, it will also prevent a few other things, the veteran coach said.
“We’ve had some good laughs about what you can get away with, with the mask on. You think you can get away with a little more wearing a mask,” he chuckled. “I’m going to complain about wearing the mask because it’s such a serious situation that we’re in. I’m going to wear the mask. But there’s no point in putting the camera on me on the bench. That’s the only fun thing that I ever do is sometimes string things together for you. We’ll do it but it’s a challenge. It’s not easy to communicate in a normal hockey environment wearing a mask.”
Communication will be key for Maurice and Co., as playing 56 games in 114 days all within the confines of Canada will certainly be a new experience for everyone involved. Keeping parts of the offence, defence and special teams unpredictable will be a key to success, says the coach.
“You’ve got to have your basics back, you’ve got to have your standard training camp, but you have to have the ability to change what you do in games and in practice week-to-week,” Maurice suggested. “If you’re playing a team for the third time, you don’t want them seeing the same breakout, they don’t see the same power play set up — they’ve got to see something different. You’ve got to be real careful about how many times you’re gonna change your grip on your golf club because you’re gonna get a different trajectory every time. You’ve got to win, play well, play hard but I do agree that you’re gonna have to be fairly creative in the way you approach the game for sure.”
Adding forwards Paul Stastny, Nate Thompson and Trevor Lewis to the mix for 2020-21 will be an added bonus, according to Maurice. The veteran experience totalling 2,386 regular season games and an additional 254 postseason contests should help a lineup that Maurice is slowly realizing isn’t exactly that youthful anymore.
“I stepped on the ice today and about halfway through you kind of realize we’re not that young anymore,” he reflected. “We’re still young-ish. I’m not saying we’re an old, grizzled team, but there aren’t a lot of guys that are on the ice in that second group that you’re saying “Hey, five years from now, he’s going to be a really good player.” We’ve had that maturity and it’s those guys. I’ve got five lines on the ice today and we looked hard through five lines. Like, we looked like we had good players on all five lines. I know it’s overused but we looked like we had a bunch of pro hockey players on the ice today.”
And now in adding those veteran players to the mix, Maurice hopes the mix of ages and experiences will assist in his goal of making the Jets a championship team.
“The value in having a veteran man on your fourth line is that they’ve known that job for a long time and they take a great amount of pride in it,” the coach said. “It’s usually all the hard things. You’ve developed the ability to sit on the bench for slightly longer than the normal rotation and come out and go hard. You’re usually a penalty killer. Those are difficult things. So you’ve become a really really good pro if you’re a veteran fourth line player, you’re a good pro. The benefit off ice and on ice is also clear. When you have respect, the people around you will too. The people around you then start to view you with more respect and view that job with the respect it deserves.”
Now with just one week until opening night of Winnipeg’s 2020-21 season, the Jets coach will turn his attention to best preparing his squad for the challenges of a compacted schedule, while also attempting to scout out the Canadian opponents, and put together his strategy of attack moving forward.