Advertisement

After three decades, Florida Panthers’ Paul Maurice finally won his Stanley Cup

In the midst the celebration, Paul Maurice was almost numb as he tried to process the emotions.

After three decades, he finally did it.

He finally won a Stanley Cup.

But through it all, he maintained a relative calmness — similar to how he and his Florida Panthers have operated all season long to get to this point.

“It was not like anything I thought it would be,” Maurice said on the ice at Amerant Bank Arena after his Panthers’ 2-1 win in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final over the Edmonton Oilers. “I thought it would be yelling and screaming and losing your mind because you couldn’t believe it happened. But these guys are different.”

Maurice is different, too, much different from where he was at the start of his coaching career three decades ago.

Experience has made him wiser. Coming up short kept him hungry. Deep down, whether the validation of winning it all was needed, he remained steadfast in his pursuit of his dream.

“I’m 30 years into this thing. I wouldn’t mind winning one,” Maurice said ahead of the series.

Now that it’s here, now that he finally won one, a new perspective has emerged — one that is bigger than him but still simultaneously has so much to do with him.

“I’m not going through this great sense of personal satisfaction. I’m not,” Maurice said. “I felt I needed one for the outside. I sure as hell wanted one for the inside, but it’s not mine. I got a piece of it, just a piece of it. I don’t feel like I won a Stanley Cup. I feel like I got a piece of it, and that’s way better because if you’ve got a whole Stanley Cup, nobody’s coming to your house and you’re by yourself.”

Florida Panthers head coach Paul Maurice (1) celebrate with Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (72) after winning Stanley Cup over the Edmonton Oilers in Game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Amerant Bank Arena on Monday, June 24, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla.
Florida Panthers head coach Paul Maurice (1) celebrate with Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (72) after winning Stanley Cup over the Edmonton Oilers in Game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Amerant Bank Arena on Monday, June 24, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla.

‘He does it the right way’

While Maurice continuously mentioned throughout the playoff run that he’s just a small piece of the team’s success, you’ll be hard pressed to find a player who

Ask captain Aleksander Barkov: “There’s a reason he’s coached so many years in this league and for a long time in one organization. He was with the Jets for a long time and Carolina, and he’s seen a lot of hockey. And literally whatever he says, he means it. I think going back to the first year when we had those like tough moments in the regular season, he would give us a game plan or he would just tell us, ‘All right, it’s time to wake up,’ literally and what to do and it literally worked almost every time. So that’s probably when we realized that, ‘OK, you’ve got to listen to him.’”

Or Ryan Lomberg: “He’s the type of guy everybody respects and it’s because it’s earned. He doesn’t expect people’s respect just because he’s the head coach. He does it the right way. He truly cares about each individual in this locker room and it goes a long way. We all respect him about as much as possible.”

Or veteran forward Kyle Okposo, who was acquired at the trade deadline this season: “He has a unique way of getting us prepared. Sometimes he uses humor, sometimes he’s more demanding. He has a very good pulse on the team and what he thinks he needs to portray in the message each day. There isn’t a lot of gray area in our game and what he’s trying to show us. He seems to prepare us for each scenario, and he’s been preparing these guys for two years on how to play. For me, that was awesome. Coming into the group late, a few months ago, and having a game plan that’s so concise and precise that I knew what was expected of me. I just wanted to go out there and do my job. Obviously, we know how long he’s been around. He’s one of the best coaches to ever coach in the NHL.”

He made it easy for the team to buy in. He made them want to push harder — for him and for themselves.

And knowing how long he has been at this, they had an extra incentive to make this push.

“He’s a really good coach and we love having him as our behind the bench,” Panthers forward Carter Verhaeghe said. “He’s been around for a long time. I don’t know, is it 30 years? Obviously hasn’t got it done. If we’re going to do it for anyone, it’s going to be for him.”

Sunrise, Florida, June 24, 2024 - Panthers celebrate with the Stanley Cup after defeating the Edmonton Oilers in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final
Sunrise, Florida, June 24, 2024 - Panthers celebrate with the Stanley Cup after defeating the Edmonton Oilers in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final

‘I need to win one’

Maurice’s love for hockey started out like so many others in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. His first hockey memories came at Age 5 watching games on Saturday nights.

“If we didn’t play hockey, our parents would take us skating, my mom would make a pot of spaghetti or chili and we watched hockey,” Maurice said. “You knew you were getting older because you could make it to the third period. That’s the way it was.”

Maurice never played in the National Hockey League. An eye injury while playing for the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League ended his playing career prematurely, but that only caused him to take a different route to the league.

His early retirement from playing led to a career in coaching. By 28, he was an NHL head coach, taking over the Hartford Whalers early in the 1995 season.

He was the Whalers’ head coach each of their final two seasons before they relocated to North Carolina and became the Carolina Hurricanes, with whom he stayed the head coach for six full seasons — making the playoffs three times and reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 2002 — before being fired 30 games into the 2003-04 season.

After a two-year stint as the head coach of the AHL Toronto Marlies, Maurice returned to the NHL as the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2006-07 season. He stayed in Toronto for two seasons before returning for a second stint with Carolina, during which he guided the Hurricanes to the Eastern Conference finals in the 2008-2009 season but missed the playoffs each of the next two seasons. He was fired 25 games into the 2011-12 season.

Maurice then took another year hiatus from the NHL, this time serving as head coach of the Metallurg Magnitogorsk of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). He found his way back to the NHL in the 2013-14 season with the Winnipeg Jets, where he made the playoffs five times in his eight full seasons before resigning 29 games into the 2021-22 season.

He thought he was done at that point. He had accomplished so much in his career — the second-most games in league history (1,848) and the fourth-most wins (869) in the NHL — that he was at peace even if the grandest goal of them all eluded him.

But a phone call from Panthers general manager Bill Zito while he was on a fishing trip changed things.

“We start talking hockey,” Maurice said, “and that was it.”

And the itch to get that final goal came back.

“Everybody’s different. Every coach is different. It seems to me as you age, you have a different perspective on life and what’s important. I need to win one,” Maurice said.

There was an adjustment period early in his first season as the Panthers transitioned from a run-and-gun style to a more defensively responsible, forecheck-heavy, grind-it-out system. Fans were quick to give him their ire.

“Our marketing program is Time to Hunt,” Maurice said, “and a guy had a poster over there on the wall. It was beautiful. It said it’s Time to Hunt for a new coach. It was awesome. And he kept putting it up in every whistle and I’m thinking ‘Oh, here I go again.’”

But once the team bought in, they’ve excelled. They snuck into the playoffs in 2022-23 and made a miraculous run to the Stanley Cup Final.

They built off that this year and finally won it all.

“It will be at least one more year before that poster comes out,” Maurice said.

Maurice will deflect the credit — that’s his M.O. All the success, he says, is from the players. And in a sense, he’s right.

But Maurice can embrace and reflect on the journey to get to this point.

The final goal has finally been accomplished.

“How could you possibly put it into words — his career and what he’s done and what he’s meant?” Zito said. “The level of character and quality person that he is and how much he cares about our guys, I can’t say enough.”