The toxic elements of hockey culture have been on full display this week and Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice took a moment to reflect on how he’s changed amid a series of developments across the league.
After Mike Babcock was fired as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was revealed that he made Mitch Marner rank his teammates’ work ethic from 1-20 during his rookie year and then read the list to the rest of the team in a public display. Marner was evidently distraught at the time and while reflecting on the incident on Tuesday, encouraged players to speak up for themselves moving forward in today's day and age.
Former Calgary Flames forward Akim Aliu alleged Monday that current Flames head coach Bill Peters used racial slurs against him spurred by his choice of music when the pair were with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs in 2009. Peters is currently being investigated by the Flames, although initial reports suggested he had been fired.
Maurice has built a reputation as one of hockey’s toughest coaches over the years, but his continued success would have been improbable without adapting his approach. On Tuesday, he spoke about how he’s changed.
“I think there is a real awareness over the last year or two, certainly on our staff,” Maurice said via Sportsnet’s Sonny Sachdeva. “And if I’m going to give anybody credit, I will give the assistant coaches credit for kind of pushing me to evolve, to be more understanding, maybe, of young players. More caring, possibly. There’ll be a whole bunch of guys that say I haven’t hit that threshold yet.”
Maurice said he was influenced by Jets captain Blake Wheeler to become a kinder head coach.
“Blake Wheeler grabs me a year and a half ago and says, ‘Just be nice to the guy’ — and I got a list of about 14 reasons why I shouldn’t be, right, because of his play. But that stuck with me,” Maurice said. “The game has changed. The players, especially — we have such a young group.
“Those interactions have to change.”
Maurice is the seventh-winningest head coach of all-time in the NHL and could pass Lindy Ruff for the No. 6 spot this year. If a veteran coach can adapt his approach to be kinder, more inclusive, and ultimately, more friendly, then there’s little reason the rest of the NHL can’t follow suit.
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