Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice is going back to a place that holds a special place in his heart when his team goes into battle with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Maurice remains the final coach in the history of the Hartford Whalers as well as the first coach of the renamed and relocated Hurricanes when they moved to North Carolina in 1997.
Almost 30 years later, Maurice returns to Raleigh after leading the Panthers to their first berth in the Eastern Conference finals since the year before the Whalers packed up and moved south.
In all, Maurice coached parts of 11 seasons either with Hartford or Carolina for a combined 920 of his 1,767 NHL regular season games.
Maurice ended up coaching the Hurricanes two different times, leading them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2002 and the Eastern Conference finals in 2009.
Former Hartford and Carolina owner Peter Karmanos Jr. gave Maurice his first start in coaching back when he was a junior defenseman for the Windsor Spitfires in 1988.
When Karmanos bought the Whalers in 1994, he soon brought Maurice to Hartford as an assistant coach. Early in his first season as NHL assistant, Maurice was promoted and became the second-youngest head coach in league history at age 28.
Ties to the organization?
Oh, they run deep.
“It’s a special place,” he said. “All three of my kids were born there, so we spent some time there. Then life happens. It feels like a lifetime ago, so there’s not the same connection over time. But it’ll be a great moment.”
The Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup under Peter Laviolette in 2006, not too long after Maurice was fired during the 2003-04 season. Maurice later replaced Laviolette in his return to Carolina in 2008.
Maurice coached current Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour in Raleigh — and had Brind’Amour on his coaching staff when he was let go by the Hurricanes a second time in 2011 on the eve of a game against then-Southeast Division rival Florida.
He also coached current Carolina assistants Tim Gleason and Jeff Daniels over the course of his 25-year NHL coaching career.
“I’ve coached all of their coaches, which makes me feel old,” Maurice said. “But I’m looking forward to it.”
Maurice isn’t alone in the Florida/Carolina connection tree.
Eric Staal spent 12 seasons in Carolina and was a rookie center under Maurice. He and brother Marc Staal have family ties on line as their youngest sibling, Jordan, serves as Carolina’s captain.
Eetu Luostarinen got his NHL start with the Hurricanes before getting traded to the Panthers for Vincent Trocheck in 2020.
Gus Forsling spent a year in the Carolina organization before getting waived and claimed by the Panthers ahead of the COVID-shortened 2021 season.
The Panthers also took over as the parent team of the AHL Charlotte Checkers after the Hurricanes left their longtime — and nearby — affiliate to take over the Chicago Wolves. Jared Staal is an assistant for the Checkers.
Florida assistant GM Paul Krepelka was Carolina’s VP of hockey operations before joining Bill Zito and the Panthers in 2020.
So, a nice portion of the Panthers is quite familiar with how Raleigh has turned into a passionate hockey town.
Although the team and city has changed a lot since Maurice last stood behind the Hurricanes’ bench, close ties still remain.
“It’s a loud building and they have a real good team,” he said.
”It’ll be some exciting, fast hockey. And it’s nice when there’s connections in your room to the place you’re playing.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
PANTHERS (WC2) AT CAROLINA HURRICANES (MET1)
- When: TBA
- Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh
- TV/Radio: TBA
- Series Schedule: TBA
- Season Series: (Carolina won 2-1): Florida 3, Carolina 2 (Nov. 9); Carolina 4, Florida 0 (Dec. 30); Carolina 6, Florida 4 (April 13)
- All-Time Regular Season Series: Carolina/Hartford leads 71-46-10, 11 ties
- Postseason History: First Meeting
- How They Got Here — Carolina: d. New York Islanders in 6; d. New Jersey Devils in 5. Florida: d. Boston Bruins in 7; d. Toronto Maple Leafs in 5.