Skip to main content

SCOREBOARD

'I was very high on him': Cup coaches Paul Maurice, Kris Knoblauch have history

Published

SUNRISE, Fla. — Paul Maurice saw a younger version of himself.

He just didn't think the fit was right.

The Winnipeg Jets head coach was interviewing candidates to fill an assistant role in 2016. Kris Knoblauch was No. 16 on a list of 17 names vying for the job.

"He was a young guy at that time," said Maurice, now the Florida Panthers bench boss. "You sit down and 10 minutes in you're going, 'This guy's a head coach.' He's just wired. Very clear, very concise.

"He was very open with what he did, what he wanted to do."

Some eight years later Knoblauch — hired by the Edmonton Oilers in November in hopes of salvaging their season following a disastrous start — and Maurice are matching wits in the Stanley Cup final.

The veteran coach saw a lot of similarities with his own path when looking at Knoblauch's resume. Both were younger voices in the game. And like himself, Knoblauch never played in the NHL.

"I didn't hire him because I didn't want that for him," Maurice, 57, said ahead of Game 1. "We're not insiders. I thought the best thing for him was to stay a head coach because he was gonna be a head coach. You just felt it.

"I was very high on him."

Knoblauch spent another season with the Ontario Hockey League's Erie Otters after failing to land in Winnipeg before accepting a job as a Philadelphia Flyers assistant.

A long stint as head coach of the American Hockey League's Hartford Wolf Pack eventually followed. That, in turn, led him to the Alberta capital — and the Cup final.

Knoblauch, who reached out to Maurice for advice before taking the Philadelphia job, recalled the interview process for the Jets gig.

"I heard a lot of positive things about him," said the 45-year-old. "Very genuine, very nice person."

The 2024 title series will pit the battle-tested Maurice — second all-time in games coached after only Scotty Bowman — and Knoblauch, who has been in the spotlight behind NHL benches just 87 times.

Looking for a first Cup in his third trip to the final, Maurice was asked if his career would be complete without a lifting hockey's silver chalice.

"As you age, you get a different perspective on life and what's important and valuable," he said. "I need to win one. Now, it's not going to change the section of my life that’s not related to hockey at all. That's the truth. That's how I feel. I'm 30 years into this thing.

"Wouldn't mind winning one."

Maurice advised Knoblauch against taking the Flyers gig after feeling unprepared when he first entered the league in his mid-20s.

Knoblauch didn't take the advice. But things worked out.

"I would have loved to have had five more years of head coaching at any level," Maurice explained of his early years. "He clearly didn't need it, right? He has that strength. I remember that clearly. I thought I was looking at myself almost a bunch years earlier.

"I went through what he was going through."

FULL CIRCLE

Oilers forward Zach Hyman was selected in the fifth round of the 2010 draft by the Panthers.

The Toronto native never played for Florida before his rights were traded to the Maple Leafs in 2015, but he remains grateful to the organization.

"It was a huge moment for me as a young player," said Hyman, who turns 32 on Sunday. "It's just a huge milestone for you to be like, 'Hey, I was recognized. An NHL team recognized me as a potential prospect to play in the NHL.'

"I was able to go to a ton of development camps with them, and really experience the NHL atmosphere for the first time."

SECOND CHANCE

Edmonton defenceman Mattias Ekholm played in the final with Nashville in 2017 when the Predators lost out to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The 34-year-old Swede is excited to get a second crack at hoisting the Cup.

"Definitely not taking it for granted at this point of my career," Ekholm said. "Wouldn't say I have any regrets with the '17 final. At the same time you're trying to get everything out of this one because you never know if it's your last one.

"I'm not getting any younger."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2024.

___

Follow @JClipperton_CP on X.