Florida Panthers coach Paul Morris will return to a place that holds a special place in his heart as the team battles the Carolina Hurricanes.
Maurice is the last coach in the history of the Hartford Whalers and the first coach of the Hurricanes, who were renamed and relocated in 1997.
Nearly 30 years later, Maurice is back in Raleigh after leading the Panthers to their first Eastern Conference Finals appearance since the year before the Whalers packed up and moved south.
Maurice coached part of 11 seasons in Hartford or Carolina in a total of 920 out of 1,767 NHL regular-season games.
Maurice ended up coaching the Hurricanes twice, leading them to the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals and the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals.
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Former Hartford and Carolina owner Peter Carmanos Jr. first got his start as a coach in 1988 when Maurice was a junior defenseman for the Windsor Spitfires.
Carmanos bought the Whalers in 1994 and immediately brought Maurice to Hartford as an assistant coach. Maurice was promoted early in his first season as an NHL assistant, making him the second-youngest head coach in league history at age 28.
What is your relationship with the organization?
Oh, they go deep.
“This is a special place,” he said. “All three of my children were born there, so they spent some time there. It’s going to be a great moment.”
The Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006 under manager Peter LaViolette not long after Maurice was fired during the 2003-04 season. Maurice then returned to Carolina in 2008 in place of LaViolette.
Maurice coached current Hurricanes coach Rod Brindamour in Raleigh, and continued to work with him when he was fired for the second time by the Hurricanes on the eve of a game against then-Southeast Division rival Florida in 2011. I was on the coaching staff.
He also coached current Carolina assistants Tim Gleeson and Jeff Daniels throughout his 25-year NHL coaching career.
“I feel old because I’ve coached all of their coaches,” Maurice said. “But I’m looking forward to it.”
Maurice isn’t the only one in the Florida-Carolina relationship tree.
Eric Stahl spent 12 seasons with Carolina, working as a rookie center under Maurice. He and his younger brother Mark Stahl bond as a family as his youngest brother Jordan is captain of the University of Carolina.
Etu Luostalinen got his NHL start with the Hurricanes before moving to the Panthers in 2020 in a trade for Vincent Trocek.
Gus Forsling spent a year with the Carolina organization before earning rights after being fired by the Panthers ahead of the coronavirus-shortened 2021 season.
The Panthers also took over as the parent team of the AHL Charlotte Checkers after the Hurricanes left their long-standing and neighboring affiliate team to take over the Chicago Wolves. Jared Stahl is the Checkers’ assistant.
Florida assistant GM Paul Krepelka was vice president of hockey operations for the Carolina state before joining Bill Zito and the Panthers in 2020.
As such, a good portion of the Panthers are well aware of how Raleigh turned into a passionate hockey town.
The team and the city have changed a lot since Maurice last stood behind the Hurricanes’ bench, but the relationship remains close.
“It’s a noisy building and we have a really good team,” he said.
“It’s going to be exciting, fast hockey. And it’s nice to have a connection between my room and where I’m playing.”