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New Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice guided the Carolina Hurricanes to the 2002 Stanley Cup final. ((Frank Gunn/Canadian Press))

Paul Maurice has been promoted to coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs following a successful first season behind the bench with their minor-league affiliate.

Maurice was named on Friday to succeed veteran NHL coach Pat Quinn, who was fired on April 20, two days after the regular season ended.

"I'm very, very excited about the future of this hockey team," said Maurice, who becomes the 26th coach in Maple Leafs' history. "It's humbling, in a lot of ways, to have the task of coaching this team."

Maurice, 39, guided the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup final in 2002 for the first time in their 23-year history.

He was fired after eight-and-a-half seasons in Carolina after the team opened the 2002-03 campaign with just eight wins in the first 30 games.

Maurice returned to the game last June when Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson hired him to coach the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League.

Speculation began immediately that Maurice was being groomed to replace Quinn.

Popular with his players

Maurice, a native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., was an instant hit with his players and led the Marlies to a fourth-place finish in the AHL's North Division with a 41-29-6-4 record.

Toronto advanced to the Calder Cup playoffs butfell 4-1to the Grand Rapids Griffins in a best-of-seven first-round series.

Despite his success, Maurice wasn't handed the job immediately following Quinn's firing. He was given a ringing endorsement by Ferguson, who went no further. While some questioned Ferguson's actions, others believed he didn't want to distract the Marlies during their playoff run.

"I did know from Day 1 that Paul was brought in here to coach, his capabilities as an NHL coach had been demonstrated for seven-plus years with Carolina-Hartford," Ferguson said. "Out of respect for this organization it was the right thing to do for our organization to conduct an appropriate process.

"He's a better coach today than he was a year ago. This hiring is a critical and key step in positioning us back to where we need to be next season and beyond."

Mauricepreferred an up-tempo, fast-paced game with the Marlies and will maintain that approach with the Leafs.

"I believe the style of game that will best suit the Maple Leafs is the style of game we played with the Marlies," he said. "The game you're seeing in the National Hockey League is far more up-tempo, up-pace."

A teacher of the game, Maurice's professionalism and calm demeanour are other selling points.

But as well-liked as he was by some of his former players, Maurice compiled a losing record in Carolina (268-307-99).

However, in fairness to Maurice, he wasn't blessed with terrific teams, either.

Maurice's best club in Carolina was nine games above the .500 mark, and besides the 2002 playoff run, the Hurricanes didn't win another series under his watch.

'Helps players mature'

Carolina defenceman Aaron Ward, who was with the team during the Maurice era, lauded his former coach.

"If you talk to the guys who played for him and ask them, 'Did you improve as a player under Paul Maurice?' I think 100 per cent would say, 'Yes,' " Ward told reporters recently.

"He helps mid-age players mature to that point that they can find their niche in the league."

Hurricanes centre Kevyn Adams added: "What struck me about Moe was that he knows the players so well and he knows exactly how to get the best out of his guys."

Maurice began his NHL coaching career in 1996 with the Hartford Whalers and stayed with the club when it moved to Carolina the following year.

He led the Hurricanes to four consecutive winning seasons from 1998-2002, guiding them to a Southeast Division title in 1999.

The Maple Leafs finished this season with a 41-33-8 record for 90 points, two shy of the defending Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

With files from Canadian Press