As much as Paul Maurice enjoys taking his kids out for ice cream, as he did Wednesday before word leaked of his firing, the former Toronto Maple Leafs coach is ready to return to an NHL bench.
The 26th head coach in franchise history addressed the media Thursday, just 24 hours after being let go by interim general manager Cliff Fletcher following a meeting of the board of directors of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.
"I've had a month off [since the end of the regular season]. This is what I do. I enjoy the heck out of it, even in the dark days. I look forward to coaching again," Maurice said, adding he was disappointed but not surprised by the team's decision to move in another direction.
Despite the pressures of being an NHL head coach, Maurice, 41, relishes having a job that changes every day. He hopes he is better for the experience of coaching in a hockey hotbed.
"You're forced to be on [your game] here. Believe it or not, that's a big part of the allure of this job," he said. "Just the energy, intensity and environment is a real good thing.
Maurice compiled a 76-66-22 record in two seasons with Toronto and is 344-373-121 in 10 seasons with the Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes. But only once did one of those Hurricanes teams advance past Round 1 of the playoffs — in 2002, en route to an appearance in the Stanley Cup final, where they lost to Detroit.
Maurice conceded Thursday it wouldn't be the most attractive part of his hockey resume, but added there are many ways coaches should be evaluated.
"The assessment will be made by people in the business who look more at all the circumstances [involved]," Maurice said, adding his teams never quit.
Leafs fell short by 11 points
Toronto finished 12th in the 15-team Eastern Conference this season with a 36-35-11 record, missing the playoffs by 11 points.
In 2006-07, Maurice's first season behind the Leafs bench, Toronto posted an impressive 40-31-11 record and missed the playoffs by one point.
Any regrets? Only one: the firing of former general manager John Ferguson Jr.
"I watched in complete admiration of how he handled himself in a very, very difficult situation," Maurice said of the man who hired him as coach of the American Hockey League's Toronto Marlies on June 25, 2005.
"He came [to work] every day with the same chin up and support and strength for our group, and it was really something to watch. I really respected him and am thankful for the opportunity he gave me, twice in this organization."
Ferguson promoted Maurice in May 2006 to replace the fired Pat Quinn as Leafs bench boss.
Fletcher 'did the right thing'
Maurice, a native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. said he also appreciated the work by Maple Leafs interim GM Cliff Fletcher, who took over from Ferguson on Jan. 22.
"I know there have been some questions about the timing of [my firing] but it really is more of a statement of the kind of person Cliff is," Maurice said. "I really appreciated the fact that when the decision was made he didn't wait. He did the right thing, in my mind."
While Maurice didn't close the door to being an assistant coach in the NHL, it wouldn't be his first choice. "It's a different mindset. It's a different way of viewing the game. It's a different role," Maurice said. "I think you have to have a certain personality for it to be good at it and I don't know if I have that."
What Maurice does have is knowledge of the current Maple Leafs roster that he feels has some good pieces and strong leadership.
"I do think this franchise was part of a group of four or five teams that went through, and is going through, an evolution of the change over from the non-salary cap era," Maurice said. "It came off a big cap time when they spent everything.
"They're at a point now where they have to go back and retool and rebuild the minor league system and value their draft picks more, and that's going to take time."
That process will begin with hiring a permanent GM and coach.