Some old friends are in town for a hockey game tonight. Paul Maurice, Jeff O'Neill, Bates Battaglia, and Randy Ladouceur, all past members of this organization join the rest of the Toronto Maple Leafs at the RBC tonight to take on our Canes. What is it between the Leafs and the Canes? The franchises seem to have some strange connection. Gary Roberts, Ron Francis, and Glen Wesley all went there to play for a period of time as well. Strangely enough, those three players left here to go to Toronto to win the Cup! Funny how things turn out. Maurice returns here on the exact 3 year anniversary date of his firing. (cue the twilight zone music). Weird. I'm sure he and the rest of the Leafs would like nothing more than to celebrate that fateful anniversary with a victory over our Canes.
You can go to any major hockey news source right now and see stories about Maurice and his past ties to North Carolina. Obviously, after having spent so much time here and the fact that his three children were born here, Carolina is special to Paul. Well, fired or not, Paul Maurice is still special to fans here as well. Most fans agreed with the firing decision at the time. After 8 years and a last place finish followed by a very flat start the next year, a change was needed. Some fans were concerned that perhaps Maurice had a job for life, no matter what his record would be. Everyone was aware of the close relationship that the coach had with our GM, but Jim Rutherford did what he had to do, not what he necessarily wanted to do. I have a couple of personal experiences with Maurice. I first met him after the 2003 draft in Nashville. He and Rutherford were leaving the arena while my family and I were outside taking pictures and meeting some of the draft picks. We had a funny meeting with Danny Richmond I'll never forget! Anyway, JR and Paul recognized our Hurricanes jerseys and approached us to introduce themselves and thank us for coming! What an experience, they both seemed so down to earth and easy to talk to. Also in 2003, Paul's daughter Sydney was taking figure skating lessons at the Cary Ice House, and Paul could be seen there watching the lessons whenever he could be there, which seemed more often than not. My daughter was taking a learn to skate session in the next time slot and the highlight of her lessons that year was when Paul came up to her and complimented her on the improvement of her crossovers. Maurice is like that, he notices the little things and takes the time to make someone's day. That's just one reason he'll always be loved in North Carolina.
Tonight the love will be lost a bit though, at least for 3 hours, because winning this hockey game is foremost on everyone's mind. The Canes have only won 3 of the last 10 games while the Leafs have won 1 of the past 8. Both teams are looking to turn things around. Cam Ward will be in net for the Canes, while it looks like Aubin will be for the Leafs. Bates Battaglia was looking for a tryout opportunity with the Canes which he never got. Obviously, he will really be looking to impress tonight. Jeff O'Neill left on his own accord, but I'm sure he would be thrilled to light the lamp as well. Eric Staal has elevated the intensity of his play the last 2 games and I look for that to continue tonight. Rod Brind'Amour is still questionable, has not practiced, and is listed as day to day. Hopefully the Canes hands will have rested from signing all those autographs and banging those hammers! The place will be packed and rocking tonight, I can't wait!
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Just for old time sakes, here's a pic I have had of Jeff O'Neill for some time now. Hey old Whalers fans, speaking of the NHL Draft, remember this day?
Paul Maurice as Canes Coach
The Globe and Mail is reporting that Eric Cole hurt himself in yesterday's practice and is doubtful for tonight's game.Â The Canes could be without Brindy and Cole, 2 of their top 6 forwards.Â If that's not bad enough, Andrew Ladd suffered an emergency appendectomy last night and will be out 2-4 weeks.Â Â Great news...NOT!!