By Murat Atas (The Athletic)

WINNIPEG — As Paul Maurice sat in the visitors’ media room at Canada Life Centre — a place he was so unfamiliar with, despite coaching parts of nine seasons in Winnipeg, that he needed to ask for directions just to find it — one got the sense that he still holds the pain associated with his Jets departure close to his heart.

Maurice, the great orator that he is, did find his unique way to convey a deep love for Winnipeg — particularly the city and the fans who cheer for the home team. Coaching his first game against the Jets since he was hired by True North in 2014, that sentiment was inevitable. Maurice says he’s a fan of the city and its people and he’s thrilled that the Jets are finding success. In fact, he says that as difficult as it was to step down from his job here, he knew that Winnipeg would find its way back to success without him.

“I’m happy that the Winnipeg Jets are playing well and doing well. I’m cheering for them. I’m cheering for the organization, for the fans,” Maurice said. “(Resigning) was a difficult, difficult thing to do but I believed that that’s where this would go and it’s good. It’s good for them.”

The always gracious Maurice spoke for nearly 20 minutes Tuesday before the game and one might consider “I’m happy that the Winnipeg Jets are playing well” to be the news release. The intended headline and takeaway point.

Beneath the surface, though, I couldn’t help but feel that Maurice is still uncomfortable with the way things fell apart toward the end of his tenure here. Maurice didn’t take the bait when one reporter shared that players have called the Jets’ improvement “night and day” and then asked if Winnipeg’s improvement reflects on his coaching. (“They needed a change. They needed a new voice. They got it.”) But Maurice did share his single biggest regret about the way he stepped down: He says he should have done it sooner.

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