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Florida Panthers head coach Bob Boughner (right) talks to assistant coach Paul McFarland during third period action against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the BB&T Center on Jan.18, 2019, in Sunrise, Fla.

Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Maple Leafs assistant coach Paul McFarland is returning to junior hockey, taking over the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs for the second time as he continues his head coaching education.

The Leafs gave McFarland permission to interview with the Frontenacs after the club fired head coach Kurtis Foster last month. The NHL team says McFarland will stay with the Leafs for the duration of the 2019-20 season, currently on hiatus because of the global pandemic.

“My passion and ambition is to be a head coach,” McFarland told a media conference call Friday. “The only way to be a head coach is to gain that experience,“ he said, adding that he sees the CHL as one of the best development leagues for all of hockey, if not the best.

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“That goes for players but also staff. For me when it comes to junior hockey, there couldn’t be a better place for myself and my family to be in than Kingston.”

A 34-year-old native of Richmond Hill, Ont., McFarland was head coach of the Frontenacs for three seasons from 2014 to 2017, before taking an assistant coaching job with the Florida Panthers. He spent two seasons with Florida before joining the Leafs’ staff under Mike Babcock prior to the start of the 2019-20 campaign.

Current Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said the NHL’s pause during the COVID-19 pandemic changed the timeline for McFarland.

“Normally this type of move would be done during the off-season, but given that these are far from normal circumstances, we are in full support of Paul’s desire to pursue this position in Kingston and gain more experience as a head coach,” Keefe said in a statement.

McFarland made the playoffs in all three of his years in Kingston, reaching the second round twice. The Frontenacs went 111-71-13-9 with McFarland as head coach.

“His record when he was here speaks to how strong his commitment is to the game, our team, and our players,” Kingston GM Darren Keily said in a statement

Kingston (19-39-2-2) was eighth in the 10-team Eastern Conference when the OHL season was suspended.

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McFarland called it an “exciting group” with a lot of young talent.

“The goal for all of us is to bring a championship to Kingston,” he said. “Obviously if I didn’t believe that was possible, I wouldn’t be coming back.”

Prior to coaching Kingston the first time, McFarland served as an assistant coach with the Oshawa Generals from 2012 to 2014.

He played four seasons in the OHL for the Windsor Spitfires (2005-06) and Kitchener Rangers (2002-04), recording 113 points (50-63-113) over 246 games. He won the Memorial Cup with Kitchener in 2003.

Following his OHL career, McFarland played four seasons for Acadia University where he was named an academic all-Canadian three times and served as captain for three seasons (2007-10).

The Paul McFarland Award was established in his honour at Acadia. It recognizes the combination of athletics, academics and community involvement.

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