Julien: Boston's my kind of town
Bruins coach embraces city's passion, intent on delivering a Cup
BOSTON -- There's no denying the fact that Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien has become part of the rich hockey fabric in New England.
This is his fourth season behind the bench for the Bruins and he now boasts a 137-80-35 regular-season record. The Bruins have reached the Stanley Cup playoffs in each of his previous three seasons, and have reached the second round in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1991 and 1992.
He won the Jack Adams Award in 2009 and is the longest-tenured coach with the Bruins since Gerry Cheevers (1980-85). The relationship between Julien and the Bruins has been a good one so far, and with the early success this season (4-2-0), there's no need to think that will change.
"He's done a great job, and, as far as from my standpoint, obviously he works for [GM] Peter [Chiarelli] and this is very much in Peter's hands as far as who should lead this team, but I'm very happy from my standpoint," said Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs at the start of the season. "I'm not really looking at it from a historic sense. I'm looking at it game to game, and I know he's done a great job as far as I'm concerned."
When Julien was named coach of the Bruins, he already knew the rich history of sports in this city and said he believes he can add to it.
"It's been good," he said of his time here. "I like the fact that there are other pro teams around here because I'm a fan as well. I love the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics. You keep a close tab on all those teams. At the same time, I really felt coming here that this was a very comfortable place for me.
"I like the approach of the organization and what the team stands for, and what fans expect from this team is a lot of what I expect from my team," Julien said.
Those aspects include having gritty, hardworking, blue-collar players.
"This has been a really good fit for me," Julien said.
Coaching or managing in a major sports market can be challenging, especially if that coach or manager is around for a while. If that's the case, it only means that person is having success.
Currently in Boston, Bill Belichick has been coaching the Patriots for 10 seasons. Terry Francona just completed his seventh season with the Red Sox. Doc Rivers is set to begin his fifth season with the Celtics, and Julien is in his fourth season.
Belichick, Francona and Rivers each has led his respective team to a championship.
"Those guys are champions and somehow you want to get into that group and be a part of it," Julien said. "The only way we can do that is by winning a Stanley Cup."
The Bruins haven't won a Cup since 1972. Boston has reached the finals twice (1988 and 1990) but lost both times to the Edmonton Oilers. Julien wants to be the coach to help the Bruins hoist Lord Stanley's Cup in Boston.
"It would mean a lot," Julien said. "The city has been dying to see the Bruins win a Stanley Cup again. It's been a long time, so it would be nice to be able to be the group to do it, especially when you look at the other [professional teams in Boston]."
Julien said he was a Red Sox and Patriots fan even before he began coaching in Boston.
"The Red Sox, to me, are an icon," he said. "I've been a Red Sox fan forever, and to be [coaching] in the same city [means a lot]."
Julien will be the first to admit that one of the biggest challenges for a long-tenured coach is keeping things fresh. After all, if the team isn't playing well, the head coach takes all the blame, and usually loses his job because of it.
If a coach loses the respect of the players, the team as a whole suffers. So Julien is trying to keep the lines of positive communication open during his tenure with the Bruins, and he's been able to accomplish that.
"The players are listening to the same voice for the last three or four years, so sometimes changing and tweaking little things keeps things fresh," Julien said. "Obviously, your approach, as far as working with individuals, you have to earn their respect. It's OK to demand it, but you have to earn it more than anything else."
Dealing with individual talent and personalities can be tougher than the X's and O's for a coach. Francona and Belichick have done wonders keeping players happy and successful at the same time, and even though hockey is a completely different environment, Julien needs to accomplish the same.
"It's not about shoving things down their throats," Julien said. "It's about being realistic and also being objective. I've really worked hard at trying to create that, so you can be in the same place for a lot longer and still have success."
Having veteran players like Mark Recchi to act as the go-between is a major reason why the Bruins have solidarity on and off the ice.
"You've got to be a real good salesman," Julien said. "At the same time, you need those good veterans and leaders in the room. If they believe, they're going to make sure everybody else in the room sticks with it."
The New York Rangers began the 2009-10 season with a 7-1 record, but failed to earn a postseason berth. The Bruins entered Saturday's game against the Rangers at the Garden with a 4-1 record this season. There's more excitement around the Bruins right now than there has been in a long time, and Julien and his players are keeping it realistic at this point, knowing there's a lot of hockey to be played.
Due to the start the Bruins have had, it can be easy for fans to get excited about the possibilities that lay ahead.
"It's really early to make those kinds of assessments," Julien said. "All I can say is I really like the approach of our team right now. They seem committed. They seem to want to do it. Again, there are a lot of things you can control, and a lot of things you can't. Sometimes you're going to be challenged."
Of course Julien is talking about injuries.
If, for some reason, the Bruins face a rash of injuries, things could change.
"But that's where, as a group, you have to fight through those situations," he said. "God knows we've had those situations in past years and we should know how to handle those a lot better."
The Bruins dealt with injuries to key players for the majority of the season last winter, but they were able to play well down the stretch and reach the playoffs.
"It's a matter of sticking with it. The biggest part, too, is as a team, you want to peak at the right time. When I mean peak, is by the time you get to the playoffs, you hope your team is running on all cylinders," Julien said. "As a coach, you want to make sure that happens, and you've got to manage that part of it as well."
Imagine for a moment, Francona in pinstripes, Belichick wearing a hoodie with a Colts logo on it, or Rivers in purple and gold. Those scenarios are unlikely, but you never know. In the hockey world, Julien has worn both team colors of one of the biggest rivalries in the NHL. He spent parts of three seasons (2000-2003) as the coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs, the AHL affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens, before he took over the head job with the parent club during the 2002-2003 season and remained in that role through 2005-2006. Julien coached the New Jersey Devils for one season in 2006-2007 before he was named the 28th coach in Bruins history prior to 2007-2008.
Being a native of Ontario, Julien's love/hate relationship with the Canadiens has had many twists and turns. But one thing is certain now that he's wearing the Black and Gold: He's not a big fan of the Habs.
"I hated them when I was [playing] with the Quebec Nordiques, and I hate them now that I'm with the Boston Bruins," Julien said. "Montreal is a hated rivalry and I'm part of that now."
Imagine Francona saying he hates the New York Yankees?
Still, Julien respects the fact he was able to coach two Original Six teams.
"At one point, [Montreal] was a team when I was a kid growing up, it was the only team around so I liked them," he said. "I've gone back and forth with them, so it wasn't that big of an adjustment [when I become the coach of the Bruins]. At the same time, it was a privilege to coach them.
"In all honestly, I can tell you, the Boston Bruins have been a much better fit for me for what I think I can bring to the hockey club," he said. "What the organization and the people have been looking for, this is a better fit for me."
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.