Commentary

Claude Julien has won over team, fans

Updated: June 20, 2011, 9:23 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- It didn't take long for the Boston Bruins' Claude Julien to realize things would be different now that he's a Stanley Cup-winning coach.

On his way into his office at TD Garden on Sunday morning in preparation for the players' exit meetings, Julien was caught in traffic on Route 93 because of construction and traffic for the Red Sox game.

"Once people start recognizing you, they're hanging out of their windows," Julien said. "It felt like I was still in the middle of a parade. So it's pretty neat and that tells a lot about this city. I think it'll take some time to soak in."

It's been an interesting ride behind the NHL coaching bench for the 50-year-old Julien. He coached the Montreal Canadiens, who fired him. Then he coached the New Jersey Devils, and they fired him.

Then Boston hired him, and the Bruins became Stanley Cup champions.

"We talk about players going through adversity, coaches go through adversity too, and they learn from those situations," Julien said. "There are certain things you can control and some you can't."

In his fourth season with the Bruins, Julien controlled both his and the team's performances. And once the coach had the depth he needed, all the right players and a little bit of luck, it all turned out as everyone had hoped.

Julien made it no secret that he wanted to join the fraternity of championship-winning coaches in Boston. Well, Red Sox manager Terry Francona, Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Celtics coach Doc Rivers wanted Julien in their club as well.

Julien was criticized often, and his job could have been in jeopardy if the Bruins failed to advance past the second round of the playoffs, something the Bruins did not accomplish under Julien until this season.

"He's a very smart choice," Dennis Seidenberg said. "He knows how to analyze players and he knows how to get his players ready. And he, just, he's defensive first, you know, if you play good defensively the offense comes by itself. I love playing for him and it's been fun this year."

The Bruins had a strong leadership core, including captain Zdeno Chara and assistant captains Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi. That trio was the go-between for their teammates and Julien when needed.

[+] EnlargeCaude Julien
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonAlthough he's had his critics in Boston, Bruins coach Claude Julien has plenty of fans now.

"Claude is a guy who is willing to take other people's opinion and think about it," Chara said. "He's not a hard-headed guy, a guy who will say something and not change it. He's a guy you can knock on the door and go into his office and talk to him and maybe make a decision as a group, rather than as an individual. He's a thinker and always thinks two steps ahead.

"Sometimes we all know he gets into the details too much, but over 90 percent of the time he's right. That's a skill that he has that not many coaches have. He's been really, really good as far as getting us ready for games."

The other thing his players appreciate is the way he balances practice time with days off, and when a coach is willing to give in a little, that goes a long way with the players. There were countless times this season that was evident.

When the players are happy, it usually equals success.

"We all believed in his system and in him," Bergeron said. "We all knew he could do it, so that's why we responded every time he was asking us to step up, or to come back from adversity. I think he deserves a lot more credit than what he's getting."

Bruins forward David Krejci has been one of the many players Julien has summoned into his office during his coaching tenure. The one thing Krejci, a highly skilled player, has learned is that Julien will tell it like it is.

"He gets the most out of the players," Krejci said. "He tells you the truth and sometimes it hurts. We've had some meetings together and some of the things I didn't really want to hear, and it wasn't really nice. But I guess he knows how to bring the best out of me.

"Every time we had a meeting and I wasn't happy about the meeting, I had to think about it a little more and I know he's doing it to make me better. That's how I took it and he pushed me to my best."

That kind of genuine statement about a coach normally is not said during the season. But the Bruins are Cup champions, and there's no reason to hold back.

"He challenges and motivates us," Chara said.

While it's most important for the players to be behind their coach, the man who signs the checks, owner Jeremy Jacobs, said he's extremely pleased with the job Julien has done behind the Bruins bench.

"I'm very pleased with what he's done," Jacobs said. "I used a term, and I think it's one of the greatest terms in leadership, and you have to be predictable. And Claude is predictable. You know he's going to work. You know he's going to work hard. You know he's going to want you to perform.

"Claude is very simple and very direct, but he sure gets the job done. I can't say enough good things about Claude. This experience has been terrific."

As a player, Julien spent the majority of his career in the minors and played only 14 games in the NHL for the Quebec Nordiques. After he retired from playing, he wanted to remain in the game as a coach.

He began his coaching career in junior hockey for the Hull Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 1996. Julien reached the AHL as coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens) in 2000 and it didn't take long before the Habs hired him as their big club's coach.

Everywhere he's coached he's had success, but Montreal relieved Julien of his duties during the 2005-06 season. The following season with the Devils, Julien was fired with only three games remaining in the regular season despite the Devils being in first place in the Atlantic Division.

Prior to the 2007-08 season, the Bruins had a coaching vacancy after they fired Dave Lewis. General manager Peter Chiarelli strongly considered bringing up Providence Bruins coach Scott Gordon, but when Julien became available, the Bruins thought it would be best to hire someone with NHL experience.

During his four seasons behind Boston's bench, Julien has faced adversity and been questioned on numerous occasions.

Now he has a Stanley Cup.

"I came up from a modest background and I've always tried to remain modest," he said. "I'm appreciative for everything that has happened to me in my career, more than I would have ever expected.

"I don't take things for granted. It's a humbling game. Next year is a brand new challenge and when next season starts, I'm going to put the Stanley Cup aside and work on another one. That's just the way I am. I just hope people look at me as a normal person."

Julien said he's getting the most pleasure from watching his players celebrate their accomplishment.

"I told my wife the other day, if I could have won the Stanley Cup and just walked out of that rink and gone home, I would have been a happy guy," he said. "I'm fine with winning and leaving it at that. And that's why I am enjoying just watching from my players' eyes. Because that's what means a lot to me is seeing those guys be rewarded."

It's very difficult to win the Stanley Cup and only great teams can repeat as champions. The Bruins will have few changes to their roster next season and Julien will be back behind the bench.

"There haven't been too many repeat champions in a while and the one thing that I know right now, my feeling is I'd like to be one of those," Julien said. "Once you've been there, you want it even more so and I'm of that feeling." Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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