BOSTON - Claude Julien will get his rightful moment of adulation tonight in his return to the building he called home for a decade.
Similar to the long, warm and appreciative ovation he received after passing Art Ross for the all-time victories in Bruins history, a video montage in appreciation of Julien’s 10 years leading the B’s will be playing upon his first trip back to the Garden as coach of the hated Montreal Canadiens.
Another ovation from Bruins fans will undoubtedly follow and, true to his classy nature, Julien will surely acknowledge it in some way before jumping back into rivalry mode. He’ll also get stick taps and appreciative nods from his former players even in the middle of a hard-fought, divisional showdown with Montreal’s playoff lives on the line.
“He’s a great coach and a great person. He taught me a lot about how to play the game the right way in certain situations,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. “He was a great teacher. Anytime you have a teacher, you want to learn as much as you can.
“He was here for a long time and he did a lot of great things for the team, the organization, the community and everyone. So he should be recognized for that definitely.”
In the days leading up to his return for the first time since being fired last February, Julien has made no secret about the good feelings he still holds dearly from his time with both the Bruins and living in the city of Boston.
“It’s a great city. People that come and visit the city love it. I liked it. I think as a family this is where our roots really grew. With a young family and stuff like that, I think there is lots to be said, and I’ve said it before and I’m certainly not ashamed to say that this is a great sports town that supports its teams. The fans are great,” said Julien, who finished his Bruins run with an incredible 419 wins, four division titles, seven consecutive playoff seasons, two Stanley Cup Finals appearances and the 2011 Stanley Cup championship. “There’s nothing to dislike about this city and right now, unfortunately, it’s about coming in here and hopefully making them not like you so much.”
Clearly, it didn’t end well for Julien with the Bruins missing the playoffs in his final two full seasons and then headed that way again last season before he was replaced by Bruce Cassidy. The B’s then ripped off an 18-8-2 stretch to get back into the postseason. The Bruins are playing an up-tempo hockey and utilizing five or six rookies in their nightly lineup this season and it’s difficult to imagine Julien, a conservative, defensive-minded coach, implementing those kinds of changes had he stuck around.
It was probably wise, then, that Julien wasn’t going to go down that hypothetical road when asked about Boston’s new style of play on Wednesday morning.
“We can dissect all we want and I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. I think you move on, and that’s not for me to say. People can decide on their own. All I know is there’s a lot of new faces here and a lot of faces that are gone that would deal with me,” said Julien. “So that’s just the team that was rebuilt, and that’s what they’ve done. They’ve rebuilt, and they gave some young players some time to develop in the minors, and those guys are paying off right now. But as I said, when you have a good, strong leadership group, it’s the best thing for a young player coming in. They have that here.
“I think when you look at this team, they made some room for young players to come in, and they cleaned up some situations here in the last year. They allowed some of their young guys to grow in the minors. You look at [Jake] DeBrusk and stuff like that, you look at [Charlie] McAvoy that’s come in, and their leadership group is still the same. They have a strong leadership group and they tweaked certain things. They’re trying to play with pretty good pace, but when you looked at us against them [last weekend], I don’t think there’s a very big difference in the pace of the game. Sometimes it’s about bounces and sometimes it’s about certain teams making certain adjustments.”
The record, however, says that there is a big difference between the Bruins and Canadiens this season and that Boston’s plan of attack, personnel and coaching style are all flowing into one, big growing Black and Gold success story. This season, the B’s have shown that they have truly moved on from a very solid 10-year run from Julien behind the bench.
The 42-18-9 record since the coaching change pretty much speaks to that. Still, Julien will get one more well-deserved moment on Wednesday night before he truly becomes the double-agent coaching enemy behind the hated Montreal bench for the foreseeable future.