For the first time since he was relieved of his coaching duties with the Bruins on Feb. 7, Claude Julien discussed his tenure in Boston with an in-depth, exclusive interview with BostonSportsJournal.com.
The current coach of the rival Montreal Canadiens, Julien has no ill-will towards the Bruins organization. In fact, he described his 10 seasons in Boston as “outstanding,” but added it was time for both sides to part ways last winter.
Julien, who helped lead the Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship in 2011, and then returned to the finals before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in '13, quickly landed a job with the Canadiens shortly after he was fired in Boston.
He admitted it would have been exciting for the Bruins and Canadiens to face off in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs. Since that didn’t happen, he also knows the date of the first regular-season game between the storied organizations.
Some thought Julien didn’t like coaching young players, but that’s not the case. He helped develop some of the best talent in the organization in the last 10 years, including Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Tuukka Rask.
Now in Montreal, Julien has the challenge of getting the most out of newly-acquired forward Jonathan Drouin. Julien also discussed the difference between upper management of the organizations.
McDonald: Now that you’ve had time to digest it, how would you describe your time in Boston?
Julien: Oh, it was outstanding. When you take the time to look back at what you accomplished as an organization, as a team, as a coach, and the amount of time you spent there, the city itself, the fans, it’s an unbelievable sports city. It’s an unbelievable city to live in. There’s no doubt I got spoiled there with a lot of things. The fact that you win a Stanley Cup, and you realize afterwards when looking around how many great players, coaches, staff members have never been able to accomplish that and you realize how much you want to cherish those moments.
Winning a Stanley Cup was great. At the same time, staying 10 years there and making Boston our home and feeling comfortable is what you remember the most. We’ve made some great friends and it’s unfortunate in our business that we have to move around, but there were so many good things that happened there for me and my family. There’s nothing but good, good memories that come to mind.
Honestly, all good things come to an end and it was time for a change. It was time for a change, not only for (the Bruins) but probably for me as well. In reality, it was time to move on and there are no ill feelings about that.
Different people have different philosophies, and none of them are necessarily wrong, but there has to be a good fit there and it was time for me to move on, it’s as simple as that.
McDonald: How often have you been back to Boston since your departure?
Julien: When the season was over in Montreal, I went back to Boston for at least a month and a half until my kids were out of school. I wasn’t necessarily trying to have a low profile, I just did my own thing, and again, there’s absolutely no shame in being around. I’m proud to have lived there and proud that my family is still there and there are no ill feelings. When I was walking around town, I bumped into a lot of people who thanked me and I feel very comfortable being around that city.
McDonald: After your tenure ended in Boston, and you quickly landed a job back with the Canadiens, what was it like for you the way it played out?
Julien: To be honest with you, it was tough because I more or less set myself up to sit out the rest of the season. I felt it was probably not a bad thing because of all the things that happened, whether it was winning the Stanley Cup, going back to the finals in 2013, to the Olympics in 2014 and to the World Cup in 2016. My summers were extremely busy, preparing for all these different things, or my summers were short for having long seasons. So, it was tough to get back into it because within a week you had to switch your allegiance to a team that you’ve had a huge rivalry with and, at the same time, you have to prepare for that team and get to know the players quickly. Not only that, but you had one late afternoon practice before your first game because the team was on a five-day break.
Every challenge was there for me mentally and physically because of the amount of time I had to put into catching up. They were long days and it wasn’t easy. It was a situation I couldn’t refuse. It was the right situation for me for numerous reasons. Being from Ottawa, I was getting closer to family, and at the same time, Montreal was a place I was familiar with and it’s a good, strong organization and everybody will agree that. It’s very classy and they do things right and they treat their people right.
The most important thing is I want to work with somebody I thought I could work well with, and I worked with Marc Bergevin (for Team Canada) at the World Cup and we had good chemistry there, so that’s an important part for a coach to work with a general manager that seems to be on the same page and work well together. You’re not necessarily on the same page and agree on everything, but you have the same philosophy.
McDonald: It didn’t come to fruition, but it was possible the Bruins could have played the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring. How would that series have played out?
Julien: I don’t know, but it would have obviously been exciting for everyone. I think everyone in Boston and Montreal was hoping to see that. I’m not convinced that both coaches were extremely looking forward to it because the first time (playing against each other) would have been in the playoffs, but it will happen at some point. It’s always the first game that’s a special one but then you move on. There’s no doubt that first league game against each other is going to be a special one – there’s no hiding that fact. But, we move on and as a coach, you have enough experience to know you have a job to do and don’t let the excitement get the better of you.
McDonald: With that said, what’s happening on Jan. 13, 2018?
Julien: We’re playing the Bruins. But I’m not sure if it’s home or away (Note: it's in Montreal). It’s amazing we don’t play each other until January but we play three times in a span of eight days. I don’t know if it’ll be that hyped because it will almost be one year after the fact, so you just go in there and do your job.
McDonald: With your time in Boston in the rear view mirror and you’re focused on the Canadiens, what's your outlook on the team going into training camp?
Julien: Well, there’s obviously been a lot of changes. Signing (Carey) Price was a big signing for us to keep our solid goaltending. The acquisition of (Jonathan) Drouin, who is a young and upcoming player, and we had to give up a good defenseman (Mikhail Sergachev) but we had to make some of those moves, and we lost (Alexander) Radulov and (Andrei) Markov has gone back to the KHL, but at the same time, we have to break the young guys in and mold our team to what we’d like it to be. There are going to be some challenges, but there’s going to be some good, young blood coming into the organization that we hope will help us take the leap in the right direction.
McDonald: You mentioned Drouin, you’ve helped develop numerous young players in the Bruins organization, including Marchand, Lucic and Krejci, so how does that experience help as you prepare to coach Drouin?
Julien: When Jonathan was in Tampa, they had (Steven) Stamkos and Tyler Johnson, just to name a few guys, real top-notch players. In Montreal, there’s no doubt Drouin will be playing on the top two lines. With our needs, he’s going to be utilized probably more than he was in Tampa. He’s going to flourish under the amount of ice time he’s going to get and he’s going to flourish under the challenges we’re going to give him. He’s excited to be here. He’s a young player with tons and tons of potential, so we’re hoping to benefit from that potential. He’s excited to be here and we’re excited to have him and we’re off to a good start.