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Bruins React to Coaching Change

by Caryn Switaj @NHLBruins /

BOSTON - After General Manager Don Sweeney announced on Tuesday morning that Claude Julien had been relieved of his head coaching duties, and that Assistant Coach Bruce Cassidy was going to assume interim head coaching duties, he next delivered the news to the team.


The Bruins received the news before they arrived to Warrior Ice Arena, in anticipation of the morning's scheduled practice. They were returning to the rink after two days off the ice. 


Sweeney acknowledged that it was a difficult message to deliver to the players. 


"I would fully expect the players to thank and acknowledge - and some players haven't even played for another coach - to be very respectful of the impact that Claude has had in this organization, and I conveyed that to them," said Sweeney. "I also conveyed my conviction in terms of where this organization is headed, what our expectations are for each and every one of the players to be a part of that and to take ownership of it."

"I had an opportunity to play for nine different coaches as a player. Every time that you went through this, you should have gone home and looked in the mirror and said, did I do enough to make this work? And myself as a general manager, I have to face that same fact."


Cassidy also addressed the team before they headed out to the ice for an 11:30 a.m. practice. 


"The message was, first and foremost, that as part of Claude's staff, I have nothing but respect and admiration for him," said Cassidy. "That I feel myself, personally, as a part of his staff, that we let him down, that I let him down, and every player and coach should feel that way to a certain extent."


"But our focus now goes on getting better every day, and the process of how we're going to win games, how we're going to get better, and so that was the message, and our focus was on our pace in practice, on playing at a higher pace, playing on our toes as opposed to our heels."


After Tuesday's skate, the players offered their thoughts on the coaching change, and on the immediate differences they felt during practice.


"It was definitely a quicker pace and that's something Butch has always preached. Down in Providence, when I played for him, everything was quick, on the go," said defenseman Torey Krug, who played for Cassidy during the 2012-13 season before joining the Bruins for their 2013 postseason run. "He doesn't like to spend much time explaining drills or being at the board in practice - it's go, go, go and I think the more you do that in practice, it translates to a game and it becomes a habit."


Video: Krug speaks after the Bruins' coaching change


Prior to practice, though, the Bruins needed to let the news sink in. 


Longtime Bruins like Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask have never played for another coach in the NHL. From their first NHL games, through the 2011 Stanley Cup, Julien was behind the bench. Patrice Bergeron had played nearly a decade with Julien as his head coach, along with David Krejci, who played his first full NHL season in 2007-08, right after Julien was hired by Boston in June 2007.


"We knew before we got in here [to the rink]. Obviously, we talked about it a little bit before practice. Claude has been the only coach I've ever had in the NHL, so it's going to be new for me and for lots of guys here," said Krejci.


"But, like I said, we're hockey players. We've been playing this game for a long time. Things happen," said Krejci. "Coaches, they come and go just like players. So, it's obviously a tough, tough day. But, I've been there before when my guys get signed somewhere else or traded. So, you've just got to move on and be the best player you can be for the team."


Video: Krejci reacts to the Bruins' coaching change


"Claude has obviously meant a lot to me and I can only speak for myself as a player, and throughout my career, with my development and everything," said Bergeron. "I owe him a lot and I wish him all the best."


Though Krug and many of his fellow teammates haven't been with Boston for as long as Bergeron has, the reaction was still the same. 


"Being one of the many guys, Claude's been my only coach in the NHL, it's tough. You get to the rink, and all of a sudden you realize that things are going to be different," said Krug. "Whether it's the way things are run, practices will be different, the way the bench is ran is going to feel a little bit different, so it's definitely an emotional day."


"Obviously it's a wakeup call to all the players in here and whatever happens, falls on our shoulders," said Krug. "[It's] unfortunate that Claude has to go a separate way than us. Hopefully it can wake some of us up in here, [and be] a positive thing, but it's definitely the toughest part of the business, seeing people go like that."


Marchand suited up in his first NHL game in 2010 and quickly shot up Julien's lineup to carve out a key role on the team en route to the 2011 Stanley Cup. His close relationship with Julien was well documented. 


"It's tough being in that situation, where we know that it's on us," said Marchand. "We didn't perform and we didn't play the way that we should and ultimately, that's why he's not here anymore, because we didn't do our jobs."


A reporter asked Marchand, "Why is it going to be better now?" 


"Uh, it's not, just because of this - hopefully it makes guys realize that we need to wake up and this is because we're not playing well enough and if we're not doing our jobs," said Marchand, noting that he and his teammates needed to react to the situation. 


"Just because this happened, doesn't mean that it's all of a sudden going to be better. That's not how it works, so again, we've still got a lot of work to do."


The Bruins hope that a positive reaction will come as a result of the change. 


"I hope it does," said Bergeron. "It's one of those things where, like I said before, at the end of the day, it falls back on the players. We're the ones that aren't executing on the ice and hopefully, we have to realize that this is not going to fix everything. We have to go out there and do the job and be better as a whole."


"I like our team. I like the way we're built, and I think we've obviously underachieved if we're talking about this right now. So, we have to go out there and realize what needs to change and be better," said Bergeron. "I think today [on Tuesday], a few meetings before practice and it's obviously been a crazy day so it's kind of hard to fix everything at one day."


"But, there's been a few talks and hopefully, we have to move forward. We have to concentrate on the next game against San Jose and go from there. But, we also have to realize, like I said, it's on us, and we're the only ones that can make that change and be the difference."


Video: Bergeron reacts to the Bruins' coaching change


Besides the higher pace, there were some minor tweaks to lines for Tuesday's practice, with Frank Vatrano flanking Bergeron's right wing; callup Peter Cehlarik skating on the left wing with Krejci and David Pastrnak; and Ryan Spooner centering Matt Beleskey and David Backes.


Nothing is set in stone, but the players were optimistic about the changes - once they got over the shock. 


"It's a really tough day. You know, management, I'm sure it's not an easy decision, but at the same time, we put ourselves in this position, not just Claude, but as players, the position that we're at right now. If we don't pick it up as players, then we may be in trouble," said Krejci. "But at the same time, it was a positive practice, some line changes, so we're looking forward to next game."


Pastrnak enjoyed the practice atmosphere, and not just because he was skating with Krejci. 


"I had Butch in Providence when I started, my first year after the draft, so I was really young there, and coaches down there helped me a lot," said Pastrnak. "And I know him now here as an assistant, so he's good, I loved the practice we had and we got better, and we need to do that every day."


"In Providence, he was awesome," said Pastrnak. "Obviously I was 18 years old, really young, so he [taught] me a lot of stuff, helped me with the other coaches down there and pretty much had the first experience under him with North American hockey."


Video: Pastrnak on interim coach Bruce Cassidy


From longtime Bruins, to younger players, to new additions this season like Backes, all of the players reacted to the news a bit differently, from differing points of view. But they all spoke similarly about the necessary mindset going forward.  


"Now it's time to look in the mirror, examine what we're bringing to the table, how we can be better to help this team win," said Backes. "Unfortunately today it's the end of the Julien era in Boston, but from his time here, he got a lot accomplished, he was able to win a Cup in this city and go back to the Final a couple of years later."


"I've only had a five month experience with him, but a great man and a guy that really cares about his players. He put together a good game plan and we didn't execute it to the extent we needed to, to have the success that's expected in this room…and that's the first ball to drop, is the head coach, and it was this morning that we got the message."


Here's what is next for the Bruins: another day of practice on Wednesday, and an opportunity on Thursday night to get a strong win at home over the San Jose Sharks. Another practice on Friday will precede a home back-to-back against Vancouver and Montreal before they get five days to digest everything during the bye week, take a breather, and then get to work on the final 24 games of the regular season. 


While management will keep an eye to the future, and the coaching staff will focus on the X's and O's, the players' focus will pointedly be on each day, and each game. 


"It's tough. We need more out of more guys, there's no question about that," said Marchand. "We need guys to step up and start playing better. It doesn't seem to have that urgency in the room that we're fighting for our lives right now."


"Guys may look at the playoffs and see that, well, we just got out of a tough spot, but we were there for a while. You look at the games in hand, we could be in a really tough spot in a few games," said Marchand. "We just need more out of more guys and we need some more urgency, we need guys to care a little more, and we all need to play better as a group."


"It seems like we're inconsistent right now. We win a couple, we lose one, we lose two, we win one, and that's unacceptable this time a year. That's unacceptable in this organization. That's why there are changes being made, because we're expected to win. That's our culture here, and we've got to get back to that."

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