With a little over a week until the NHL All-Star game, Bruins head coach Claude Julien took a moment to look back at what brought him and his team to the top of the rankings and secured him a spot as head coach for the East on January 25.
“You're there because of the people around you,” Julien said when he spoke to the media via conference call on Friday, January 17th. “As I've mentioned often, if it's not for the players, your coaching staff doing such a great job –– you don't get that honor just because of your individual work.
“I'm representing the Boston Bruins, and not necessarily representing myself.”
That’s coach. Despite the Bruins (33-7-4) holding a one-point lead over the Western Conference’s San Jose Sharks for the NHL lead, Julien never lets anyone forget about the guys who have worked beside him all the way.
“We've had a lot of guys grow through adversity last year,” he explained. “We've had some young players put into situations that they normally wouldn't have been going through had there not been injuries last year. And I think with the acceleration and their progress has certainly shown this year and taken advantage of it.”
But with the present players and assistant coaches and staff aside, Julien can certainly look back to years of exceptional hockey.
In 2002-2003, for instance, he helped coach the Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL) to the top of the rankings and a run for the Calder Cup. However, Julien never saw his team to the end (he was called up to Montreal halfway through the season). But it was just another indication of the coach’s skills.
“Claude did a tremendous job in growing that team, and he had the opportunity to leave [for Montreal],” said San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan, who was also in on the call. “And Jeff Ward, who is with him now, took that Hamilton team right to the finals.
"Their coaching staff did a tremendous job in Hamilton.”
Even before his professional successes as a coach, Julien’s biography displays a wealth of hockey experience on the ice. Playing for stints in both the Ontario Hockey League and the Central Hockey League, Julien’s solid defensive skills ultimately landed him in the AHL, where he played for a number of seasons.
“Everything in your life, when you're involved in hockey -- whether it's a player or coaching -- there's always something that impacts you,” he said of his days with the Windsor Spitfires (OHL). “I was there in the days when [former Bruins player] Wayne Cashman was a coach.
"And he was definitely a coach that got the most out of his players.
“We were a character team. And I think I grew as a player there. And everywhere you stop, you take a little bit from everybody,” he said.
As Julien reminisced, there’s no doubt that his playing days, and being able to see how coaches ran their teams and how his fellow players reacted to different systems, impacted his ability to coach on every level.
However, the time for looking back was shortlived. Right now, there is half a season left to worry about, and, of course, an All-Star appearance.
“Most people don't remember how you start, they remember how you finish,” he said. “We've got another task ahead of us, and probably a tougher one, and we look forward to the challenge.”