BOSTON, MA - Back on March 7, just two days after Bruins legend Milt Schmidt
turned 95 years young, he was back in the confines of TD Garden, amidst the Black & Gold that will always serve as his home away from home.
As he recounted to me, in sharp detail, his decades around the spoked-B, the only man to serve as a player, captain, coach and general manager was enamored by how lucky he had been in his lifetime.
And when I asked about the current B's roster, he was immediate with his response.
"Well, I think, first of all, Mr. Julien, the coach, is doing a fantastic job," said Schmidt as he enunciated his words perfectly to make his point. "Because it's a lot tougher now today than it was years ago."
It was fitting, then, that just one week later, Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien would earn win No. 246 behind the Bruins bench following his team's 4-1 win over the Florida Panthers, placing him one win ahead Milt, for second place on the all-time coaching wins list.
"I certainly don’t perceive myself to be in the same category as Milt Schmidt," Coach Julien was quick to say following the B's win over Florida, that placed him second all-time. "You’ve got to understand, it’s a different era. Ties were ties, and that’s the way it ended. We play 82 games, I think they played somewhere around the 60 mark, if not less. A lot different era, it’s a number, it’s a number of wins, but certainly not ready to compare myself to him."
Earlier this season, Coach Julien had passed Don Cherry, who has 231 wins behind the B's bench, and throughout this tenure in Boston, has surpassed the likes of Terry O'Reilly, Harry Sinden and Gerry Cheevers. But still, Julien can't fathom comparing himself to those fellow coaches.
"I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for Milt, and for Grapes [Don Cherry]," said Coach. "Those guys have done a lot for the game. It’s something that’s nice, to know that you’re with them in regards to the number of wins, but certainly not willing to say I’m in the same category as them yet."
Having just seen Schmidt for his 95th birthday, Coach talked about his relationship with him through the years.
"He’s certainly the first guy to congratulate and give you compliments," said Julien. "He’s such a nice gentleman, and still, just talking to him last week, he’s a sharp individual. Pretty amazing to see a guy that’s 95 to be this sharp and this active. I’m a little humbled with what’s happening here. Certainly, like I said, think a lot of [him]."
Still, with the respect Julien has for the B's legend, he couldn't bring himself to place himself in the same distinction.
"It's a different era, no doubt. You know, we don’t even have to go that far back. I know when I started at the pro level we only had the one coach, and you didn’t look at too much video and he didn’t say much to you. You either played well or you sat on the bench. You know those times have changed with video, and numerous coaches, and goalie coaches and d [defensive] coaches and everything else."
"So it’s a different era, and that’s why like I said you certainly don’t try to compare yourself to different eras with what’s going on now. The game has changed as far as the rules, and how the point system works, and the number of games. So to me, we’re in different categories."
Whether it's 1939 when Schmidt won the Cup as a player, or 1972 when he won as a GM, or 2011 when Julien won as the Bruins bench boss, there's no denying that Claude Julien has cemented his place in the B's record books.
For Coach, it may be hard to believe that he's on his way to surpassing Art Ross, who has 361 all-time wins as the coach of the Black & Gold. But since being given the position on June 21, 2007, the former Jack Adams winner as the league's top coach, has cultivated reciprocal respect and trust between he and his players that culminated in 2011 with the club's first Stanley Cup championship since 1972. While he is second all-time in total coaching wins, he holds the record for most playoff wins as a coach with 36.
Now, he's cultivated a Bruins team that is never satisfied with anything less than a flawless, full 60-minute effort. The type of efforts that his players know they need to put worth, without question, every night.
While he may have the utmost respect for Schmidt, Julien's players have the utmost respect for him.
"I’m sure he’s humbled by it," Julien's soft-spoken captain, Zdeno Chara, said of his coach's accomplishment. "He’s been around for a long time, and he’s a well-respected coach. He’s doing a good job, so congrats to him."
"He’s done a great job with the team even since he’s been here," said Tuukka Rask. "I think I missed one or two years there, but knowing his methods of coaching, I think he deserves that. He’s done a great job."