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Julien: “I Feel Privileged to Be Here”

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

WILMINGTON, Mass. - For 719 games, Head Coach Claude Julien has been behind the Bruins’ bench. He’ll continue at that helm for his ninth season with the Spoked-B in 2015-16.

General Manager Don Sweeney confirmed that on Friday, June 5, at the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo.

“I had really good discussions with Claude and all of our staff,” Sweeney told reporters in Buffalo. “And unequivocally, we’re moving forward with our group.”

Julien signed a contract extension with the Bruins early in the 2014-15 season, on Nov. 13, 2014. The season did not play out like he and the Bruins wanted it to. The team missed the playoffs for the first time during his tenure.

Before the Bruins hired Sweeney to be the next GM, Julien’s status may have appeared in limbo.

The task of naming a coach was going to be the general manager’s. Julien went about his offseason work, business as usual, speaking with Sweeney as the eventual GM went through the interview process.

All along, Julien had reiterated his desire to remain with the Bruins, rather than explore other coaching opportunities.

“He said, ‘I signed a contract to coach here; I want to coach here,’” Bruins President Cam Neely said during Sweeney’s introductory press conference on May 20. “So he made that clear when he left.”

Through it all, did Julien ever think, ‘This is it’?

“There’s never a guarantee, but I’m going to be honest with you, I never felt that way,” Julien said from the locker room at Ristuccia Arena on Wednesday morning, addressing reporters for the first time since his season-ending press conference in mid-April with Peter Chiarelli.

The locker room is usually outfitted with equipment, players and staff bustling about, but it stood emptied for the summer months, the players now scattered throughout the world, with just Julien and his staff occupying the Bruins’ practice facility, hard at work.

“Was there doubts, or question marks? Absolutely, because you never know who’s coming in and what they want to do," Julien said. "But I never felt threatened here. The people around me have shown that they have enough confidence, that I didn’t really feel that way.”

Two days after the season ended, Julien and his coaching staff met to discuss adjustments and what they would like to see change in their game. Sweeney happened to come in, and they continued that talk. They were on the same page. There were many more talks like that. But Sweeney was still going to take his time.

Did Julien even have the option to look elsewhere?

“No, not at all. Not at all,” Julien said casually. “Again, that’s why I said, from the get-go, the impression I had was that they were hoping to keep me.”

“And like they said, it was going to depend on the new GM, and I agree. As much as you want the new GM to be comfortable with his guy, same thing, if the new GM doesn’t like me as a coach, I don’t want to be here either, so I understood that right from the get-go when Peter was let go.”

“Basically, I was just waiting to see if it would be a good match, and it turned out to be.”

Julien and the Bruins have been a good match for a while.

Heading into the 2015-16 season, Julien is the longest tenured head coach in the NHL. Mike Babcock had previously held that status, until his 10-year run with the Detroit Red Wings came to an end this offseason and he became the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

In previous years, Julien had been asked on numerous occasions about his own lengthy status in Boston. When we would travel to Nashville, he would get asked about Barry Trotz. In Buffalo, the discussion about Lindy Ruff would come up. In Detroit, the conversation would turn to Babcock.

Now Chicago’s Joel Quenneville (2008-09) and Arizona’s Dave Tippett (2009-10) sit behind Julien.

“It just means that I’ll be the next one to fall off the totem pole, right?” Julien joked to reporters.

“I’m going to try and make it last as long as I can, to be honest with you. As I’ve said before, I love Boston, I love the city, I love the fans. What a great group of fans that we have, they love their team, and everything that I’ve seen from the city from all the sports teams around, this is a great city to be in.”

“So I feel privileged to be here, and I’d like to make it last as long as I can.”

Julien has a track record of success, culminating with the Stanley Cup in 2011. While he now has tenure among NHL coaches, he’s also established his tenure among the coaches in Black and Gold.

This season, he’s on pace to surpass Art Ross in all-time coaching wins with the Bruins. Ross has 387 regular season wins behind the Bruins’ bench, with Julien at 351.

Counting the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Julien has 408 wins to Ross’ 417.

If you were to pull out the Bruins’ media guide and turn to the page documenting the history of those who have coached the most regular season games for the Black and Gold, you’ll see Julien’s name just below Ross (772) and Milt Schmidt (726) at 622, and sandwiched between Don Cherry (400) and Gerry Cheevers (376).

“Well, you know, I think to me, I probably feel a little sheepish, because first of all, we know what Art Ross’ name means around the League,” Julien said, when asked about passing Ross. “At the same time, as nice an honor as that would be, and I’d feel privileged about it, I also take into consideration the era where all these things have taken place, and the game changes, the rules changes, the number of games per season you play changes.”

“Talking about the Jean Beliveaus, the Gordie Howes, the Lemieuxs, the Crosbys and the Ovechkins, Bobby Orr, you know, who was the greatest player? There’s always going to be that debate and to me, there’s great people in certain eras that should never forget what they’ve accomplished, and to me that’s the way I’ve looked at it, so it would be an honor, but certainly wouldn’t compare myself to him.”

Julie instead focuses on those around him.

Back when he signed his contract extension in November of 2014, he said: “you’re as good as the people that surround you, and that is the truth - I’ll never deviate from that.”

He’ll be bringing back his entire coaching and support staff for the 2015-16 season, and Sweeney factored into that, meeting with every coach and assessing personnel.

“He asked me if I’d like to keep my staff together and I said I’d like to,” said Julien. “So there was no arguments about that - just a thorough review of everything.”

A little more than two weeks had passed since Sweeney’s hire before the opportunity presented itself in Buffalo for the GM to confirm his bench boss would be back.

“You have to allow the GM time to assess and make decisions and he’s got to feel comfortable, too,” Julien said of the process. “So as much as it wasn’t a lot of fun or easy, it wasn’t frustration - it was more about understanding the situation. I spoke with Don quite a few times and we spoke about different things.”

“My feeling was pretty positive. I really felt like we could certainly work together and in our conversations, it felt that way.”

So, despite the process appearing - on the surface - to maybe be taking longer than expected, Julien wasn’t so much focused on his own future, but on the future of his team, preparing to make the necessary changes for the upcoming season.

“I know a lot of speculations have been made, about whether this is temporary or whatever it is, but we’re really committed and determined to take this time and move forward with it in the right direction,” said Julien.

After eight seasons with the Bruins, Julien could wait the few months needed to solidify his position.

“I know you guys felt I was probably waiting for a long time,” Julien said with a slight smile. “But maybe not as long as it seemed.”

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