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On the Bench in Andover

by John Bishop / Boston Bruins

ANDOVER, MA — Off the ice, Claude Julien smiles easily. However, on the ice or behind the bench is generally another matter for the B's long-time head coach.

But when the Black & Gold's bench boss surprised the Andover Hockey Association's Girls U-12 Blue North team with a visit during their practice Thursday evening, the biggest grin in the entire place belonged to Julien.

As part of the Bruins continuing efforts to support youth hockey in New England, and with special attention to girls hockey, Julien stopped by the Philips Academy's ice rink to give the girls a pep talk, pass on some hockey advice and sign some autographs.

But even prior to departure from his home to the rink, Julien confided that he was excited about the visit, as his daughter Katrina is set to begin her own youth hockey career.

"It’s going give me a pretty good idea of what it’s all about [for her] as well for myself," said Julien to bostonbruinsTV. "So, it’s a win-win situation."

That win-win situation turned into hockey's version of a standing ovation when Julien walked into the ice complex. The Andover Girls—and their families and friends—gave Julien a very loud stick salute backed by applause as the coach of the 2011 Stanley Cup champions entered the rink.

True to form, the B's own professor of pucks was quick to start teaching after asking several of the skaters if they were having fun at practice.

"A couple of things I want to point out, and the reason why I asked you all if you were having fun, is that’s the number one criteria in improving as a hockey player," said Julien. "If you enjoy doing what you’re doing, you’ll get better."

Coach Julien has never made any bones about how much he enjoys coaching hockey and his own love for the game was clear as he continued his talk.

"One thing that’s very important is that we all have strengths, we all have weaknesses. Even guys at our level, at the NHL level, they have strengths, and they have weaknesses," said Julien. "It’s easy in practice to work on your strengths, right? And you should work on your strengths, to keep it up, but what you may not like doing, but will help you become a much better player, is if you’re willing to work on your weaknesses.

"Sometimes that can be tough," said the coach to a very young, but attentive audience. "People that are willing to work with their weaknesses become better.

"So when you go out and practice, it’s not only about giving 100 percent, but it’s about pushing yourself to take the weaknesses of your game, and make them better.

"Continue to do the things that you love, and keep improving on that as well," he said.

Boston Bruins Assistant Coach Geoff Ward was also on hand to help run some of the on-ice drills and echoed his boss' sentiments, and was thrilled to get into the action.

"This is where we all started with the game, and it’s nice to come out and see everybody having fun, and helping the people out a little bit," said Ward. "Anything we can do to help the players learn, help the players have fun, and it makes them better players and it makes them love the game more.

"Really, at this level, that’s what it’s about," he continued. "It’s about growing a passion for the game and having fun getting better at it.

"I’ve got four kids in skates so, they all enjoy it—at varying degrees of skating mind you—but, they all enjoy it, and that’s the name of the game.

"Whatever you’re doing, make sure you love it," concluded Ward.

Everyone in the rink enjoyed the evening, but the focus remained squarely on the young people on the ice, who worked through their drills under the guidance of Blue North Head Coach Martha Fenton, who said that the presence of the B's coaches was very important to her squad.

"It’s a tremendous impact, and I think particularly for girls to see those coaches take the time and come out and support a girl’s program," said Fenton. "Girl’s hockey has grown tremendously, but to see that kind of support, and have them showing interest in youth programs like this is tremendous."

Also tremendous was the level of questions fielded by Coach Julien, who paused for a Q&A before a team picture.

"There’s always some good and tough questions," said Julien as he walked to his car. "Some of it was about how do you choose your lines, and what’s the strategy you like to use?

"There were some real good questions out there, and I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t think I had a bad question.

"They all made sense, and they made me think about my answer, so that’s a credit to them."

Claude Julien the coach—and the dad—was also thrilled to see the product on the ice in Andover.

"I watch these girls practice, and…there’s enthusiasm out there on the ice, and they seem to be having a lot of fun," he said. "I was just standing there watching them practicing, and telling myself, I just hope that’s what my daughter gets to experience, that kind of fun.

"I’m a dad like a lot of dads and moms that are out here, and you look forward to that opportunity, for every once in a while to sit in the stands and watch my children enjoy the game of hockey."

For more information about the B's upcoming hockey clinics, including this weekend's girls clinic hosted by the Bruins (and part of the IIHF's Girls' Hockey Weekend), go here.

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