Canadiens head coach Claude Julien sat down with Marc Denis for a HabsTV exclusive to discuss his transition back behind the Habs bench and his team's postseason potential.
MARC DENIS: Sitting down with Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien. Right off the bat I'm going to take this opportunity while we're sitting down in your office to ask you, "How at home do you feel sitting here, just a few weeks after being hired by the Montreal Canadiens again?"
CLAUDE JULIEN: I think I'm pretty comfortable right now, and it's helped that I've been here before - it's my second time around. But also, it's been quite a few weeks now, so I'm feeling very comfortable. This has become a routine for me now, to come in here, and, obviously [the Bell Sports Complex] is a new facility that wasn't here before, but the Bell Centre is still the same. I'm feeling really at home.
MD: You've mentioned this is your second stint behind Montreal's bench. Having been away for a little over 10 years, what have you missed the most about this market and this organization?
CJ: Well, I was fortunate enough to be in Boston where sports are also very big. There's no doubt there are similarities between the two cities. But Montreal is unique. Montreal's hockey team is everybody's life around here, and it's the big thing. Obviously, this is an organization that is well-respected around the League. It's a first-class organization, and to walk on the streets, it's hard to go anywhere without being recognized, because people just love their team and they love their people. It's a pretty special place to be.
MD: We talked about similarities; one of the major differences, this time around, you're coming in mid-season - like your first time - but you're coming in to coach a first-place team. How different, and how tough of a challenge has that been?
CJ: I guess it's a good situation to be in. At least you know you're in a good position when you're taking over a team in first place. The biggest thing right now coming in that helped me was my experience. The first time, I was a rookie coach coming in mid-season. This time, I've had a lot of experience in the League, so I was able to adapt fairly quickly with the help of the assistant coaches we have here. They gave me the information I needed in order to help turn this team around. The biggest thing was, how do we get this team to play well again so that we can remain a top team? The help of everybody around here was huge for me, and it made my transition a lot easier.
MD: So you're saying that having the coaching staff intact with all the assistants helped your transition behind the bench?
CJ: Oh, absolutely. There are some good coaches here There are guys like Clement Jodoin, who was here the first time I came around. There were other coaches I knew already on a personal level, and so it was easy to adapt to this group of coaches. They've helped me a lot. All the questions, all the information I needed, they gave me the answers. When it was time to approach the team, I knew exactly where I wanted to go, because they were helpful. They'd been here, they knew exactly what was going on.
MD: In your only public statement after being fired by the Boston Bruins, you mentioned being ready to take a step back. Days - or even hours - later, you were hired by the Montreal Canadiens. What made you change your mind so quickly?
CJ: Well, I really did intend to take a step back. With 10 years in the same place, the Olympics, the Worlds and all that stuff I had done a lot of hockey. But I had said that the only way I would consider going somewhere else would be if it were the perfect situation. Montreal was that perfect situation. I mentioned it before, but this is a first-class organization. I worked with Marc Bergevin at the World Cup this year, and we seemed to have pretty good chemistry. At the same time, being from the Ottawa region, I was closer to home. There were a lot of things that fell into place. I felt comfortable here, I had been here before, I knew what to expect. This was the unique situation that I said I would accept, so I'm glad this came around, and I'm glad to be here.
MD: We've covered your personal transition, so let's focus on what's been happening on the ice. With all of your experience, coming in and having to react quickly after the mandatory break, what did you feel was the first thing you needed to adjust with this team?
CJ: I think it was to rebuild their confidence. I think they had lost their confidence because they hadn't been winning. When you don't win, any team is going to go through that. In talking to my coaches and seeing what was going on, I saw the best thing I could do first and foremost - aside from making small adjustments here and there - was to make those guys believe in themselves again. It was to make them enjoy the game and enjoy coming to the rink and have some fun. That was the main thing, because your attitude dictates a lot of things in this game, and having the right attitude and the right approach is key. We worked on other parts of our game, but I think that was the first thing that I had to do when I met the players: make them feel good about themselves and make them believe again.
MD: You have peaked at the right time in the past with Boston, winning a Stanley Cup. You've been part of a winning World Cup team, you've won almost everywhere you've coached. From what you've seen, how close are you and how many of those winning elements do you have assembled here in Montreal?
CJ: I think there are quite a few. You've got some areas that are extremely solid. I think right now, for us, the key is finding our groove. Teams that win the Stanley Cup peak at the right time. They are also as healthy as they can be at this time of the year. There are a lot of things that have to fall into place, and there's always a little bit of luck that goes with it. You've seen before that there have been eighth-seed teams that have won. That just goes to show you that it doesn't matter where you finish, it's how well you play at this time of the year. If you play your best hockey at the right time of the year, you've got a chance to win yourself a Stanley Cup.