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Bruins' Julien as modest as they come

Winningest coach in Bruins history refuses to stand on pedestal

by Dave Stubbs @dave_stubbs / Columnist

NEW YORK -- Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien was settling in for a talk in a performer's dressing room at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday afternoon when he noticed, through a doorway, a pair of skates and a New York Rangers bag on a bench.

"Is this a coach's room?" Julien asked the security guard who had ushered us in. "I don't want them to think I'm spying …"

So with that, we walked down a hallway, finding chairs against the glass in one of the arena's corners; a few Bruins were on the ice drilling pucks at the net and thumping them heavily off the boards.

It was probably the perfect place to sit with Julien, in his Bruins track suit following his team's morning skate prior to their game against the Rangers.

He is a casual, sleeves-rolled-up kind of guy who seems more comfortable in the chilly air near the Garden's twin Zamboni machines than in a warm dressing room with photos of entertainers on the walls.

The last substantial talk I had with Julien was 13 years and two months previously; we sat alone for an hour in his Bell Centre office, 12 days and six games into his NHL coaching career with the Montreal Canadiens.

He was the 26th coach in Canadiens history, brought in by general manager André Savard from Montreal's American Hockey League affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs, to replace Michel Therrien. Julien's Canadiens had three wins, a loss and two ties when we sat in his office that morning, a vacuum cleaner roaring outside his door.

Today, at age 55, he has coached three teams and 934 NHL regular-season games; No. 1,000 will come in Game 58 next season. Julien won the Stanley Cup with the Bruins in 2011, took Boston to the Stanley Cup Final two years later and won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's top coach in 2008-09.

On Thursday, the Bruins will hold a pregame ceremony to honor Julien, who on March 7 got his 388th victory with Boston to become the organization's winningest coach, passing the legendary Art Ross.

Julien, who coached Montreal from 2003-06, the New Jersey Devils in 2006-07 and has been with the Bruins since 2007-08, has won 509 regular-season games and 61 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It's quite an accomplishment for the son of an Ottawa Valley roofer who grew up a Canadiens fan and remains proud of, and true to, his blue-collar roots.

"I have a rear-view mirror in the way that I really enjoyed my upbringing, which was very modest but very good," Julien said Wednesday. "I also to this day really feel that the fact I grew up in a roofing business and worked hard built my character.

"A lot of that stuff, when I look back, made me who I am today. I come from a very modest, humble background and when you're happy, you don't want to change. No matter what's happened to me in this game, I still feel that I'm part of the everyday crowd. I don't feel that I'm in the upper echelon. If people see me there, well, I see me down here. I'm proud of that."

Julien is honored the Bruins will celebrate his milestone with the franchise. That's not to say he won't be at least a little uncomfortable in the spotlight.

"I'll probably be happy when it's over," he said. "I have no idea what's happening, and I don't even want to know. I'll prepare for the game like any other, and [the Bruins] can let me know what needs to be done [for the ceremony].

"But I appreciate the fact they're doing this. If they'd have given me the choice, I'd probably have said, 'Do nothing.' But I appreciate that they're recognizing me and felt that they wanted to do this for me."

Ross, whose name is on the trophy won annually by the NHL's leading scorer, was the first vice president, general manager, coach and scout of the Bruins. He was a pioneer of the game who played, officiated, redesigned and patented the puck and vastly improved the goal net.

Ross' significance in Boston is not lost on Julien, who admits he feels a little "sheepish" to have eclipsed a Bruins icon.

"I know what he did for the game," Julien said. "I know what he represents and I'm having a hard time putting myself in that category, that I've passed a guy like that.

"I still feel that I have a lot to accomplish. … [Records] are things you can reflect on when you retire, when your career is done. Because of who Art Ross was and what he did, I don't want his name disappearing from that place [in the Bruins' record book]. I don't want to say I feel guilty, but I'm really humbled. I know what he's meant to Boston."

Julien is not big on personal statistics. He had no idea he earned his 500th NHL victory in February until he returned to the coach's room and his phone was lighting up.

"I thought there was an emergency at home," he said. "I had no inkling [of No. 500]. When I got closer to Art Ross, people started talking to me about him. I had no idea when I passed [former Bruins coaches] Gerry Cheevers and Don Cherry on the team list."

Milestones, I suggest to Julien, come to those with longevity, reminding him he is the longest-tenured NHL coach with his current team.

"Which means," he said with a laugh, "that I'm at the top of the totem pole and I'll be the next one to fall."

Julien understands the "finicky" business of hockey, having been let go in Montreal in 2006 and a year later in New Jersey.

With three games left in the 2006-07 season, the Devils were 47-24-8 with 102 points when then-GM Lou Lamoriello fired Julien and coached the team himself. The Devils were bounced in the second round of the playoffs.

"It turned out to be a good thing," Julien said. "I've been in Boston for nine years now, and I've found a place where I've been able to coach for many years and have a certain amount of success. It's worked out well. That's what happens in this game. You have to realize at some point you're going to end up having to move. Whether it's a firing or a new contract, you're prepared for that."

"Being in Boston for nine years has given me a lot of stability. It's been great for the family. It's home. The next move will probably be hard for the family, but we're always mentally prepared. Karen [his wife] has been awesome. She understands what this game is all about, that maybe someday we may have to move. We've moved twice already, from Montreal to New Jersey, and then less than a year later to Boston. She's been a real trouper through it all. Karen has been behind me, supporting me, and she's probably prouder of me than I am of myself.

"My family has been the best thing for me," said Julien, the father of two daughters and a son age 10 years to 16 months. "At my age, those kids have kept me young, there's no doubt about that."

Julien remains strong to his core values, instilled in him by his parents, Marcel and Bela, who still live a half-hour's drive east of Ottawa. His father, 79, heads off to the roofing business every morning "to get the guys out and going."

"I respect my dad for that and I want to be the same way," Julien said. "I'm going to leave this game as a coach when they push me out. I really enjoy it, there's a purpose for me in doing this. I'm not a person who can sit back and do nothing.

"It's amazing how quickly all of this stuff has gone by. We have a tendency to want to tell players, 'When you're in the playoffs, contenders for a Stanley Cup, don't miss that opportunity. The next thing you know, you're at the end of your career and you've missed it.'

"Players will tell younger players that. Just because you're 20 years old doesn't mean you'll be back there again. Even as coaches, we don't realize it. The first thing you know, you're 13 years in, almost 1,000 games, and it's just flown by."

By now, the rink's corner doors have opened and the Zamboni machines are rumbling in the background. In a few hours, Julien will again be in a suit, behind the Bruins' bench.

"I have no desire to retire," he said, as if that was a consideration. "I just want to keep going. I'm enjoying this as much as the day I got into it."


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