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Julien looking forward to Boston homecoming with Canadiens

Coach who guided Bruins for 10 seasons returns to TD Garden for first time

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

The 2017-18 NHL season has passed its midway point and the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 26 is less than six weeks away. With that in mind, is sitting down this week with some of the biggest names in the game. Today, Montreal Canadiens coach Claude Julien, who guided the Boston Bruins for 10 seasons before being fired Feb. 7, talks about going back to TD Garden for the first time Wednesday. 

MONTREAL -- Claude Julien is not big on personal statistics. When you tell the Montreal Canadiens coach that his homecoming game against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, RDS) falls precisely on the 15th anniversary of him first being hired as an NHL coach, a gaze comes at you from across his Bell Centre desk.

"Really?" Julien says. "I didn't know that. I'm so bad at those kind of things. I don't keep track." 

"There are a lot of things that you'll accomplish along the way and when you're retired, you can look back at what you've achieved. That's when I feel I might be looking at those things. But when I'm in the middle of it, I don't look or think that way."

Julien will have little chance of avoiding personal history when he coaches his first game at TD Garden since being fired by the Bruins on Feb. 7. He coached 759 regular-season and 98 Stanley Cup Playoff games with Boston over 10 seasons.

The Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, their first championship since 1972, under Julien, who two years earlier was voted recipient of the Jack Adams Award as the best coach in the NHL.

The 57-year-old was out of work for one week before being hired to replace Michel Therrien for the second time, the first coming when the Canadiens hired him Jan. 17, 2003, after firing Therrien.

Julien will try to approach the game Wednesday, his 1,181st in the NHL (regular season and playoffs) with the Canadiens, New Jersey Devils and Bruins, as he would any other, even if many will draw him away from his usual preparation. He's been getting calls and text messages from old friends in Boston, including arena staff he came to know as friends.

"I'm looking forward to it," he said, "but I'll also be happy when it's over."

Julien's homecoming will share the spotlight with former Bruins forward Willie O'Ree, who will be there to celebrate the 60th anniversary of his breaking the NHL color barrier when he played for Boston in a 3-0 victory against the Canadiens at the Forum on Jan. 18, 1958.

Julien said he has no expectations of anything that will be done to mark his return to Boston. On March 24, 2016, he was feted in a pregame ceremony to celebrate his 388th Bruins win -- he has 419 with Boston -- to become their winningest coach, passing the legendary Art Ross.

"I haven't been asked or told, and I'm not expecting anything," said Julien, whose Canadiens lost to the Bruins 4-3 in a shootout Saturday, the first of three times the two teams are scheduled to play over eight days. "If there is anything, so be it. 

"It will be important for me at that point, especially looking at our place in the standings, that I'm ready to coach."

After a 5-4 overtime loss to the New York Islanders on Monday, the Canadiens (18-20-6) are in sixth place in the Atlantic Division and eight points behind the Islanders for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

Julien said he did not peruse the schedule when it was released June 22 to circle his return to Boston.

"Honestly, I first saw Boston when I looked at this month's schedule," he said. "What surprised me was playing them three times in eight days. Ask me when the next one is after these three (March 3), and I'd have to look it up. 

"Playing them Saturday was nothing special for me until the national anthems. That's when it hit me a little bit. But before that, I made sure my pregame chat and preparation was the same as it would be for any other game. I didn't want the guys thinking I was making this game any more special than any other one. I didn't see a reason why. I had to prepare our team to give us the best chance to win."

Julien's wife, Karen, and the couple's three children -- Katryna Chanel, 12, Zachary, 5, and Madyson, 3 -- live in Boston for practical reasons of schooling. The plan is for them to move to Montreal at the end of this season and settle once more as a family unit. For now, Julien says brightly, "There's nothing better than FaceTime!"

Following the Canadiens' annual Bell Centre fan practice Sunday, Julien sat with to discuss the Canadiens, the Bruins and how the two teams intersect his life.


On being unemployed for one week:

"My wife and I were in Vermont to take a little vacation. I had some plans to go on a snowmobile trip. I'd told myself when I was let go by Boston, because I'd done the [2014 Sochi] Olympics, the World Cup of Hockey and 10 straight years of coaching [in Boston], that I was ready to take the rest of the season off and re-evaluate my situation at the end of the year. That was my goal. All of a sudden, the phone started ringing. It's never fun to be let go, but the nicest part of it is that I've been fortunate enough to receive a call every time in two weeks or less. I could have sat for a year, and in an ideal world, I could have taken the rest of last season off. But I can't sit around and I love doing what I'm doing. I don't think I could have sat for a year collecting a paycheck. Karen would have thrown me out of the house by the end of the summer, like she does every year. By the time September rolls around, she says, 'OK, I can get back to my routine, get out of here.' Coaches are creatures of habit, but so are our wives."


On the thinking that in Boston's 2011 Stanley Cup championship season, he was a Game 7 loss in the first round from being fired:

"Would a loss in Game 7 possibly have been my last game? Absolutely. I don't know what upper management would have done at that point. We were getting so close all the time and I think that same year, I almost lost my job at the end of November, beginning of December, when there was a panic at some point. I give a lot of credit to (then general manager) Peter Chiarelli. He stuck his neck out for me, he believed in me, and I was fortunate enough to reward his support by winning the Cup. … I don't think you can spend 10 years in one place without having close calls. 

"There's no way you can be in the same place and say that your job wasn't in jeopardy. It depends what management is looking for, how they analyze your situation. Did we get the most out of the team we had? If we didn't, some of the blame goes on the coach, right? That's just the way it is. We understand that. Whether it's fair or not, it's part of the business."


On renewing friendships in Montreal last weekend with Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask, Bruins veterans he won the Cup with in 2011:

"I chatted with the coaching staff a little before the game. I got text messages from the players and hopefully some of them will want to say hi to me in Boston. It will be a little easier there. When you've gone through what you have with those guys and accomplished so much, there's more than just a coach-player relationship. That bond that exists will always exist. I have so much respect for those guys, what they accomplished, what they went through to get there, what they did for me as a coach. You don't have success as a coach if you don't have the support of your players and have your core group believing in what you're doing. Those guys were second to none when it came to leadership qualities and support. It didn't matter what I did behind the bench. I could pull them off after 15 seconds and they'd sit and wait for me to tell them they were going back on. They were great soldiers."


On the differences between coaching in Boston, where there is a team in each of North America's four major sports leagues, and in Montreal, where the Canadiens are the story almost without exception, year-round:

"Both cities are very demanding when it comes to their teams, but there's no doubt the Canadiens are the team in Montreal. In Boston, every year the teams that are No. 1 and No. 2 shift around depending on where the interest goes. Obviously, the New England Patriots are No. 1, for the most part. But there was a time when [the Bruins] became No. 2 ahead of the Red Sox and Celtics. The fan interest in Montreal, well, they care so much. This is the best place to be if you're having success. It's so demanding and the spotlight is so much on you that when it doesn't go well, it's the other way around. It can be painful for people who really listen and follow the team. As a coaching staff and players, you have to keep yourself in your little bubble, focusing on how to do your job the best way possible."


On having put his decade in Boston in perspective on the eve of his return:

"It really is all good. To spend 10 years with one organization in this kind of work is pretty unique. Not too many coaches last that long. You feel privileged that you were able to stay there that long. Anyone who has even just gone to visit knows that Boston is a great city. The fan base is unbelievable and I've said it before: When you can support four major teams -- the Bruins, Red Sox, Celtics and New England Patriots -- and support them well ... Boston is more or less known as a blue-collar city. People find a way to get to those games, to fill the stands in basketball, hockey, baseball and football. It's pretty special. The city has won a lot of championships. It's created some jealousy because of that, but they support their teams so well and they deserve championships, which they've had in every major league. I have no regrets. My time in Boston was outstanding. A lot of good things happened there."

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