Claude Julien set for heartfelt return
Ask any player when they return to play their former team for the first time and they’ll tell you that it feels a little different. There’s a reason for that. Instead of making themselves at home in the home locker room, they instead are lacing up their skates in another dressing room down the hall.
The feeling is the same thing for a coach, as Claude Julien alluded to hours before his first game at TD Garden since starting his second tenure with the Montreal Canadiens.
“You don’t coach 10 years without getting to know the people here that work in the buildings and stuff like that, and I’ve always had a good relationship with them,” Julien said to a sea of reporters following the Habs optional skate Wednesday on Causeway St. “So it will be nice to see them, but as I said right now, it’s important for me to remember what I’m here for and I need to be prepared as much as I’m asking the players to be prepared for this game.”
Being prepared for Julien means dissecting the first matchup in Montreal on Saturday and implementing his system to counter against new Bruins like Charlie McAvoy and Jake DeBrusk — two players who weren’t in uniform during Julien’s final days in Boston.
That is Julien’s top priority, but it’s only a small part of the next chapter of the Bruins-Canadiens rivalry. In fact, Julien, who still calls Boston home, will have his own chapter when the next book is written about the matchups featuring the two historic Original Six franchises.
From his first tenure in Montreal to guiding the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup in 39 years in 2011 to his tough departure and subsequent return up north last February, the humbled Julien has been front and center of the NHL’s biggest rivalry.
The memories in Boston are something he’ll cherish for a long time. He’ll be reminded of those in a montage during the first TV timeout. Those memories are why he has no ill will toward the Bruins organization — despite the departure 11 months ago — and why he still keeps in touch with some of his past co-workers.
“I did, and at different times. You might text somebody, or you might text somebody back because you found out that he’s a new father or he got married…” Julien said when asked if he’s caught up with some of his former co-workers.
“I’ve said it before, there was a bond built here with players because of what happened to us. You don’t win a Cup and all of the sudden you disappear from each other’s lives. It’s been said before that it lasts forever, and I think I have the proof of that of what’s happened to me over the last year. Players have texted me since the last game [Saturday night] and guys have said hi to me, that’s the off-ice stuff.”
Julien’s tenure didn’t come without its proverbial bumps and bruises. For 10 years, he survived sports radio personalities calling for his job. If it wasn’t for Nathan Horton’s Game 7 overtime heroics in 2011 or the comeback over the Maple Leafs from three goals down in another Game 7 two years later, Julien may have been gone far sooner.
Part of that adversity led to his great relationship with his players, and Boston’s passionate fanbase. It’s why he’ll get the appropriate response from the 17,565 in attendance Wednesday night.
“I’ve said it before, it’s a great city,” Julien said. “As a family, this is where our roots really grew with a young family and stuff like that…I’m not ashamed to say that this is a great sports town that supports its teams and the fans are great, so there’s nothing to dislike about this city.”
His return to Montreal marked another pivotal moment in the Bruins-Canadiens rivalry, but Julien still holds a special place in his heart for Boston.