He’s seemingly had more coaching lives than a cat.
He’s been on the edge of losing his job on more than a few occassions. He witnessed disappointment in three straight postseasons before getting over the hump. His job was saved twice when his team finally got over the Game 7 hump over the Montreal Canadiens in 2011 and when they made a comeback for the ages in another Game 7 overtime victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs last spring.
Claude Julien has had his share of scrutiny from Bruins fans and callers on sports radio (or as a certain Boston Globe columnist refers to them, “the fellowship of the miserable”). Yet, there he is, still behind the Bruins bench.
During his tenure, Julien guided the Bruins to three Northeast Division titles, two Eastern Conference championships, and the ultimate prize: Lord’s Stanley Cup in 2011. It was this impressive resume that earned him a spot as an assistant coach for Team Canada in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
On Saturday, Julien was behind the bench for the 500th time, and coached his team to a 4-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets in front of the 189th consecutive sellout crowd of 17,565 at the TD Garden.
That capacity crowd gave Julien a nice ovation when he was acknowledged for his milestone during the first period. Yet, Julien himself didn’t realize the accolade until one of his players gave him the game puck for his 500th game.
“I had a player give me the puck tonight and I said ‘What are you doing?’ He said, “That’s your puck.’ I said ‘What for?’ he said, ‘It’s your 500th,’” a laughing Julien recalled about the conversation with an unnamed player. “I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I guess I just coached my 500th game here with the Bruins, which I found out after the game.”
While the accomplishment is nice for Julien, he has much bigger things to focus on.
“I don’t really want to know those kind of things because they’re not as important as the rest of the job,” he said. “[But] it’s always nice to be here for that long.”
One of those things Julien focuses on is putting a system in place. Its a system that has been on both ends of the discussion, but it's also proof of his longevity in Boston. Its a reason why Julien, who started with the Bruins in 2007-08 is the third longest tenured coach in the National Hockey League behind Nashville’s Barry Trotz (1998-99) and Detroit’s Mike Babcock (2005-06).
Julien’s system isn’t for everyone. Tyler Seguin and Phil Kessel are prime examples of players who couldn’t thrive under the tight-checking, good goaltending and good defense creating good offense mentality. That same system wasn’t as successful in his prior coaching stints in Montreal and New Jersey. Yet his gritty, lunch-bucket brand of hockey fits perfectly in The Hub of Hockey.
Seguin and Kessel are thriving elsewhere. But guys like Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara, Tuukka Rask and Reilly Smith are benefitting under Julien’s guidance. Prior to that, Tim Thomas, Marc Savard (before his career-ending concussion), Nathan Horton and Michael Ryder - both at least during the playoffs - were also successful thanks to Julien’s coaching.
It is the same system that has given Julien a 284-158-58 mark in his first 500 games. And he’s hoping to be in Boston for another 500 games (and beyond).
“It’s always nice to be here for that long,” Julien said, “and like I said, I hope I can be here for another 500.”
The author is solely responsible for the content.