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The Right Coach For The Right Team

Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien talks to referee Chris Lee (28) during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, inTampa, Fla. (Chris O'Meara/AP)
Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien talks to referee Chris Lee (28) during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, inTampa, Fla. (Chris O'Meara/AP)
This article is more than 5 years old.

The Bruins open their Stanley Cup playoff series on Friday night. It’s the seventh straight season the team has qualified for the playoffs, winning it all in 2011 and losing in heartbreaking fashion in the finals last year.

A handful of players on this year’s team played on the 2007-08 team. But as the players have come and gone, one person has remained to oversee it all: coach Claude Julien. For that, Bruins fans should be thankful, but not all that surprised.

The guy does nothing but win.

This year’s Bruins team might be Julien’s best. In his 11 years of coaching in the National Hockey League, only once, in his abbreviated first season in Montreal, has Julien had a losing record. He hasn’t come close to a losing season in Boston, where his teams have won almost 64 percent of their games and where he has won a Coach of the Year award.

This year’s Bruins team might be Julien’s best.

This year, he made sure his team did not dwell on the crushing loss in the finals last year to Chicago. He knew they’d make the playoffs. He made sure they not only made them, but also ran roughshod over the rest of the league. Now, the Bruins enter the playoffs as the favorite to win the Stanley Cup.

It’s all about the system for the low-key Julien. The Bruins are strong both mentally and physically. They have talent in the key areas. And, in Julien, they have the perfect coach to put it all together.

His former player, Jim Dowd, put it succinctly: “He keeps it simple. He is disciplined, but fair. I loved playing for him.”

Julien’s coaching personality falls somewhere between the snarky John Tortorella of Vancouver and the snippy Joel Quenneville of Chicago. He wants his players to be humble and honest, traits he embodies from his own, working-class upbringing as the son of a roofer outside Ottawa. When he coached the Montreal Canadiens from 2003-2006, he said one of his daily jobs was to make sure to accommodate the ever-hungry Montreal media.

“It’s a shared relationship,’’ he said of the media in a recent interview. “I always felt it was important to give them something to write about.”

Can you picture Bill Belichick doing that?

The Bruins’ physical, grinding style is one Julien embraces. Players are expected to work just as hard on defense as on offense, perhaps one reason why fabulously gifted, free-skating, offensive-minded players like Tyler Seguin and Phil Kessel haven’t been good fits in Boston. Players are expected to act like grown ups — to be accessible and accountable. No one points fingers.

Boston Bruins hockey head coach Claude Julien, right, puts a team cap on and holds a jersey with Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli at a news conference in Boston Thursday, June 21, 2007. (Elise Amendola/AP)
Boston Bruins hockey head coach Claude Julien, right, puts a team cap on and holds a jersey with Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli at a news conference in Boston Thursday, June 21, 2007. (Elise Amendola/AP)

The next time you hear Julien throw one of his players under the bus will be the first time. Same goes for his players. Julien will, however, admit a struggling player is struggling, which, he feels is obvious.

“I like our guys to be humble and let their actions speak instead of their words,’’ he said. “It helps you to you understand that you are one of the fortunate ones. You made it.”

That’s not to say it has always been easy for Julien in Boston. He was on thin ice in 2010 (after the team blew a 3-0 playoff lead to Philadelphia) and in 2012 (after it lost a first-round series to Washington). But he has the solid support of his boss, general manager Peter Chiarelli, and did a masterful job this season, getting the Bruins rolling as the team heads into the playoffs.

Very little bothers Claude Julien, which may be unsurprising given the many years he spent roofing for his father. Any time he finds himself upset with his current place in life, he can always hearken back to those hot, summer days carrying shingles, raising stones and laying tar on the roofs of buildings around Ottawa.

It is that backbreaking work that made Julien who he is today, a man appreciative of hard work, a man who doesn’t cut corners, a man who puts in the time and expects the same of those around him.

It is that backbreaking work that made Julien who he is today, a man appreciative of hard work, a man who doesn’t cut corners, a man who puts in the time and expects the same of those around him. He is the perfect coach for this group of Bruins and their style of play.

When the playoffs begin, hockey analysts always point to key areas for teams, areas where organizations have their i’s dotted and their t’s crossed. The Bruins are solid in goal, led by likely Vezina Trophy winner Tuukka Rask. They are still solid on defense, led by Zdeno Chara. They are solid up front where, in Patrice Bergeron, they have one of the best two-way forwards in the league.

That’s usually where the analysis ends. The Bruins, however, know they’re also well covered somewhere else — on the bench. It has been that way ever since Claude Julien arrived here in the summer of 2007.


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Peter May Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Peter May was a sports writer at the Boston Globe for nearly two decades. He now teaches journalism at Brandeis University and is an occasional contributor to the New York Times.

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