In the press conference, the coach sat at the microphone and fielded question upon question concerning his squad’s two-game performance.
Julien, looking somewhat sleep deprived, joked with the media throughout the session but grew serious when he was asked about being criticized throughout the season for his team’s overall play and some of his own coaching moves, or lack thereof, which stemmed from his practice of playing all four forward lines each game.
The Black and Gold’s head man has also been the brunt of scorching opinions from the public on sports talk radio with people saying Julien lost the players attention in the dressing room. He has also been questioned and second-guessed on player personnel and how he used their services. In all, fans, talk show hosts, and media alike called for the man, who in 2011 led Boston to it’s first Stanley Cup in 38 years, to be fired at various times throughout the season.
The screams for Julien’s job grew loudest as the 2013 season neared its completion and the team was mired in a season ending slump that saw the Bruins win three of their final ten contests and ultimately, finish in second place in the Northeast Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference.
As the negatives of the slump were dissected in every way possible, Julien and his team spoke of the positives it would take from those final 10 games and build off them as it entered the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs versus Toronto. As we know, the Bruins took a 3-1 lead over the Maple Leafs but needed superhuman heroics to come from behind in Game 7 to earn the victory in overtime and move on to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The team would go on to dismiss the New York Rangers in five games before sweeping Pittsburgh and moving on to a much anticipated match up with Chicago. (The series is now tied 2-2 heading into tonight’s Game 5 matchup back in Chicago).
As the team advanced from one playoff round to the next, Julien was presented with challenges in each and he responded with moves such as taking forward Tyler Seguin off the Patrice Bergeron line and inserting veteran Jaromir Jagr. After making that move, Julien faced a maelstrom of criticism, after all, the Marchand-Bergeron-Seguin line was one of the top two or three in the NHL all season, but it had gone cold against Toronto and the coach knew he needed to do something to help get Bergeron and Marchand scoring again. The new line with Jagr needed a game or two to adjust to each other but it paid off in a huge way in that Game 7 with Bergeron scoring the game-tying and game-winning goals, and although Jagr was not on the ice for the game winner -- he was in the dressing room having a skate repaired -- that trio produced two goals and three assists that night.
Julien has kept Jagr on the line throughout the postseason and it has paid handsomely as Marchand is sixth in team scoring with 13 points, Bergeron has 15 points and Jagr has notched 10 points for a total of 38 points on the eve of Game 5 of the Final.
In the series versus New York, Julien saw three of his six regular defensemen go down with various injuries. Instead of panicking, the coach dressed three rookies, Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug and threw them onto the frozen waters of TD Garden. He told them to play their games and not worry about making mistakes which is music to any player’s ears. The youngsters not only contributed to the defeat of New York but they were the centers of attention due to their solid play in all three zones on the ice.
Perhaps, Julien’s best move, up to this point, came in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.
After the first period, a stanza in which Boston was badly outplayed by Chicago, but came out of it trailing the Hawks by one goal, Julien took the three forwards who he felt were the best players up to that point in the game in Seguin, Chris Kelly and Daniel Paille and put them together as a line. That adjustment lit the spark for Boston as the trio scored both goals in a 2-1 victory over the Blackhawks.
The following day, for what may have been the first time all season, Claude Julien was given his due as a coach who can do his job and do it well and although some observers appeared genuinely surprised others did not. Most importantly, the men who pull on the Spoked-B jersey were not either.
“I think he makes great adjustments,” Seguin said of Julien. “You’ve got to give him credit, he’s a great coach. He’s definitely got a lot of experience at this level and in these situations. It’s the players (that play), but it’s also the coaches that make the decisions.”
Conn Smythe Trophy candidate, goaltender Tuukka Rask also praised his coach without hesitation when asked if Julien deserved more credit from the public for the team’s success in recent years.
“He should,” Rask said. “I don’t follow media that much, so I don’t know what’s been talked about him but he definitely should.”
Brad Marchand added, “He’s (Julien) a great guy. He likes to have fun. He likes to joke around and stuff like that but when it’s time to get down to business, he’s very serious and he does his job. He’s really done a great job with transforming this team into a winning organization and it’s a pleasure to play for him.”
To an observer, watching Julien day in and day out during the season and the playoffs is a lesson in how to go about your job in a calm, efficient manner. As mentioned, it has not always been easy for the 53-year-old leader of the Bruins but it has not, and does not, affect his outlook on the job.
“I don't care about that part of it,” Julien responded when asked about being criticized. “I enjoy my work. If I could come to work every day, do this stuff, then walk out of the rink and nobody knew who I was, I'd be the happiest guy in the world. That's just the way I am. It's my personality. I love my job. I love what I do. I hate coming up here (talking to the media) every day but, no, it's just the way I am. I enjoy the job. I enjoy being around players. I enjoy the whole process of this work. Love my job. Just don't like the limelight that comes with it. I'm low-profile. That's just the way I am.”
Julien is a man who stands behind a bench and makes decisions. More often than not, they are the right decisions. His players love playing for him. He has a Stanley Cup ring and could become the first coach to lead the Boston Bruins to two Stanley Cup victories and he is a very likeable individual. He deserves much more credit than he receives on a regular basis.
It has been reported by various members of the media that Julien has four years remaining on his present contract. If he continues to have the kind of success other NHL coaches only dream of having, it will be a safe wager that he will fulfill the term of his contract and should be back for more.
And why not? His employer already knows that he loves his job.
Shawn Hutcheon is the Boston Correspondent for The Fourth Period.