Claude Julien could be forgiven a smile of smug satisfaction when he steps behind the NHL Eastern Conference all-star team bench at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Jan. 25
But the 48-year-old coach of the Boston Bruins said Friday he has no ill-feeling toward the city or the Montreal Canadiens, the team that fired him midway through the 2005-06 season.
Julien earned the job as a head coach at the all-star game because his Bruins are safely in first place midway through the season with a team that has been the class of the East.
“I think everything will be great,” Julien said on a conference call. “This is a city where I really enjoyed coaching.
“With the coaching carousel, every now and then you have to move around. There is no animosity there at all. For me, it’s a pleasure to go back, not just to Montreal, but also to represent the Bruins.”
The Blind River, Ont., native, who won a Memorial Cup with the Hull Olympiques in 1997, replaced Michel Therrien as head coach of the Canadiens midway through the 2002-03 season and, while they missed the playoffs that time, he took them to the second round in 2003-04.
It had surprised some that Bob Gainey, who took over as general manager in 2003, had not brought in his own head coach, but that came the next season (after the 2004-05 lockout year), when Julien was fired on Jan. 14, 2006 despite a 19-16-6 record.
Gainey himself stepped behind the bench, but he brought in his real choice for the next head coach, former Canadiens captain Guy Carbonneau, as associate coach. Carbonneau took over as head coach to start the 2006-07 campaign.
And now, the two men who have exchanged harsh words in the heat of games since, including in Montreal’s tough seven-game win over Boston in the post-season last spring, will be working together. Carbonneau was named assistant all-star coach for having the second-best club in the East.
At the all-star game, Julien will also have three players he coached in Montreal who are still with the Canadiens – winger Alex Kovalev and defencemen Andrei Markov and Mike Komisarek – as well as another Canadien who was still a junior when he left, goaltender Carey Price.
“It will be great to see them again,” said Julien. “There are always good relationships that get built between players and coaches over the years.
“I think just the opportunity to put everything aside for a couple of days and taking time to enjoy it is going to be great for me.”
Julien was clearly shaken at being let go from his first NHL job, and he must have been wondering if his career was hexed when he took over the New Jersey Devils the following season and had them in first place in the Atlantic Division only to be fired again only a week before the playoffs.
Apparently, general manager Lou Lamoriello felt Julien didn’t have the team ready for the post-season, but it didn’t stop the Bruins from hiring him for the 2007-08 season, when he got Boston into the playoffs after a two-year absence.
Now he has the Bruins on a roll.
“The thing you have to keep in mind is that you’re (at the all-star game) because of the people around you,” added Julien. “If not for the players and the coaching staff doing such a great job, you don’t get that honour.
“The way I look at it, I’m representing the Boston Bruins, not necessarily myself.”
Behind the Western Conference bench will be rookie head coach Todd McLellan of the high-flying San Jose Sharks.
The 41-year-old McLellan was an assistant to Mike Babcock as Detroit won a Stanley Cup, but now must go head to head with the Red Wings is a fierce Western Conference race.
So far, the Sharks lead in the standings, but McLellan said that as well as his team has played, it is not a lock to win the west as long as the Red Wings are around.
“I still think Detroit’s the team to beat in the NHL, with all due respect to Claude’s team,” said McLellan, whose team faces the Red Wings on Saturday night. “They have an aura about them.
“They believe they can repeat as champions and it’ll be a tough task for anyone to knock them off. Are the Sharks playing better than them? I don’t necessarily agree with that.”