BOSTON -- While Bruins head coach Claude Julien was part of a gold medal-winning run for Team Canada, he was more than happy to shed light on the performances of the five Black and Gold players who appeared in the games.
“Our players represented us extremely well and I’m really proud of them,” Julien said after his first practice back with the B’s on Tuesday at TD Garden.
Chief among those that were heaped with praise was center Patrice Bergeron, the one player on Julien’s side during the Olympics. Bergeron’s stellar play for the gold medalists simply furthered the message that his coach has been trying to deliver for years.
“He was one of our best players and I’m not afraid to say that,” Julien said of his star, who moved up from the fourth line to make a more significant impact as the games progressed. “He came in and his line in that first game with [James] Benn and [John] Tavares was probably our best line and he played so well he ended up moving up on the [Sidney] Crosby line and basically brought some good stability to that line and they were much better from then on.
“He made a lot of highlight clips in our reviews just by how hard he worked, both sides of the coin, defensively, offensively. He did some great things, forecheck, backcheck. He’s such a complete player and it’s nice to see that he was seen that way on a bigger stage and now there’s no doubt in my mind that everybody knows how good he is.”
Crosby, the team’s biggest star, has been an admirer of Bergeron’s for years, according to Julien.
“He’s not Crosby, he’s not those kind of guys in people’s mind, but when the puck is dropped, you can even ask Sid. Sid loves playing with him,” Julien said. “He’s got a great appreciation for Bergie.”
That appreciation has existed in the Bruins’ locker room for years.
“We’re very aware of how great a player he is in this room and he definitely stepped it up there on the international stage and I think everyone got an appreciation for how good a player he is,” said forward Shawn Thornton.
While Bergeron won the hardware, fellow forward Loui Eriksson earned praise for helping to push Sweden to the medal round. Eriksson’s performance may even serve as a springboard for a better stretch run after injuries hampered his first few months in Boston.
“Loui was also one of [Sweden’s] very best players,” Julien said. “I really enjoyed Loui’s progression, going to Sochi and seeing him play with his team he was even better, so I’m really looking forward to seeing him back in our lineup. If he picks up where he left off over there I think we’re going to get a pretty good idea of what he’s capable of bringing.”
As for Julien, he admitted that he never had dreams of winning a gold medal as a kid. Those aspirations were focused only on the Stanley Cup. But the vibe surrounding the contests in Sochi had a Stanley Cup feel, which helped increase his desire to forge ahead with a Bruins team that owns a comfortable lead in its division and is within striking distance of the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
“When we were playing those games after the preliminary rounds, it felt like the seventh game of the playoffs. It felt like the seventh game in Vancouver, our preparation. You just couldn’t afford to make any mistakes that would cost you the game, so I think intensity-wise very, very similar [to the Stanley Cup].
“They’re both great. I’m just happy and privileged to win both.”
The quest for the Cup begins anew when the Bruins visit Buffalo on Wednesday.