Commentary

Claude Julien all about team

Even on a milestone night, Bruins coach redirects spotlight to others

Updated: March 15, 2013, 1:20 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- After the Boston Bruins' victory over the Florida Panthers on Thursday night at TD Garden, Bruins coach Claude Julien knew he would be asked the one question he probably didn't want to talk about.

In the wake of a sloppy 4-1 win over the lowly Panthers, Julien would have preferred to address his team's "average" play of late and how to fix it, rather than his own milestone. With Boston's win, Julien surpassed Milt Schmidt on the franchise's all-time coaching wins list with his 246th victory. Julien is now in sole possession of second place in that category, trailing Art Ross (1924-1945), who's first with 361 career wins for the Bruins. Julien has a 246-136-53 record in 435 games behind the Boston bench.

In fact, Julien has reached numerous milestones in the past -- e.g., 600 NHL games coached and 300 career victories -- and he hasn't focused too much on those personal achievements, including Thursday's.

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"Not a lot, to be honest with you," Julien said. "I certainly don't perceive myself to be in the same category as Milt Schmidt. You've got to understand, it's a different era. Ties were ties and that's the way it ended. We play 82 games and they played somewhere around the 60 mark, if not less, but it's a lot different era."

Julien entered the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season ranked fourth in wins on the Bruins' all-time coaching list. He surpassed Don Cherry (1974-1979) for third place with his 232nd win on Jan. 28 against the Carolina Hurricanes.

With Thursday's win over the Panthers, second place now belongs to Julien.

"It's a number, a number of wins, but I'm certainly not ready to compare myself to him and I have a tremendous amount of respect for Milt, and even for Grapes. Those guys have done a lot for the game," Julien said. "It's nice to know that you're with them in regards to the number of wins, but certainly not willing to say I'm in the same category as them, yet."

Julien has never been the type to pat himself on the back, but after Thursday's sloppy victory, his players spoke glowingly about their coach.

"I'm sure he's honored and humbled," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. "He's been around for a long time and he's a well-respected coach and he's done a good job, so congrats to him."

Things could have been different for Julien in Boston had the Bruins lost in the first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs to the Montreal Canadiens. Down 2-0, the Bruins rallied and won that first-round series in seven games, and they probably saved his job in the process.

What followed was special for the Bruins, Julien and this city.

Boston swept the Philadelphia Flyers in the semifinals, beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference finals, then beat the Vancouver Canucks to hoist the Stanley Cup and return it to Boston for the first time in 39 years.

[+] EnlargePatrice Bergeron
Steve Babineau/Getty Images"His record speaks for itself and I'm very happy for him," Patrice Bergeron said of Claude Julien. "Like I've always said: He's the type of coach that's always been fair on good days or bad days and he'll always let you know."

The Bruins dealt with the proverbial Stanley Cup hangover during the 2011-2012 season, but they still won the Northeast Division title. Despite losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Washington Capitals, the Bruins rewarded Julien with a multiyear contract in July to remain behind the Boston's bench.

In today's NHL -- or in all professional sports, for that matter -- it's rare for a coach to last as long in one city. But Julien has been able to stick around with the Bruins.

"Especially in Boston, also, because it's one of the Original Six, so it's even more special. I think it says a lot," Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron said.

Since his rookie season as a fresh-faced 18-year-old, Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron has played for three different coaches in Boston, including Mike Sullivan, Dave Lewis and Julien. Bergeron has respect for all three, but he has been with Julien the longest and has learned quite a bit from his fellow Canadian.

"A lot," Bergeron said. "I've developed as a player and a person with him. It's not just Claude, but the whole coaching staff. It shows how he understands the game and makes you a better player and it shows in his stats. His record speaks for itself, and I'm very happy for him. Like I've always said: He's the type of coach that's always been fair on good days or bad days and he'll always let you know."

Before Julien arrived in Boston, he coached the Montreal Canadiens (2003-2006) and the New Jersey Devils (2006-2007). He was fired by both organizations.

That's when his coaching fate changed.

The Bruins hired him in the summer of 2007 and he has been here ever since.

"It shows if you have faith, he's a really good coach," Bergeron said.

Through it all, Julien has remained consistent, humble and thankful for the opportunity in Boston. He hasn't changed his coaching style, one that's perfect for a blue-collar city like Boston.

"I think everyone improves," Bergeron said. "It's about finding ways to be a better coach and he's always trying to improve the system, or improve different things and that makes us a better team."

Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask agrees.

"He's done a great job with the team ever since he's been here," Rask said. "I missed one or two years, but knowing his methods of coaching, I think he deserves it and he's done a great job."

A week ago, Schmidt was honored in a pregame ceremony as the organization's patriarch celebrated his 95th birthday. He wore a replica Bruins sweater from his playing days, and the team had a few more made, so it was important for Chara to have Schmidt autograph one.

Julien would rather have a conversation with one of the greatest hockey legends of all time.

"He's just a nice gentleman and he's certainly the first guy to congratulate and give you compliments," Julien said. "He's a nice gentleman and a sharp individual. It's pretty amazing to see a guy who's 95 be this sharp and this active. Again, I'm a little humbled by what's happening here and I think a lot about this guy."

Next on the list for Julien is Art Ross.

"It doesn't mean anything because I'm so far away from that right now, and it's not even something we need to talk about," Julien said.

He would rather focus on Saturday's opponent, the Washington Capitals. But in a town with legendary coaches such as the Patriots' Bill Belichick, the Celtics' Doc Rivers and former Red Sox manager Terry Francona, Julien is probably underrated. While that's not totally fair, he probably prefers it that way.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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