OTTAWA - When Zdeno Chara spent part of yesterday reliving Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins captain recalled coach Claude Julien’s near serenity in the most pressure-crammed situation.
“You saw we had three rounds going into Game 7,’’ Chara said. “Usually you kind of sense or notice the coach is kind of nervous, too. You really didn’t see that in him. He was really strong that way. Sometimes you’re looking to the biggest leader we have. Obviously, that’s him. He’s the head coach. When you see a little bit of weakness, then you kind of hesitate yourself. But you never saw that in him. He was really just solid like a rock.
“Even before Game 7 of the Final, the meetings were like any other meetings. There was nothing special. Nothing you would see where it was, ‘Hey, this is a little different than before.’ It was the same thing.’’
Tomorrow at Scotiabank Place, Julien will be recognized yet again for how he steered last year’s team. Julien, along with assistant coaches Geoff Ward, Doug Houda, and Doug Jarvis, will be behind the bench of Team Chara, the reward of leading the Cup-winning club.
“It’s always an honor when you get an opportunity to coach in the All-Star Game,’’ said Julien. “The fact that it’s at home certainly is something even more special. I’m getting an opportunity here to visit with family. They can come to the game. You don’t always get that opportunity. I grew up here in Ottawa. I played my minor hockey here.’’
Julien was raised in Orleans, just east of downtown Ottawa. Although his full-time residence is in a Boston suburb, he keeps a home in the area. Last summer, Julien brought the Stanley Cup to Ottawa, and participated in the groundbreaking of the Canadian International Hockey Academy in nearby Rockland. Julien could recall when the site of Scotiabank Place, the Senators’ home rink, was nothing but an empty field.
“It’s changed a lot,’’ said the 51-year-old Julien. “I’m not a young chicken anymore. There weren’t as many rinks. There were times we had to get up as kids at 5:30 in the morning to get to the rink at 6, 6:30 for early games. Freezing cold. We know the winters were a little different, too. Certainly you see a difference today in what you saw in those days. Minor hockey is minor hockey. I might have grown up in a different era where certain rules are different. But I think you still see the same thing - the passion in the kids’ eyes. It was the same that we had.’’
It was in Ottawa, as well as during his minor league career (he appeared in 14 NHL games), that Julien built the foundation of becoming a coach. One of Julien’s biggest strengths is communication. As a player, Julien recalled too many times - on the bench during a game, on the bus after an assignment down the food chain - when his bosses never told him what he was doing wrong.
As an NHL coach, Julien leans on Ward, Houda, Jarvis, and goaltending coach Bob Essensa to assist him with technical aspects. But Julien always takes it upon himself to address his players, tell them what they’re doing right, and instruct them on what they could do better.
As Chara has observed, much of being an effective coach is about presence. By setting the proper tone via his demeanor and words, Julien can impart upon his charges the confidence they require. When things aren’t going right, Julien is prompt to address any shortcomings before they mushroom into bigger issues.
“He likes to always be on top of things,’’ Chara said. “Just like any other coach, he’s really oriented to the details. He wants to make sure everything goes right. If there is some kind of slip, you correct them.’’
Tomorrow, Julien will have some familiar faces on his roster. His coworkers will be behind the bench. Chara, Tim Thomas, and Tyler Seguin will be under his command. Former Bruins Phil Kessel and Dennis Wideman will also be at his disposal.
While Julien wasn’t always on the same page with Kessel and Wideman, he spent time catching up with both Thursday.
“Years go by,’’ Julien said. “It’s always nice to see those guys again. I had a real good conversation with Phil. It’s obviously exciting. He loves where he is [in Toronto]. That’s what it’s all about. We know we lost a good player when you look at his stats. It was a trade that had to be made. In return, we got a pretty good player. A couple good players. It seems to be working out for everybody.
“Dennis, we saw the other night with Washington. He continues to be a real good player. It just goes to show we had to make some moves to keep our team as competitive as possible. We lost some good players, but we got some good players in return that helped us win a Cup.’’