Bruins coach Claude Julien returned to practice with his team at TD Garden Tuesday afternoon and had an extra jump in his step.
After helping Team Canada to the Olympic gold medal as an assistant coach, Julien said he came back from the experience in Sochi, Russia, energized and eager to resume the National Hockey League season.
The Bruins get back to work Wednesday night in Buffalo against the Sabres.
Julien didn’t get a medal for his efforts, but he will be rewarded by Hockey Canada down the road in the offseason. He said it was a unique few weeks.
“I just enjoyed the experience, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing that you wish everyone could experience at least once,’’ he said.
There’s no doubt that Canada’s squad was teeming with talent.
“We had two days of practice as a group,’’ said Julien. “Kind of the theme is the team keeps getting better and better every game we play and that’s basically what happened to us. We had a great buy in from the guys and you look around and you look at the pool of talent that is out there — all great attitudes, everybody got along well.
“Team chemistry was great right from the get go. It was a lot of fun.’’
If there was any hard part, said Julien, it was the fact that not everyone could play.
“Probably the toughest thing we had to do as a coaching staff was tell an elite player that he wasn’t dressing,’’ he said. “You’re talking about a guy who plays 20-plus minutes a game and is utilized in all circumstances and you’ve got to tell him he’s out, but the guys that were in that situation handled it really well.’’
Julien said winning a gold medal and the Stanley Cup are very different, but there are some similarities.
“I grew up dreaming of winning a Stanley Cup,’’ said Julien. “I don’t think I ever grew up thinking I would win a gold medal at the Olympics. That’s not to put down the Olympics, because at the end of the day, when we’re playing those games at the end of the preliminary rounds, every game felt like the seventh game of the playoffs.
“It felt like the seventh game in Vancouver. You just couldn’t afford to make any big mistakes that would cost you the game, so intensity-wise, it’s very, very similar.
“How do you compare a Stanley Cup and winning a gold medal? They’re both great. I’m just happy and privileged to have won both.’’
Now that he’s back, he is more than ready to jump back into the NHL race with such a compact schedule from now through the end of the regular season.
“The competition I was involved with was so good and refreshing that I’ve come back here energized,’’ he said. “I’m not tired. I’m ready to go here and I’m looking forward to getting back with my team and getting back into games.
“Whether it’s different three or four days from now, maybe I’ll let you know. But right now, I feel no effects. If anything, the excitement over there really energized me. I’m looking forward to trying to accomplish the same thing with this Bruins team.’’
Julien said the circumstances after an Olympic break are far different from a work stoppage, which is what happened last year.
“We understand that what we want to have in our game in consistency,’’ said the coach. “We don’t want the great game, the bad game, we want consistency. We want to keep our game at a level there where every time you play, you have an opportunity to win.
“I’m going to try to make sure we keep our good habits. I don’t want bad habits to creep in.’’
He said the players will benefit from the Olympic break — unlike the lockout.
“The two weeks definitely didn’t do them any harm, especially with 17 games here in the month of March,’’ said Julien. “Those two weeks will have been the best thing that could’ve happened to these guys.
“Our guys are a lot more in tune and in better shape than they were when we came back from the lockout, so I think we’re ahead of the game here.’’Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Elle1027.