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During World Cup duty, Claude Julien keeps an eye on Bruins

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Claude Julien (right) is the right-hand man of Canada coach Mike Babcock (left).Tom Szczerbowski

On Team Canada's bench, Claude Julien serves as Mike Babcock's final sounding board. At every moment during the World Cup of Hockey, Julien stands at either Babcock's left or right to supply Canada's lead dog with intelligence — opponents' formations, line combinations, shift lengths — and is available for instant opinion before the head coach makes his decisions.

"On the bench, I'm the guy that gives Mike Babcock feedback," Julien said. "I'm also the guy that he bounces things off and asks me my opinion. That's why I'm next to him all the time. I've got the earpiece and I work closely with him."

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It is a position Julien could occupy for as many as four more games: once in the semifinals and three times in the best-of-three final. If Julien and the Canadians are busy through Oct. 1 — the date of a possible championship match — his club team will have buzzed through four training camp practices and four preseason games. The Bruins roster that opened camp Thursday with medicals and fitness testing could look completely different upon Julien's return from his international assignment.

Julien, however, knows where his bread is buttered. On Sunday, he commuted from Toronto to Buffalo to attend the Bruins' rookie game against New Jersey's youngsters. Thursday was an off day for Team Canada. Instead of decompressing in Toronto and preparing for Saturday's semifinal at Air Canada Centre, Julien executed a swift getaway to Boston to monitor the opening of camp and address his players.

Julien's message: You better play with pace.

"I want us to be a real good, smart team this year," Julien said. "Our goal is to play fast. Every coach is going to tell you that in this league. This is where it is right now. We want to play fast. That doesn't mean speed. It means playing fast.

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"The puck's got to move fast. The transition's got to be fast. We want to play fast. We think with some of those young players coming in and some of the tweaks we're going to make in our game is going to allow us to play fast. This is why this training camp will be extremely important."

It is one thing for Julien to oversee Canadian superstars at every position. On the penalty kill, which has been his primary responsibility, Julien sends out one pair of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, then follows it up with Jonathan Toews and Logan Couture. On the back end, Julien deploys Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Jay Bouwmeester, Drew Doughty, and Shea Weber in shorthanded situations. The quality of talent is laughable.

The options will drop off significantly when Julien returns to Boston full-time. Kevan Miller, Adam McQuaid, and John-Michael Liles as man-down complements to Zdeno Chara simply do not belong in their Canadian counterparts' class.

So for now, Julien is working in fantasyland with world-class skill at his fingertips. It will be a shock to the system upon the World Cup's conclusion, not just for Julien but all of his colleagues. Babcock's four-center rotation of Toews, Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan O'Reilly will transition to Nazem Kadri, Auston Matthews, Tyler Bozak, and Brooks Laich with the Maple Leafs. Reality is coming soon.

It will be a strange camp without the Bruins' alpha male calling the shots in person. Julien's influence, however, will not go unnoticed. He and assistant coaches Joe Sacco, Bruce Cassidy, and Jay Pandolfo conducted regular meetings this summer to formulate camp itineraries and manage the team's preseason progression.

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Julien likes to drill down on details, which is why practically every shift of each camp practice was scripted months in advance. The prep work Julien and his assistants performed in June and July is allowing him to hand over the keys for as long as the next 10 days.

The control freak in Julien feels strange doing so. But Julien, who is entering his 10th season as Bruins coach, is not worried that his absence will have harmful consequences.

"When you start training camp and your head coach isn't there, it's going to be a little bit different for the players," Julien said. "But the concept of training camp is not.

"Having guys that have been head coaches in the NHL [Sacco and Cassidy] is certainly a plus for us. Everything is so well put in place.

"Just talking with the other [Team Canada assistants] also, where they had their coaching staff in and prepared everything, we're talking here about a week to 10 days at the most. I'm sure we can get around that fairly easily."

This is a critical camp for the Bruins. They were not ready to start the regular season last year and had their heads handed to them in the first three games. A similar stumble must not take place again.

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They have to adapt to their adjusted system — tighter gaps, more active defending — and trim their numbers efficiently.

It's not ideal for the boss to be away during this time. But it's their reality. The Bruins have no other choice but to deal with it.


Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.