OPEN MIC: Canadiens coach Claude Julien

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Jim Kelley

He is the 26th head coach in Montreal history, the 26th man charged with guiding a team that has won that many Stanley Cups. Claude Julien is certain he can do the job, even if he did have to take over in midseason and doesn't have NHL-level head coaching experience. "It's a privilege and an honor," Julien said when he was tapped to replace Michel Therrien as coach of the most storied franchise in hockey and one of the most successful franchises in pro sports. "To be able to realize a dream and have the privilege and honor of coaching this team is unbelievable. When Andre (general manager Andre Savard) called me and offered me the job, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to do it." Most everyone who gets that opportunity says that. The ones who succeed are honored like few men in sports. The ones that don't, well, it's a special kind of scorn. FOXSports.com caught up with the 42-year-old Julien at the team's hotel on a recent stop in Buffalo. He's a career coach after a brief career as an NHL player, and he explained how he came to the job and his coaching philosophy. FOXSports.com: There are few jobs in life even a career coach can prepare for that is quite like taking over the Montreal . How did you approach that? Claude Julien: Well, the opportunity came and they offered me the job. As I often mentioned, I grew up in Ottawa years ago when the didn't exist, so Montreal was always the team that I always kept a close eye on. As a result of that I've seen the exposure that they (coaches) have been put through, the media attention that's given to that team and what the Montreal name means in the city of Montreal itself. Obviously going in there I knew exactly what I was stepping into. FOXSports.com: So it is different. It's not like stepping behind the bench with a first-year team in an expansion city or anything like that.
NAME: Claude Julien
POSITION: Head coach of the Montreal
OTHER JOBS: Head coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs in the American Hockey League; head coach of the Hull Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior League; head coach of the Canadian National Team at the 2000 World Junior Championships, an assistant coach in a previous edition of the team and a head coach of the Canadian under-18 team.
WHY YOU NEED TO KNOW HIM: Because he took over the hot seat in Montreal, arguably the toughest place in the NHL in which to coach, and because he wins. Julien has had great success in the junior ranks, winning a Memorial Cup championship with Hull in 1997. His Canadian Junior team won a bronze medial in 2000 and a silver the year before when he was an assistant. The under-18 team won gold in the Three Nations Tournament in 1997. Julien had a "cup of coffee" with the Quebec Nordiques when they were in the NHL, playing 14 games there. He spent the bulk of his career as a player in the AHL, playing in 409 games and scoring 40 goals and 206 assists, solid numbers for a defenseman.

CJ: No, it's definitely different, but I don't think that causes anyone to back away from the challenge. I keep telling people that one of the keys to handling what happened, the situation that's happened (replacing the fired Michel Therrien), I used the experience I had with the World Junior Team with Team Canada. That was high pressure, a lot of focus in that the whole country is looking at your team. And you have ups and downs in a tournament and you have to be able to handle situations like that and situations with the media, and I think that's helped me step in and handle the situation in Montreal. FOXSports.com: Many of the players with the right now, you coached them at the minor-league level. Are there advantages to that? Disadvantages to that? Was it tough to blend young guys with some of the players already there? CJ: No, not really. I think we've got an older team obviously, but we've had some young guys who've come up and done a pretty good job. I think you have to guard against favorites and I don't think I've had any. Even with Garon (backup goaltender , who came up from Hamilton after was traded), I think it makes it easier knowing what they can do. A lot of times an NHL coach gets a called-up player he's hardly seen and you don't know how prepared he is to play at that next level and how much trust you can put in him. In my case I've seen a lot of these guys for at least half a year. FOXSports.com: It's hard to take over any team in midseason, but it's especially hard when you're in that sixth- to ninth-place range where making the playoffs can come down to two points won here or lost there. When you walk in and you follow another coach, what do you focus on? CJ: That's probably been the toughest thing. You can't come in and run a mini-training camp, you have to go in there and slowly and make small changes. I can't do any drastic changes in the middle of a season. Basically I've had to go with what they've had and make some small adjustments around that. More than anything else you can just hope those changes are good enough to make the playoffs. Next fall when we go into training camp, that's when you make some changes and build the team around what you want to do, but right now you've got to make those little changes and hope that a change in atmosphere is enough to let you make the playoffs. FOXSports.com: Most people would say Montreal fortunes improved when you came on board and the goaltending started to improve. There's got to be more to it than that. CJ: I think defensively we've been a lot better. Last night (a 3-0 loss to Florida) was the first time in a while we've given three or more goals in quite awhile. I think our goals-against and our defensive game overall has improved. I think from this point forward we need more goals. We've got to create more offense. FOXSports.com: That's an issue for a lot of teams. CJ: That's true, but I can only worry about this one. FOXSports.com: You had a brief stint in the NHL as a player (defenseman), but a career in coaching. Has that always been the goal, to be an NHL coach, to be coach of the Montreal ? CJ: Well, I would have liked to have had a little bit longer in the NHL. I had what amounts to a cup of coffee with Quebec, but yes, coaching has been a lifelong goal. Once you get involved in coaching it's very hard to let it go and you want to keep moving up, testing yourself at one level and then the next and then the one after that. It's been a goal of mine to coach in the NHL, and it's been great. It's been great to coach a team in Montreal. It's a situation that comes with its own challenges, but I'm enjoying it. It's everything I hoped and thought it might be. FOXSports.com: And maybe a little more? CJ: Maybe, but so far I've enjoyed every minute of it. FOXSports.com: What is your basic approach to coaching? CJ: I like to think of myself as a coach who gets players to buy into my system. You see a lot of successful teams at this level and one of the things you see them doing is playing a system. It doesn't matter who they have on their roster, they're all playing in the same system. To me it's important to have everybody on the same page and basically, that's what I'm trying to do in Montreal. It's what I've tried to do everywhere I've coached. Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Bruins, Canadiens, Senators, Mathieu Garon

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