HAVERHILL — On Sunday, Claude Julien was back behind a bench.
It was at Haverhill Valley Forum, not TD Garden. Julien’s charges were 13 boys from the Winthrop Squirt B youth hockey team, not Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, and Tuukka Rask. Julien was wearing a Bruins jacket instead of his usual suit and tie.
But for Julien, coaching is coaching. For a rink rat who’s been out of work for more than a month, being behind a bench was a welcome diversion from a lockout that’s gone too long.
“It was a lot of fun to get behind the bench and deal with young hockey players again,” Julien said. “They were having fun and enjoying the game. They were an excited group.”
Julien’s Winthrop club beat Watertown, 3-2. Winthrop won Julien’s coaching services via a raffle to benefit the Boston Bruins Foundation and Massachusetts youth hockey. While Winthrop coach Steve Indrisano called the shots, Julien manned the bench to offer tips to players, taps on the helmet after each shift, and fist bumps following all three goals.
“It was really fun,” Indrisano said. “It’s good to have someone who sees the game through his eyes. It was really good. Like the kids, it’s something I’ll remember forever.”
Like most coaches, Julien logs a lot of hours during a typical NHL season. He arrives at the rink hours before the players and doesn’t leave it until well after they have gone. He spends many of his hours behind his laptop, reviewing video and thinking of ways to improve his team. On game days on the road, Julien’s only chunk of free time is a post-lunch walk.
Julien’s lifestyle is by choice. He doesn’t know anything else.
“We’re creatures of habit,” he said. “At this time of year, we’re used to being full tilt.”
Instead, Julien’s usual life is on pause. The NHL’s lockout has been in effect since Sept. 16. Games have been scrubbed through November.
Julien has tried to stay busy. Four days each week, he and assistants Geoff Ward, Doug Houda, and Doug Jarvis huddle at Wilmington’s Ristuccia Arena. They work out. They review video of Bruins games to plan for abbreviated training camp sessions that may never take place.
“We’ve identified parts of our game we want to improve and make better,” Julien said. “At least we can give guys an idea of what those areas are. When we start, we can work on those things and clarify those few areas. The advantage that we have is that basically, we have the same team. It’s not like they don’t understand these concepts and the system.”
But those workouts and video sessions don’t last all day. Come the afternoon, Julien and his colleagues start wondering what to do next. When he leaves Ristuccia, Julien walks through an empty dressing room to the parking lot.
Julien often grumbles about the players’ choice of music, which they play at ear-pounding levels. But now, amid the eerie silence at Ristuccia, Julien might welcome a few blasts of Flo Rida.
“It’s been tough,” Julien said. “You walk into that room and you’re used to seeing a lot of movement, a lot of action. That’s the toughest part. You’re trying to hang on to that routine of going in every morning. But there’s not much happening.”
There have been other areas to manage. Julien has been evaluating Providence players in games and practices. He and general manager Peter Chiarelli went on a scouting trip earlier this month to Ontario to watch prospects Dougie Hamilton and Malcolm Subban.
All those things, however, do not come close to resembling a regular, in-season work schedule. Wife Karen and daughter Katryna have noticed.
“As much as you talk about family, your family can sense that you’re not really quite the same,” Julien said. “You’re bored. You’re trying to keep busy with things around the house. But this time of year, the one thing you can’t change from us is that we’re used to a full-go schedule. Full tilt. It’s a hard time. The other coaches have expressed the same sentiments. It’s really hard.”
Julien has enjoyed Katryna’s school dropoffs and pickups. His voice gives away his smile when he discusses the growth of Zachary, the newborn he and his wife adopted earlier this year. Zachary is sleeping through the night. Julien is quick to remind Katryna she was not as trustworthy a sleeper as her new brother.
On Sunday, Julien had some other children to oversee. Before the game, he reminded the 9- and 10-year-olds to submit an honest effort and to have fun. Equipment manager Keith Robinson set up the Winthrop dressing room with nameplates above each stall. Every player signed a one-game contract the Bruins staff had printed.Continued...