|Claude Julien lasted less than a season in New Jersey, amid criticism that he was soft and trap-happy. (JIM McISAAC/GETTY IMAGES)|
Julien seen as the choice
Bruins set to name him their new coach
There were times, early during the 2002-03 season, that the rink at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario, had as many as 15 forwards and 12 defensemen battling for real estate during practice.
That year, the Hamilton Bulldogs had a dual affiliation with the Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers, with both clubs shuttling their top prospects to the AHL for development.
Overseeing the on-ice jumble was Claude Julien, a third-year AHL coach asked to fulfill two missions for two masters: win the Calder Cup and develop young players. Julien was promoted by Montreal Jan. 17, 2003, but his Hamilton club advanced to the Cup finals. And in the eyes of one former Bulldog, Julien succeeded in the development game, too.
"We had a real young team," recalled Bobby Allen, the Bruins defenseman who played a year-plus in Hamilton. "He could handle the young guys and keep everybody happy. It was a really good team. We should have won the Calder Cup. Everybody bought into the team concept. That started from the leadership, right from the top."
The Bruins will hold a press conference at TD Banknorth Garden today at 10:30 a.m., where they are expected to name Julien as Dave Lewis's replacement, continuing their carousel of coaches (three in general manager Peter Chiarelli's year-plus regime), with the latest being someone who lasted less than a season in his previous job.
But Allen, in speaking about his former coach, dispelled two notions that have dogged Julien since his shorter-than-expected stay with the New Jersey Devils: that he's a trap-crazed drone who isn't tough on his players.
Last season, the Devils played their usual style, gumming up the neutral zone, playing safe on offense, and relying on goalie Martin Brodeur to clean up anything that got through.
On April 2, GM Lou Lamoriello fired his coach and took over the bench amid theories that Julien wasn't being tough enough with his players, shelving his whip when it should have been cracked. These two characteristics fly in the face of Chiarelli's post-Lewis comments about needing a coach who prefers an aggressive style and can hold his players accountable.
However, Allen said that in Hamilton, Julien promoted a go-go approach, giving his players freedom to make plays.
"I've got nothing but good things to say about Claude," said Allen, who played in Hamilton after being traded from the Bruins to Edmonton for defenseman Sean Brown March 19, 2002. "People think that he's a passive coach. But that's more about the system that's played in New Jersey. In Hamilton, he was all-out aggressive. He coached with a lot of energy. All the guys loved him. We liked his systems. He kept things loose in the dressing room."
When Julien needed to, by Allen's recollection, he had a serious side he revealed when seeking accountability from his young players.
"He wasn't afraid to get in anybody's face," Allen said. "It's a little different at the American League level where it's not the NHL and you can be like that. But in Hamilton, he had no problems calling guys into his office and letting them know they had to pick up their play. There's no doubt that Claude could do that, and it was a positive thing."
In 2002-03, before he was promoted to Montreal, Julien coached a handful of current NHL players. On the Montreal side, forwards Michael Ryder and Tomas Plekanec, who are now key contributors for the Canadiens, combined to score 103 points that season.
On defense, the Bulldogs featured Montreal prospects Mike Komisarek (who recently re-upped for two years with the Canadiens), Francois Beauchemin (who logged major minutes for
Bruins will unveil new style uniform today. A1 the Anaheim Ducks en route to winning the Stanley Cup), and Ron Hainsey (who was claimed off waivers by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2005, and scored 34 points and averaged 22:53 of ice time per game in 2006-07).
Julien was also responsible for developing a number of Edmonton wanna-bes, including forwards Jarret Stoll, Fernando Pisani, and Raffi Torres, and defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron.
Julien, however, might have had too much talent at his disposal. The dual affiliation presented Julien with the dilemma of ice time: distributing shifts to his prospects for proper development, but also giving playing time to the players who gave the Bulldogs the best chances of winning.
For a while, Julien held two practices each day because of the bulging roster, before both organizations agreed to trim the club.
"Montreal and Edmonton came to the conclusion that it wasn't going to work out that way," said Allen, who scored 13 points in 56 games that season. "So they sent a few guys to the East Coast League. It was a ton of guys, but Claude did a good job keeping us all focused and not letting us go crazy. He ran good practices. It was one of my best years in hockey."
Jeremy Jacobs was elected chairman of the NHL's Board of Governors during a meeting in New York yesterday. The Bruins owner takes over for Calgary Flames owner Harley Hotchkiss . . . The board approved four rule changes, which will go into effect in 2007-08. The most significant will be that penalty shots will be awarded when a player is prevented from a clear breakaway anywhere in the offensive or neutral zone. Before, penalty shots were given only when a foul occurred on the attacking side of the center line.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at FShinzawa@globe.com.