Coach Julien back on his feet with Devils after firing by Canadiens

The Canadian Press
Coach Julien back on his feet with Devils after firing by Canadiens

New Jersey Devils\' hockey coach Claude Julien talks to the team during practice on the first day of training camp in West Orange, N.J. on Sept. 15, 2006. (CPimages/AP-Tim Larsen) Author: The Hockey News


Coach Julien back on his feet with Devils after firing by Canadiens

The Canadian Press

Even Julien was surprised at how quickly things moved.

Only three weeks later, he had his first call from Lou Lamoriello, the New Jersey Devils' GM who had also taken over as head coach after Larry Robinson, the former Canadiens defence great, asked out due to fatigue.

They met during the Olympic break in February and Julien was named head coach on June 13, after he returned from working as assistant coach for Team Canada at the IIHF world championship.

"It was encouraging for me to know that at least there was some interest there early," Julien said Saturday on his return to the Bell Centre. "It gave me the opportunity to relax a bit and keep up with the league and the teams. It was an easy transition."

Perhaps the hockey mania and crush of media aren't the same in New Jersey, but the expectations of winning may be even greater, thanks in part to former Montreal coaches who went before him.

It was Jacques Lemaire who implemented the defence-first approach the Devils still employ and who led New Jersey to its first Stanley Cup in 1995.

After a spell with Robbie Ftorek behind the bench, Robinson was coach for a Stanley Cup in 2000. After Kevin Constantine's brief tenure, ex-Montreal bench boss Pat Burns was in change for a third Cup in 2003.

"You just hope you can succeed like they did," said Julien. "They all won Stanley Cups and that's something I'd like to continue, like the Montreal coaches who were here before.

"It's a great challenge this organization has every year. They want to part of that group that can win it every year."

Star goaltender Martin Brodeur said it was normal that the Devils would hire coaches from the team that has won a record 24 Stanley Cups, even if the last one was in 1993.

"Lou looks to that organization knowing that people know about hockey and care about hockey and know the right things about this game," said Brodeur.

Julien looks at his time in Montreal - from January 2003, when he succeeded the fired Michel Therrien, to January 2006 (with a lockout year in the middle) - as a learning experience.

He said that any disappointment or bitterness he felt at being fired through an early morning phone call from Gainey on a game day has been put behind him.

And he would not comment when reporters pointed out that many of the moves he was making at the time, such as using back-up goaltender Cristobal Huet rather than struggling star Jose Theodore, have since been adopted by his successors.

Theodore was traded to Colorado and Huet became the No. 1 goalie, while Mike Ribeiro and Jan Bulis, whom Julien benched at times, are now with other clubs.

"Looking back is not something I do," he said. "I am in New Jersey and I'm loving it.

"Looking back is just wasting my time. I've gone through that whole stage and I'm past that now."

The only player who criticized Julien after he left was forward Alex Kovalev, who said his defensive approach stifled the attack. And while other Canadiens had only good to say about their former coach, Kovalev refused comment on Julien's return.

Julien was fired after the team won only seven of 25 games after a 12-3-1 start, but the suspicion was that Gainey, who inherited Julien when he became GM in 2003, wanted Guy Carbonneau as his head coach all along.

Carbonneau, a former Canadiens captain, was named assistant coach when Julien was fired and took over as head coach this season.

In New Jersey, Julien finds a team with many veterans like Brodeur, Patrick Elias, John Madden, Sergei Brylin and Jay Pandolfo that have grown up in a system with proven success.

"A lot of guys have played the same system for a long time and the new guys learn it from them," said Brodeur. "It's a snowball that's rolling, so for a new coach to come in, it's always going to be difficult to try to change stuff.

"Maybe that's why we've been up and down this year, because we've been in-between a little bit. But having three shutouts in our first 12 games shows that the recipe works. It's a matter of being a little more consistent."

Julien said one of the attractions of the New Jersey job was going to a team that practised many of the hockey tenets he already held.

"For me, it was just a matter of tweaking little areas that as a coach you feel comfortable with," he said. "It's important to put your stamp on some things, but you don't take away the strengths they've had for years."

So far, results have been mixed.

The Devils have played some solid games, such as consecutive shutouts last week against Florida and Columbus, and some weak ones, such as a 5-2 loss at home to the New York Islanders on Thursday night.

Many players whose forte is defence, such as Madden and Pandolfo, are deep in the minus column.

Elias said it should take only a short time before the team adapts.

"It's a work in progress," said Elias. "We know we haven't played our best games yet.

"He's been very vocal and comunicative, trying to get his points across."


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Coach Julien back on his feet with Devils after firing by Canadiens