MONTREAL â€” Claude Julien joined the Montreal Canadiens just in time to reach a major milestone by coaching his 1,000th career NHL game.
The 14-year veteran was set to hit the milestone when the Canadiens hosted to the New York Islanders on Thursday night, only three games after he was brought back for a second stint in Montreal last week after spending 10 years behind the Boston Bruins bench.
“I can’t believe it’s been 1,000 games because it goes so fast,” Julien said before the game. “But you don’t accomplish that without good people surrounding you, whether it’s players, general managers, assistant coaches.
“So much credit goes around to so many people for allowing you to reach 1,000 games. I’m certainly not downplaying it but like I said last year in Boston when I became their winningest coach, it’s great but let’s move on here. I’d like to see another 1,000 games in front of me so I’d better focus on that.”
Julien, who holds Boston’s wins record with 419, is the 27th to reach 1,000 games and the 11th among active coaches.
The 56-year-old started his NHL career with Montreal in 2003. After he was fired in 2006, he spent nearly one full season in New Jersey before joining Boston, where he won a Stanley Cup in 2011 and reached a final two years later.
He was only unemployed for one week after he was replaced in Boston by Bruce Cassidy on Feb. 7. Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin jumped at the chance to bring the Orleans, Ont., native back with the Canadiens in a mid-season funk under fifth-year coach Michel Therrien.
That allowed Julien to coach his 1,000th game with his original NHL club.
“It’s pretty cool,” said captain Max Pacioretty. “It’s special to have that honour in a city like this and with a franchise like this. It’s exciting for him.”
The Canadiens lost 3-1 to Winnipeg in Julien’s debut on Saturday but rebounded with a hard-fought 3-2 victory against the Rangers in New York on Tuesday night.
Asked what he considered the highlights of his career, the 56-year-old turned first to his only Stanley Cup win, but there was also a playoff series win by the Canadiens over the Bruins in 2004.
“For sure everyone would say the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final is pretty special,” he said. “When you’re on a team, whether you’re the coach or a player or the equipment manager, you dream of winning the Stanley Cup.
“So that was special, but I also remember well, because I’m here in Montreal, the year we came back against Boston and won the series.”
The Canadiens trailed the first round series 3-1 but came back to win in seven games before being swept in the second round by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Before making it to the NHL Julien won a Memorial Cup in 1997 with the Hull (now Gatineau) Olympiques. But an experience that helped make him grow into one of the league’s best came when he coached Hamilton in the American Hockey League in 2000-01. A weak Hamilton squad went 28-41-11 and missed the playoffs.
“I had never been through that before and that was probably my toughest year,” he said. “You don’t realize until afterwards how much you grow through adversity.
“I think that was a real turning point for me because eventually, I’d have to face adversity at the next level and I was definitely able to handle it a lot better. If you’ve never experienced it before, it’s tough to manage.”
He has another challenge in Montreal where, after a 13-1-1 start under Therrien, the Canadiens are in danger of losing their grip on first place in the Atlantic Division. The win in New York was only their second in eight games. They are hoping Julien can get them back on track.
He has gradually been installing his system and tweaking parts of their game, but there is only so much that can be done in a short period of time.
“There are a lot of teams breathing down our necks here and we have to realize that, not to panic, we still have work to do,” he said.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press