Julien has always been the 'Busy B'

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

He is, and always has been, the busy "B."

Born in Blind River a little more than 49 years ago, Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien was two weeks old when his father Marcel took down his crib and moved the family to Orleans.

He's been on the go almost ever since.

Julien played minor hockey all over the nation's capital, starting in the east and finishing up as a midget with the Ottawa West Golden Knights.

His four-season OHA/OHL career was split between the Oshawa Generals and Windsor Spitfires.

Sprinkled around 14 games over two seasons as an NHL defenceman with the Quebec Nordiques, he was a minor-league pro in Port Huron, Salt Lake, Milwaukee, Fredericton, Baltimore, Halifax, Kansas City and Moncton.

He then buzzed over to Europe to finish his playing days in France.

As a coach, Julien has had a number of addresses, as well.

He started with the CJHL's Jr. Senators, then climbed a ladder that saw him work for the QMJHL's Hull Olympiques and AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs.

Upon reaching the NHL as a bench boss, he has been with the Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils and Bruins in six seasons.

On the hockey jacket of Julien's life is sewn at least 20 logos.

He has also worn each on his heart.

If there's one thing teams have always received from Julien -- from his days as a kid playing in Ottawa to his time now as a busy "B" -- it's their money's worth.

"Claude Julien is hard work," says Olympiques governor Charlie Henry, who was coaching the East Ottawa Voyageurs when he first saw Julien as a 16-year-old blueliner -- then hired him almost two decades later to coach.

"He's really the kind of guy you can't hate. He does it with kindness and love. With (another former Hull coach) Alain Vigneault, it's like, 'you do it my way and that's it.' It works for him. But Claude is more like, 'let's get together and work at it. Then work some more, and work some more.' "

Julien comes by his ethic honestly.

Marcel Julien, now in his early 70s, is "semi-retired" from Almar Roofing Ltd., the Navan company he has owned for 39 years. His other son, Richard, is co-owner.

"He's one of those guys," Claude says of his dad. "He's going to work as long as he can."

Marcel has also always found plenty of time for hockey.

He was an assistant coach when Claude played minor hockey. Maybe seeing him work the bench rubbed off on his boys, too. Richard is now coaching the Jr. C Cumberland Bandits, and was behind the bench in the league's all-star game on the same weekend Claude was at the NHL all-star game.

Marcel and his wife Bella are tremendous hockey fans. They still sit in the season seats they had at the Robert Guertin Centre when Claude came to the Olympiques more than a decade ago.

And they still watch as much as they can. Two or three times this season they have managed to pull off a tripleheader: Watching Claude's Bruins on TV at 1 p.m.; driving to Gatineau to see the Olympiques at 4; then making it back to Cumberland to cheer for Richard's Bandits.

"Sometimes it really fits well," says Marcel. "And the first thing you know, the day is over."

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Claude Julien had a 14-goal season with the Spitfires and had 15 his first year in pro hockey with Port Huron, but he was never a flashy offensive blueliner.

"He was always a kid who worked hard," recalls Henry. "He was never a superstar, but he just kind of hung in there. He was tough, not afraid of anyone. You need a guy like him on your team. It's typical of what you see from him today. He works so hard, and he really understands people."

Julien also understood what he needed to do to realize his dream of playing in the NHL.

"He was working hard at it, all summer long, all the time," says Paul Gravelle, an Orleans plumber who has been a close friend of Julien since the two met at Lac-Simon -- a cozy getway one hour from Ottawa where Julien still owns a cottage -- about 30 years ago.

"He really had the ambition of going to the NHL. He was bicycling, he was running and things like that. And he had the positive attitude he was going to make it."

Julien was always mindful of not doing anything that would tarnish the family name or his reputation. He wasn't going to do anything stupid at one of his favourite Ottawa haunts that would hurt his chances of making it to the NHL.

"I think he knew where he was going when he was young," says Gravelle, who chuckles at some of the pranks Julien pulled on teammates in a "garage league" in Hull. "He was following the straight line all the time. Even when we'd go out, he was always a gentleman. He never got into any trouble. He was very mature, even when we were young."

Their good times include last summer's trip to the Richard Petty (NASCAR) Driving Experience in New Hampshire, a fifth anniversary gift Karen Julien gave her husband and his best friend.

One of the earlier laughs Gravelle remembers came at Julien's expense.

"We really had fun building his cottage," says Gravelle. "He wanted water, so we had to put a pump in the lake with a little 12-foot boat. Claude is quite heavy, eh? He's a big guy. We're leaning to the side, and we're always afraid it would tip."

- - -

Julien probably had as much talent as others, but could never land a full-time job in the NHL as a player.

He played just one game with the Nords in 1984-85, and 13 the following season.

"I felt I had a lot of roadblocks as a player trying to get to the NHL," says Julien.

"It's like everybody will tell you, you have to be in the right place at the right time. At one point I thought I was in, and had people believing in me, then those people went to another organization and I got traded, so it was like starting all over again.

"Where I got lucky as a coach, it's all about timing, again. My first year as a head coach in Hull, we win a Memorial Cup. Three months later I win a gold medal with the under-18 team."

Julien has established himself as one of the league's best coaches, compiling a 213-134-17-38 record. In two years, he and Peter Chiarelli, the Ottawa-born Boston GM, have lifted the B's from 13th to the top of the East.

"You grow as a player, and he's grown as a coach," says Bruins winger Michael Ryder, who has played for four Julien teams (including the Olympiques, Bulldogs and Canadiens).

"He pretty much knows how to get our team going when he needs to."

- - -

Claude and Karen have a four-year old daughter, Katrina, and Gravelle says his friend is a very proud and loving pop. The Juliens, who both call Ottawa home, plan on returning here full-time.

How many stops will be in between here and there? Who knows.

For now, he is a busy "B." And loving it.

"I never thought about coaching," he says. "It was all about wanting to play in the NHL, like every other kid's dream. I just kind of got the opportunity ... I had to do it the hard way.

"I reached my dream of playing, but that's where probably coaching comes in, as far as part of my dream was fulfilled by playing, but I was never a regular.

"Now I've got a chance to do that as a coach. Be a regular in the NHL."

And it should be his address for a long time.

DON.BRENNAN@SUNMEDIA.CA


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