Habs coach misses daily drills

Montreal Canadiens coach Claude Julien dresses for a game of pickup with some friends yesterday at...

Montreal Canadiens coach Claude Julien dresses for a game of pickup with some friends yesterday at the Ray Friel Centre in Cumberland. (Ottawa Sun/Jason Ransom)

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

Before making the two-hour trek to Montreal yesterday, Canadiens coach Claude Julien stopped for a game of pickup hockey with a group of friends he grew up with in the East end.

When his schedule allows it, Julien steps into a place he usually calls his office to leave behind the stress of the NHL lockout.

"That's my chance to escape," Julien, an Orleans native, said in 1-on-1 interview yesterday with the Sun. "It's just a bunch of guys having fun."

There hasn't been much fun in the last five months for a man who is driven by his determination to meet the challenge of preparing the Habs for battle every day.

While the role of most people involved in the hockey world hasn't changed much since NHL commissioner Gary Bettman locked the doors on Sept. 15, coaches might be affected the most by what's happening right now.

Julien, 44, who would have been in his third season behind the Montreal bench, has kept busy watching the club's AHL farm team in Hamilton and doing community work in Montreal.

"That's where it's difficult. Coaches ... coach and scouts ... scout. When we go watch games, what we're doing is watching prospects and we're trying to portray where they can fit or where they are coming along. You're watching games with a different purpose," said Julien.

"The last thing you want to do is step on anybody's toes. (But ) at the same time, we're all on the same team and we're all working together. You're just trying to help that the best way that you can right now. You're trying to turn a negative situation into a positive."

During an NHL season, a coach like Julien lives a regimented lifestyle with a schedule, which tells him where he has to be, what he has to do and the preparations that need to be put in place.

But there is no opposition for Julien right now. On most days during the season, he's in his Bell Centre office at 7:30 a.m. preparing for practice, meeting with players before they go on the ice and then goes through his daily routine.

"That's been the toughest part. You've broken your routine," said Julien. "It seems like every day you're going in a different direction. Now, sometimes it's for personal reasons or other times it's for business and hockey.

"There are just times that you feel like you are all over the place. You're travelling, but you're not travelling to get your team ready to play, your on the road to watch farm. That's been the biggest difference with all of this."

This wasn't the way it was supposed to be for Julien this season. After the Habs scored a first-round upset of the Bruins in the playoffs last spring, there was excitement surrounding the team, going into camp.

The once-proud organization that had struggled through lean years finally looked like it was ready to turn the corner, then, wham.

"We made some strides last year and you hope you can continue building on that, but we're being stalled by a labour dispute that you can't control," said Julien. "But we've got to realize we're not the only ones in that situation. What about a team like Tampa that won the Stanley Cup? What about Calgary that made it to the final? We're all in the same boat."

That's why all the preparations are in place if the puck is dropped.

"I'm ready to go. There's always something that has to be fine-tuned, but the majority of the work has already been done," said Julien.

"All I'm waiting for is the okay."

Julien has tried to stay positive and he still believes there can be a resolution.

"I haven't lost hope," said Julien. "I know time is running short, but something can still happen."


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