Claude Julien will return to his old stomping grounds tonight, pacing back and forth behind a TD Garden bench for the first time since he was fired last February.
Some quirky scheduling caused his return to Boston to take nearly a calendar year. In fact, the whole thing took place so long ago (and so much has happened since) that it feels almost weird to “still” be talking about it.
However, there’s still talk (and plenty of it), about Claude’s return to town with his underachieving Montreal Canadiens team.
There are plenty of legitimate things you can talk about: should the Bruins have actually fired him when they did? Is he the right coach for Montreal? Would the Bruins be better or worse if he was still behind the bench?
But there’s one element of the Claude chatter makes no sense: why would anyone bother questioning what kind of reception he’ll get at the game?
Video tributes for returning players and coaches have become commonplace. Montages used to be reserved for legends or retiring players, but it now seems like everyone gets some music and photos thrown up on the big board, which is fine. Everyone likes nostalgia.
So it goes without saying that Julien will have a video tribute played, probably during the first TV timeout.
It’s puzzling, however, that anyone would really question what kind of reception Julien will receive from the crowd.
True, Boston sports fans aren’t always the brightest bulbs on the tree; Zdeno Chara receiving a smattering of boos on Opening Night this year immediately springs to mind.
But fans here relish winning above all else. Winning absolves ill will. Bill Buckner got a deservedly warm reception when he appeared at Fenway Park after a long time away a few years back. That probably wouldn’t have happened in, say, 2003.
For Julien, he didn’t leave town on bad terms. He was fired as more of an inevitability, in a “well, we can’t keep you forever” type of move. He didn’t trash the team on the way out. The major gripe fans had with him was that his style of play was boring or the incorrect narrative that he hated young players.
Hardly enough there to cause hard feelings.
Plus, he’s the winningest coach in Bruins history and led the team to its first Stanley Cup in decades. There’s no way he deserves anything other than applause.
The only thing anyone could point to would be the fact that he went to coach Montreal, the Bruins’ hated rival. But even that rivalry has cooled in recent years. Plus, he coached in Montreal before and is from Quebec. Can he really be faulted for “going home,” in a way?
(It also doesn’t hurt that the Canadiens are, you know, bad.)
In all likelihood, the players are only being asked about Claude’s reception because it’s a talking point, and they hope one of the players will go off script and rip on Julien. This gives the illusion that there’s a split in the fanbase, when in reality, the sane people are all on one side.
In reality, he was a great coach, was great for the franchise and deserves the warm welcome he’ll undoubtedly get.