Montreal Canadiens coach Claude Julien said he feels “100 percent” after undergoing a heart procedure that forced him to leave the NHL bubble, and said he will be ready to coach next season.
“There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to go back to work,” Julien said in a conference call on Wednesday. “The risk that’s there is the same risk that was there before any of this happened.”
Julien had a stent placed in a coronary artery at a Toronto hospital after experiencing chest pains following Game 1 of the Canadiens’ first-round series against the Flyers. After being released from the hospital, Julien went back to Montreal to rest, but said he was ready to return to Toronto had his team won Game 6 to extend the series. Julien would have had to provide four negative COVID-19 tests over a four-day period before rejoining the team.
Julien, 60, said he first began experiencing discomfort “in the middle of the night” following the game on Aug. 12.
“I just woke up and didn’t feel right,” Julien said. “There was chest pains there. To be honest with you, it really felt like it was heartburn. I reached out to the trainer and we decided it was safer to go to the hospital.”
Julien said at that point, doctors discovered one of his arteries was partially blocked. Julien said he “couldn’t have asked for better care” from the staff at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
Julien said he has been in contact with other NHL coaches who have had similar procedures.
“This is common enough, and other NHL coaches have had stents inserted and still coached,” Julien said. “I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last.”
Julien offered praise for assistant coach Kirk Muller, who took over as interim coach in his absence. Julien said he was in contact with Muller daily, but was cautious of not being too overbearing.
“I said the only thing I was not going to do — putting myself in his shoes, I wouldn’t want to be told how to coach,” Julien said.
Muller made several lineup tweaks in Julien’s absence, and made the decision to bench alternate captain Brendan Gallagher during the third period of Game 5; Gallagher responded with a goal in Game 6, his first of the postseason.
“I think [Muller] did a really good job,” Julien added. “We had a plan in place for our team, and I didn’t see that [deviate] after I left. If anything, we kept doing the same thing. With a little bit of puck luck, we could have had a different outcome.”
The Canadiens finished the regular season with the 24th-best record in the NHL, but qualified for the expanded postseason and upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifying round. Montreal lost in the first round to Philadelphia, 4-2.
Julien, who led Boston to a Stanley Cup in 2011, is 13th all-time in NHL history with 658 career wins. He is in his second stint as Montreal’s head coach. Julien is in the middle of a five-year, $25 million contract with Montreal which takes him through the 2021-22 season.