VANCOUVER — Three decades ago, Claude Julien and Alain Vigneault were a couple of hard-nosed defensemen trying to make their way up the hockey ranks.
They toiled together with the Salt Lake City Golden Eagles in the old Central Hockey League in 1981-82, with Julien chipping in 22 points and 134 penalty minutes. Vigneault added 12 points and an impressive 266 PIMs. They stayed together for another year in Salt Lake before parting ways.
Their hockey careers then took meandering paths, but both have led them to the Stanley Cup Final. Thirty years after spending time on the same blue line in Utah, Julien and Vigneault will be behind opposite benches as the Bruins and Canucks vie for the most prized trophy in sports.
And for the first time in three decades, two of the NHL's top coaches will have to set their friendship aside — at least for a couple weeks.
"I don't think it's going to affect our friendship," Julien said at Tuesday's media day at Rogers Arena. "It might affect it for a couple of weeks. Rightfully so. No, I think as far as Alain and I are concerned, we go way back.
"From being teammates in Salt Lake City, to being both from the Ottawa area, him being on the other side of the river, on the Québec side, we built a friendship throughout those years," Julien added. "I think this year, more than any other year, we were very supportive of each other, knowing the demands of both organizations and hoping to have those teams in the Stanley Cup Final. I know Alain had his [expectations] here in Vancouver. I certainly had mine in Boston. The expectations were very high."
Vigneault, who like Julien got his first head coaching job in the NHL with Montreal, was excited to see Julien lead the Bruins to the Eastern Conference title, even if it meant going up against his old friend in the Cup Final.
"I'm very happy for him," Vigneault. "I'm sure he's very happy for me. I think we both came into this season pretty much under the same situation. He was in his four-year window. I was in my four-year window. We both knew we had good teams. We both knew we had to win. So from that standpoint, I'm real happy for him. Now we're going to get an opportunity, both of us, to compete for the Cup."
It's a matchup the pair actually talked about happening, but now that it's arrived, they don't plan on doing any more talking for the time being.
"I remember at one point saying we hoped to see each other in the Stanley Cup Final, and here we are," Julien said. "I know that throughout the playoffs we were kind of encouraging each other. Now that we've made it here, we've both gone silent and don't plan on talking to each other 'til it's all over."
But before going to the silent treatment, Vigneault offered some praise for the work his friend has done to get the Bruins to this point.
"I've known him a long time and we both know what coaches go through on a daily basis and a yearly basis," Vigneault said. "So he can relate to me and I can relate to him. I've got a tremendous amount of respect for what he does and what he's done with his team this year."