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Leafs' Babcock, Habs' Julien no strangers to job stress

Team Canada coaches Claude Julien, left, and Mike Babcock make their  way to the hockey practice facility at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, on  February 18, 2014. Al Charest/Postmedia
Team Canada coaches Claude Julien, left, and Mike Babcock make their way to the hockey practice facility at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, on February 18, 2014. Al Charest/Postmedia

BROSSARD, Que. — Mike Babcock and Claude Julien know what the coaching hot seat feels like.

The two friends from shared Team Canada experience have worked in four of the NHL’s most hockey-mad markets: Toronto and Detroit for Babcock, Boston and Montreal (twice) for Julien. In that time, both have heard chatter about their jobs being in danger — Julien coming through three firings counting a stint in New Jersey. This autumn the spotlight’s on Babcock after three first-round playoff defeats.

If they joke about it in their frequent texts, Julien wasn’t revealing much.

“I don’t think we’ve discussed that more than we chat about our (day-to-day business),” Julien said Monday morning at practice, ahead of the first of two exhibitions against the Leafs.

“Some people enjoy these kind of environments. I have no issue with that. This is a great city, fans are great, there’s a lot of interest. At the end of the day, do your job and hope you can bring a championship to the city. I don’t look at it as pressure. Those kinds of things are actually great. Pressure can be handled in different ways — it can be daunting, or exciting and it can be motivating.”

In year five of his eight-season contract, Babcock must integrate new personnel, get back to the 100-point range and then get the Leafs to show some gumption in playoffs. Julien, meanwhile, was praised for taking this version of the Canadiens to the brink of playoffs last spring in the final week.

Julien still has Carey Price in goal, a strong two-way team with Max Domi and Brendan Gallagher, newcomer Ben Chiarot on defence and some hungry kids. The Leafs were due to see about half the Habs’ starting roster on Monday, with Babcock saving almost all his big names for the return match Wednesday in Toronto.

This watered-down lineup of roster bubble boys and Marlies couldn’t have been a shock to Julien, as he and Babcock often clear their pre-season rosters with each other and usually take steps so it’s not too one-sided. But the Leafs have four exhibitions remaining to Montreal’s three, putting the onus on Julien to get his best players ready.

“We’ve exchanged texts when it has come to that, we’ve exchanged lineups,” Julien said. “At the end of the day, I can’t control who he brings, what I can control is what I’m trying to do with this team. We have to play a certain way and that’s where my focus is going to be, not who’s on the other side.”

Price will likely play some or all the game. Julien will have Max Domi between Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Drouin, plus Jesperi Kotkaniemi and defenceman Jeff Petry, in other words most of his top 10 scorers.

Domi mentioned he has benefitted this summer from some expert tutelage via Mat Sundin, the former Leaf captain who was a big figure in his life when papa Tie was the Swede’s winger/bodyguard.

“Last summer he was in charge of a lot of my training and off-ice program and I talked to him quite a bit,” Domi said. “I talked to him a lot during the season. He’s like my uncle, we’re very close.”

They spoke on the phone and caught up in person during Sundin’s rare visits back to Toronto.

“It’s moreso what he did when he played, I just pick his brain and he gives me little exercises he did back in the day,” Domi said. “He knows what would help me the most because he has seen me play since I was a little kid and knows my game really well.

“It’s conditioning stuff; we’re obviously very different players and also very athletes. He’s a more long distance powerful guy, I’m more short-distance sprint. I’m tapping energy systems that I haven’t before and he’s an expert in that, one of the hardest workers in the history of the game.”

lhornby@postmedia.com

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