Editor’s note: We had planned on running this story between the end of the regular season and the playoffs, but the end of the Bruins’ season has changed many, many things. We figured his 55th birthday would be a good day to tell the story and lighten the mood.
(Card courtesy of hockey-time.machine.tumblr.com)
Sitting in a New Brunswick jail cell, a veteran professional hockey player tried to calm down his partners in crime.
“Guys,” future Jack Adams and Stanley Cup winner Claude Julien told his young AHL teammates in the fall of 1987. “Just relax, guys. Answer the questions.”
Goaltender Ron Tugnutt, who was in his first professional season with the Fredericton Express, thought it was a joke. So too did the other handful of players. Tugnutt responded with an answer that could today cost someone their press pass.
“Yeah, OK, Claude,” Tugnutt shot back, mocking Julien.
Earlier in the night, Julien his teammates were hiding in bushes with baseball bats when they were stopped by the police, roughed up and thrown in jail. Tugnutt wanted to doubt the validity of the group’s arrest.
Any hope that it was a joke went away at around 2 a.m. That’s when head coach Ron Lapointe walked in.
“All of a sudden my face went, ‘Oh Jesus,’” Tugnutt recalled.
“He goes, ‘This is an embarrassment. We’re going to pack your equipment up. We’re sending you guys home.’ Right then and there I said, ‘OK, it’s 2 in the morning and my head coach is there.’ I said, ‘Oh. My. God.’
“I said, ‘This is really happening.’ Then it became a reality.”
After leaving the police station, Julien, Tugnutt, their small group of teammates and Lapointe went straight to the rink, where the players started to gather their belongings.
“We’re packing up our equipment and all of a sudden we hear a bunch of laughs,” Tugnutt said, “and it’s all the veterans in the shower coming out laughing that they got us.”
That’s right. There was once a time here on planet Earth when a group of adults wanted to pull off an exceptionally elaborate practical joke — one that involved the police — and deemed Claude Julien the man for the job.
To his credit, Julien pulled it off. He invited the players on what he called a “snipe hunt,” which Wikipedia defines as a practical joke that involves “experienced people making fun of credulous newcomers by giving them an impossible or imaginary task.” Tugnutt and company took the bait.
“We were out in a bush with bats and nets,” Tugnutt said. “Apparently we were going out there to catch some of these ‘snipe birds.’ I was a kid from Toronto and I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever. I’ve never heard of these things.”’
A kid from the city was the perfect player to fall for such a prank, but the work that Julien and his teammates put in was enough to fool anyone.
“The police would be waiting for us. They knew exactly where those rookies would be, which area,” Julien recalled late in the season with a smile. “It was all pre-planned. They’d get arrested and be brought to jail. I would kind of be in that group so it wouldn’t look too suspicious.
“As they would be in the cell, [the police] would come and get me to tell me I had a phone call to make to get a lawyer for all of us. I would go out there and we’d kind of have a good giggle at their expense.”
The ‘snipe hunt’ doesn’t happen anymore. Why? Because while teams like a good laugh and bonding experience, they don’t like injuries.
“It was a good gig that we had for years in Fredericton,” Julien said. “I think it ended up in a situation long after we were gone where I think Marc Lamothe got really upset, punched a wall and ended up breaking his wrist. That was the end of that gig.”
Clearly, Julien’s teammates didn’t know him well, as they should have known something was up when he suggested they use bats instead of baseball gloves. If Julien’s detractors have taught us anything, it’s that Julien hates home runs and wants to win every game, 0-0.*
*Reminder: Julien’s Bruins finished top-five in the NHL in scoring in three of the four years prior to this season.