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VHL 20 in 20 #18: Under-Appreciated

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Chris Julien definitely made a name for himself early on in the VHL’s history. While on the ice, he was a dazzling, quick, and talented player who would go on to become one of the all-time greats in the Stockholm (now Riga) franchise’s history. However, off the ice, he was generally disliked for several reasons. He was definitely not very good at spelling or grammar, and his obsession with soccer and Thierry Henry eventually caused several members to lose their patience with him. Essentially, Chris Julien was the type of guy whom you could only tolerate in small amounts at a time; otherwise you’d want to knock him out. However, it was these encounters with Chris Julien that not only led to people being annoyed with him, but it would also lead to people having a generally negative opinion of him all the time. Chris Julien became known as a nuisance, and as an annoyance by many of the members, but despite the hate, Julien would still show up to work every day and get the job done on the ice until he retired in Season 8. Today, we look at whether or not this hate was deserved, and whether or not Chris Julien was really as bad as people say he was.

As mentioned several times in previous installments of this series, the Victory Hockey League has had some memorable characters in its long, storied history. From the always-controversial figures like Robbie Zimmers and Scott Anderson to the highly respected figures like David Knight and Brett Slobodzian, the VHL can only function because of these personalities. Many of the new VHL members would not know of the VHL’s early days, but it wasn’t overly different. More arguments would break out, but they would be regulated eventually, and the involved parties would either make peace or simply choose to ignore each other. Even with this, the VHL was essentially the same league back when it began, only with different members patrolling the forums. One of the most well known members at the time was Chris Julien. Julien, a black, soccer loving, speed-obsessed Frenchman certainly had all the necessary traits to become quite the interesting figure in the VHL right from the beginning.

”He was a really passionate guy who loved his soccer. I think he was maybe the only real black member we’ve had on the boards - at least the only one I can think of. He loved his speed too. He worked hard and concentrated mostly on being as speedy as possible, and not much else. Also, he had the worst grammar skills of all time. Maybe there were some other events that had something to do with it, but I would probably have to pinpoint his grammar as being a key source of frustration from members towards him. Lik i dunno y he had to hav the wrst grammer ever it was kinda annoyin (sic).” – David Knight

What a lot of people really didn’t like about Chris Julien was his inability, and possibly even his outright refusal, to use proper grammar. His sentence structure, usually, was on par with that of an elementary school student, and the fact that he seemed both unable and unwilling to work on improving this facet of his English seemed to annoy many people around the forums on the Victory Hockey League. These days, good grammar is a basic necessity for functioning on the Internet, and the VHL’s Internet forums were no exception. I agree with the idea that bad grammar is unacceptable, even on the Internet. I say this every time that someone tells me that grammar doesn’t matter on the Internet: grammar always matters. Sure, we shouldn’t jump on someone who makes the occasional grammatical slip-up, because we all do it, and simply focusing on someone’s occasional errors instead of addressing the core of what they’re saying is simply a copout, and it ends up making you look like the punk. However, if someone’s post is littered with poor writing to the point where you need to re-read what they write a few times before you can understand even the gist of what they’re saying, then we have a problem. Chris Julien, in this area, clearly had a problem.

In a way, Chris Julien was like a lolcat

”Really, there were a few reasons for the hatred. I think he cut against the grain a little bit. This was a guy that did some things that really weren't considered to be normal or accepted during his time. I remember him banking practice hours for no apparent reason one season. There was also the grammar effect, amongst many other things. If I am remembering things correctly, Kendrick was one of the guys that gave him a fair bit of trouble, but I could be wrong.

As a GM, I think he was of the mindset that he wanted to win it all at one time, but then he would change his mind. A combo of no set direction for the team and the forum issues really caused an issue with some members wanting to play in Stockholm. Once we got to this point for Julien, it really seemed like he was stuck in quicksand. The harder he tried, the worse things got for him.”
– Dustin Funk

What Dustin Funk says is absolutely true. Chris Julien always had his own way of doing things. For example, he was quite obsessed with training, but would only focus on his speed. As a result, Julien was likely one of, if not the fastest player in VHL history. He was definitely a good player, and was often a bright spot on an often-uncompetitive Stockholm team. However, had he tried to focus on other aspects of his game a little more often, then he certainly could have had the potential to be even better than he actually was.

As a general manager, Julien certainly does not rank among the best in VHL history. While he was able to get the Stockholm Rams to the Continental Cup finals back in Season 4, where they were doomed to lose from the get-go thanks to the powerhouse Seattle Bears, the rest of Julien’s tenure as a general manager was relatively unsuccessful. Seemingly unable to stick to a single course of action, bet it rebuilding, retooling or contending, Julien’s Rams floundered once he was at the helm. He even caused his managing partner, Alex Gegeny, to demand a trade because of the lack of structure.

On the ice, however, people seem to forget that Chris Julien went on to have a very solid career. In Season 1, he led the sad-sack Stockholm Thunder in points with 70 – 9 more than 2nd place Guillaume Latendresse. The Thunder, as you have probably guessed, would miss the playoffs, but thanks in part to Julien’s strong play, they would avoid finishing last. However, this caused them to miss out on the Christian Stolzschwieger sweepstakes. Instead of the German legend, the Thunder brought in Jon Clarke, a promising yet disappointing player. Another thing that people forget that while he was a big soccer fan, Julien definitely had an edge to his game. In Season 1, he finished 5th in the league in penalty minutes, behind the likes of the great Scott Boulet, and just ahead of a noted pugilist in Marrko St. Urho. In Season 2, Julien would continue to improve, this time hitting the 40 goal and 40 assist plateau with a total of 86 points. He would lead the Rams in scoring again, this time a whopping 31 points over the next highest scorer in Joey Kendrick. Julien’s play was likely a main factor in the Rams being able to sneak into the playoffs, but get quickly eliminated by Vasteras in the first round. Julien would struggle in this series, only managing 1 assist in the 4 games Stockholm would play. Without their franchise player producing, Stockholm never stood a chance.

Perhaps still shaken from his poor performance in the Season 2 playoffs, Julien’s play took a sharp decrease in Season 3 when he finished with only 59 points – still good for 2nd on the team in scoring behind Marrko St. Urho. The Stockholm Rams, this year, were the league’s worst, as clearly, the team had come to rely on Chris Julien playing well to at least give them a slight boost. When their big name faltered, the whole team followed suit. Even worse, the last place finish enabled Stockholm to draft Alec Miller, who is widely regarded as one of the biggest busts in VHL history. However, at the time, Miller would show his potential, and he would help the Stockholm Rams come back with a vengeance in Season 4. Julien was back also, as he broke the 100-point barrier for the first time in his career, and also hit the 50-goal plateau. He led the league in power play goals and finished 2nd in game winning goals. Armed with a new-found confidence, and with a solid supporting cast, Julien was able to lead the Rams back into the playoffs, where they were, once again, expected to bow out to Vasteras in the 1st round. However, the Rams would upset Vasteras in 6 games, and would go on to face Seattle in the finals. Chris Julien was on fire, and would end up finishing 2nd in playoffs scoring behind only the incomparable Scotty Campbell. However, the true star of the Stockholm Rams’ playoffs run had to be the surprising Greg Goldberg, who pulled out all the stops and almost brought the Rams to the Promised Land. Unfortunately, the powerhouse Bears were simply too strong for Julien, Goldberg, and the Rams, who would fall in 5 games, but would be welcomed back to Stockholm as heroes for their gutsy playoffs effort. As a result, Julien was able to shake off the tag of playoffs choker, and proved to the league that he was for real.

Julien leading the Rams

Julien was great once again in Season 5 with another 100-point campaign, but he took a backseat to newly acquired Christian Stolzschweiger, who would become the new face of the Stockholm franchise. While Stolzschweiger ascended to MVP status in Stockholm, Chris Julien was still #1 in the hearts of Rams fans everywhere. The playoffs came around, and once again, Stockholm was in. This time, unfortunately, the Helsinki Titans would sweep them in the first round. Chris Julien was strong with 3 points in the 4 games, but the Titans were simply too good to contain as the Titans’ group of stars would fly past the Rams, and send the Swedish franchise packing. In Season 6, Julien would once again finish 2nd in team scoring, this time behind St. Urho once again. With Stolzschweiger moving on to greener pastures, the Rams were weakened severely due to his departure and would fall out of the playoffs picture after 3 straight seasons of contention.

By the time Season 7 rolled around, Julien knew that he was nearing the end of his career, and he pulled out all the stops to come back in a big way. Breaking the 100-point mark for a 3rd time, he would dominate the Rams, beating out Raymond Funk by 40 points for the team lead in that category. As you would expect from a team in this situation, however, the Rams would be out of the playoffs once again, and going into Season 8, Julien had one more chance at reaching that elusive Continental Cup. This is when the Stockholm franchise decided to move to Riga to become the Riga Reign. Julien stuck around, and took aim at making one last run for the cup. He would fall short of the 100 point mark, relegating to a mere 87 points, but it was still good enough for 2nd in team scoring behind Tomas Ziegler. The Reign would finish 2nd in Europe, once again facing off against the heavily-favored team from Vasteras. Chris Julien had seen this scenario before, and was not afraid of going into this matchup. Sure enough, history would repeat itself as Julien’s Reign would upset the IK in 7 games to set up a face-off against the Calgary Wranglers in the finals. This time, Julien had a much stronger supporting cast with future Hall of Famers in Dust’n Funk and Layken Heidt, along with Raymond Funk, Ziegler, Blake Beukeboom, and Jaeger Stryker. Coupled with Travis Willcox delivering a strong performance in goal, this was Julien’s best chance at winning the cup. Unfortunately, the dream would end in 6 games as Calgary went on to win their 3rd ever Continental Cup, sending fellow retiree Sterling Labatte off into the sunset on a good note. Julien, on the other hand, would have to leave the VHL empty-handed. Two seasons later, the Riga Reign would finally break through and win their first Continental Cup, but it was too late for Julien’s name to be engraved on the trophy with them. However, Julien would finish his career with over 700 VHL points, and would end up getting his number retired by the Riga franchise. He was routinely one of, if not the best player on his team, and he is one of the very few VHL players in history to go all 8 seasons with one franchise.

However, Julien’s career wasn’t full of disappointment. Perhaps the biggest and brightest moment of his VHL career came in the Season 2 World Cup, where Julien scored the overtime winning goal to give Western Europe the gold medal. While the World Cup gold medal might not be up to par with a Continental Cup ring, it only proves that Julien was a great player in his own right. His ability to stand out even on some truly terrible teams – despite those teams often being terrible because of him – is remarkable, and he is truly deserving of his on-ice accolades.

Julien’s OT winner causes celebration from Team Western Europe

”During his tenure here in the first eight or so seasons that he was around, I would rate him as a top 5 player. For all the bullshit he put up with, he would keep coming back to "work" and do his thing and not conform all that much. That takes a strong person. I have a lot of ties to the Stockholm/Riga franchise, and he is at the top of all of the leaderboards for the team. For sure, he is one of the great players of all time.” – Dustin Funk

However, despite the on-ice performance, even Stockholm players would often call his GM skills into question. Several players, including the likes of Robert Sharpe and Doug Schneider, would demand to be traded from the Rams because of Julien’s way of managing the team.

”My trade demand was built out of the fact that Julien was intentionally holding me down. While I was more experienced than whomever he had starting, Julien refused to put me in. The team was suffering from this since the play in net wasn't the best, and yet Julien seemed to care more about his own play than that of the team. So, yes, I did want to get away from him, but it wasn't so much for contention as much as it was respect.” – Robert Sharpe

Was the Julien hate warranted? People obviously didn’t like the guy, and they each had their own reasons why, though many of them were a combination of bad grammar, bad GMing, and general weirdness. Still, are those legitimate reasons to give someone a hard time?

”The hate he received for being a rather poor GM, I believe, was entirely warranted. He ran the team as if he cared more about his own numbers than anything else, and he certainly didn't excel in any way, shape or form. However, I don't believe the general hatred towards him was necessary. People often attacked him personally when, in reality, he hadn't actually done anything wrong. He was a poor GM but not really a bad person.” – Robert Sharpe

”Yes, he made some questionable calls as a GM, and yes, he is a soccer loving French dude that doesn't have a good stranglehold on grammar, but the guy is one of my top five all-time favorite members on the site. To this day, I still chat with him on Facebook, and really have nothing bad to say about him.” – Dustin Funk

No Chris Julien article is complete without a photo of Thierry Henry, so here it is

Despite the hate, however, Chris Julien remained in the league with an air of positivity and general happiness. Whether or not people’s bullying got to him is still unknown, but if it did, then he didn’t show anyone. Having spoken to the guy over Skype several times, I can say that he is a very well spoken and kind individual who simply doesn’t see the use for grammar. We disagree on that, but I don’t see that as a reason to totally hate the guy. However, I definitely tried to avoid reading his posts whenever possible.

As far as his on-ice play is concerned, Chris Julien was able to perform exceptionally well on some notably poor teams. Is he the first guy to put up big numbers on a bad team? He absolutely is not. Still, he was able to outscore his teammates by significant margins, and one has to wonder how Chris Julien managed to accomplish that. Though his lack of individual awards and consistent excellence has forever kept the Frenchman out of the VHL Hall of Fame, Julien was still able to endear himself in the hearts of Stockholm fans, and engrain himself in their minds. For me, Chris Julien is not out of place when it comes to discussing some of the greats of the VHL’s early era, and he could have been that much better had he been on stronger teams throughout his career. Since he wasn’t well-liked around the forum, not only was he viewed negatively as a person, but also as a player. The general dislike he received from everyone in the league took a lot of attention away from his above average on-ice results, and it is really a shame to see. People like Chris Julien often end up being remembered for the bad things they did instead of the good, and that is truly a shame, because when you look beyond the smoke and mirrors, you will find a truly talented hockey player and a really good person who just had his own way of doing things, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

End of Part 18
Special thanks to David Knight, Dustin Funk, and Robert Sharpe


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