The Calgary Flames are finally filling their coaching vacancy June 17, announcing that Glen Gulutzan will be their 16th head coach (and 18th since the team played in Atlanta).
Previously head coach for the Dallas Stars for two seasons and most recently an assistant coach with the hated Vancouver Canucks for the last three, Gulutzan’s still very young (only 44) and relatively early in his coaching career.
So who the heck is this guy?
Born in Manitoba but raised in Saskatchewan as a Montreal Canadiens fan, Gulutzan was coached by his father until he made the jump to the Western Hockey League as a teenager. He bounced around the WHL a bit, playing with Theoren Fleury in Moose Jaw before landing in Brandon with the Wheat Kings and Saskatoon, where he was captain. With his pro future looking bleak, Gulutzan went to school and completed an education degree at the University of Saskatchewan before going pro. (Food for thought: his father was also a teacher.)
Gulutzan bounced around Sweden for a couple of seasons before returning stateside, where he primarily played with the Fresno Falcons of the West Coast Hockey League – excluding a brief sojourn back to Europe and a few games in Utah and Las Vegas. After getting his feet wet as a player/coach – just like Reg Dunlop in Slap Shot! – he retired. The season after he hung up his skates, Gulutzan was made the head coach and general manager of the ECHL’s expansion team, the Las Vegas Wranglers.
Chatting with The Province, Gulutzan reminisced about the beginning of his Vegas experience:
A month after I finished playing I was talking to Darryl [Sutter] and also doing a
deal with Dallas. But what really helped was I’d had four years of real
experience. I’d done immigration, I’d gotten to know the agents, so I
knew the league. The biggest challenge of moving into the GM role was
the other stuff. When I walked into that beautiful arena in Las Vegas,
we had a dressing room, but no skate sharpener or tables and chairs, no
computer. There were some long hours in that start-up year and those
first couple of years. To be honest with you, I don’t know if I could
work that hard again. We had two kids at the time and I remember my wife
saying, “Can you just start playing again?” But that was my break —
everybody needs one — and that was mine, so I knew I had to work at it.
After six seasons in Las Vegas, he was recruited by the Dallas Stars to run their American Hockey League club outside of Austin, Texas. After two seasons with the minor league Stars – the first of which saw them go all the way to the Calder Cup Final – Gulutzan was unexpectedly tapped to replace Marc Crawford in Dallas without having spent a single game on an NHL bench.
By all accounts, Gulutzan did “fine” in Dallas. His inexperience and unfamiliarity with the NHL showed at times, though he did do a lot to help Jamie Benn put up strong numbers (and was said to be well-regarded by his players). The Stars were a sub-50% Corsi team when he was coaching (49.8% and 48.8%) and had decent special teams (13.5% and 16.9% power-play, 82.8% and 81.0% penalty killing). By the time he seemed to get a handle on the whole “coaching an NHL team” thing the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season was over, the Stars got out of bankruptcy, ownership was transferred to Tom Gaglardi and the new boss cleared the decks by firing everybody.
This is what Galutzan had to work with during his only non-lockout impeded season as a head coach w/ winning record. pic.twitter.com/JiTWgSNA0e
— Nitwit (@nitwitschool) June 14, 2016
In his chat with The Province, he shared thoughts on his Dallas experience:
It was a great experience for me. What I didn’t have — and I think that
most coaches should have, especially if you haven’t played in the league
— is experience in the league. There were more things that I did well,
but some things that I would change. I think the only way you can get to
that point is to live it or be an assistant for three or four years in
the league. With more experience I probably would have done some things a
little different, but that’s what experience is. That’s not so much
about dealing with players, it’s more just being in the league.
Gulutzan wasn’t unemployed for long. He was quickly recruited to be an assistant for John Tortorella’s staff in Vancouver. He ran the power-play under Tortorella (15.2%) and was transitioned to run the penalty kill under his former Dallas assistant Willie Desjardins (85.7% and 81.1% over two seasons). He was said to be popular with the players, particularly the younger ones, and praised for his enthusiasm and attention to detail.
On their face, Gulutzan’s results are mixed. He won a championship in the WCHL (as player/coach), and made it to the championship series as a coach in the ECHL and the AHL. To be honest, the only league he hasn’t been to the big dance in yet as a head coach is the NHL. His teams’ possession and special teams stats are mixed, as were detailed above.
But likely the big selling point for Treliving in regards to Gulutzan? His focus on development and his background as a teacher. Bob Hartley worked at a windshield factory before becoming a full-time coach, and he brought a lunch-pail, “hard work!” mentality to the rink. But now that the Flames youngsters have had the importance of hard work impressed upon them, Gulutzan may be the coach with the right attitude and background to move them forward.
Gulutzan explained his development philosophy a bit to The Coaches’ Site:
I know that if I’m working hard as a coach to develop players, then it’s going to develop me as well. Winning is the goal, but it all works together and I don’t think you can get caught up on just the winning side of it. There’s only one team that’s going to win the Stanley Cup every year but the coaches that are committed to trying to get their players better, they’ll have good teams and they’ll get to where they want to go.
And via “Jore” at CalgaryPuck’s forum, here’s a really long, detailed video that probably sheds some light on Gulutzan’s philosophy even more:
It’s hard to imagine Treliving watching that video and not wanting to hire him.