Talkin’ Las Vegas with Glen Gulutzan

This past June, Glen Gulutzan
was appointed as the head coach of the Calgary Flames. If all goes well this
season, he will presumably be behind the bench next year when the Las Vegas
expansion team joins the Western Conference. But unlike most of the other
coaches in the National Hockey League, the arrival of the Sin City franchise
will not be uncharted territory for Gulutzan. 

Before he became the head coach
of the Dallas Stars in 2011, Gulutzan had spent six seasons in the ECHL as the
general manager and head coach of the Las Vegas Wranglers. During his time in
Nevada, his all-time coaching record was 254-124-0-55 and his club qualified for
the postseason five times, which included a run to the Kelly Cup Finals in
2008. We recently had the chance to catch up with Glen to talk to him about his
time in Las Vegas and get his insights on life in the desert and how he managed
his players in a city with plenty of temptations. 

*The transcript has been lightly edited for
clarity and length.

FlamesNation: As a former
professional hockey player you played a few games in the International Hockey
League in 1996-97 and one of those games happened to be for the Las Vegas
Thunder. Can you tell me what the hockey vibe was like around the city at the
time?

Glen
Gulutzan: I was never really a mainstay in that league, but I know I was around
it enough. At that time, I believe when they first started out with Radek Bonk,
there was a lot of excitement in Las Vegas. They played out of the Thomas and
Mack Center and there was a lot of excitement. It wasn’t the greatest arena for
hockey but they did a heck of a job there and it was an exciting place to play. 

Fast forward to when I was there [as coach and GM of the Thunder], we played
out of the Orleans Hotel and Casino. There was a really good buzz there. I
think we averaged close to 6,000 fans a game in a 7,700 seat arena in our first
few years there. It kind of was a community team, it wasn’t something where
people from the strip came to the games, it was more of the locals and we had a
very successful run when I was in Las Vegas.

FN: You mentioned you had great
community support; how much of that would have been tourist driven?

GG: We
didn’t cater to the strip or to the hotels or to the tourist industry. We were
completely a local-based team, with local season ticket holders and businesses
that supported us. I don’t know what the percentages would be, but we weren’t
looking to capitalize on any of the tourists coming into the city.

FN: How important do you think
it will be to have the local community buy into the NHL team in 2017-18?

GG:
They’re going to need the local people and if they do it right, and I think
they’ve got a real good plan in place to do it. With the tourist thing, there
are just too many other things for tourists to do. So they’re going to be in
direct competition with all of that stuff. However, for local people, you’ve
seen a lot of the shows on the strip and gone to a lot of the attractions, so
this will be new for them and something they can grab onto to.

They seem very
committed to developing grassroots hockey and an identity with the local
people. I mean there’s no other
professional sports franchise there, so I think if they build this thing up and
build a few rinks  and develop it from
the grassroots and give the locals something to grab onto, I think they could
be very successful. Just with the arena and where it’s built and how they can
build hockey from Henderson to Summerlin. I think that will be key to having a
successful franchise in the desert.

FN: Most of us outside of Las
Vegas have a preconceived image of the city in our minds, but what was it like
to live and work there all year round?

GG: There’s
a couple subtleties for sure. One thing I know when I was there was that Vegas
had the most parks per capita of any city in the Western United States. When I
lived there, we had two kids born there and they went to school there. But
outside the strip it’s a community. The industry there is gambling so the
people who lived next to us were dealers in the casino, there was a lot of
shift work for people but we made a lot of friends from construction to
architects to guys running golf courses, just the regular stuff. We had friends
and nights out. The only little subtle differences were when you and your wife
wanted to go out of supper, a lot of the times the nice restaurants were in the
casino or you went to a movie and it was in a local casino, and those are things
set way off the strip to cater to the local clientele.

Other
than the stores being open 24/7, living there is a very normal place. We didn’t
go to the strip, the strip was almost an annoyance. When company came in you
would go to visit and show them the lights of the Bellagio or go down the strip
to see a show, but in your daily life you didn’t really want to deal with going
near the Las Vegas strip.

The
gambling was certainly there and you could seek it out if you wanted to. But
boy they have some wonderful neighborhoods. I know one Christmas we took the
kids tobogganing; they have the Red Rock canyon there and the mountains aren’t too
far away. They have a lot of things that people don’t go to Vegas for but they’re
for the local people. I wouldn’t be hesitant as a young guy with a family to go
to Las Vegas, certainly there are some beautiful areas to live in with some
great amenities and away from the strip it’s a lot like any other city.

FN: You were the general
manager and head coach for the Wranglers from 2003-09; did the city’s nightlife
create any issues for your players?

GG: I
found that Las Vegas was easier in a lot of senses than other places. Simply
put, when I was the coach and general manager there, the first thing we put our
priority on was character. In that city there’s trouble and it’s pretty easy to
find trouble if you’re looking for it, but if you’ve got good character you
don’t have to worry about it. I used to tell our players, every night is a
Saturday night.

Any
young guy likes to go out and see the town or a young couple, but every night
can be a Saturday and all it takes is discipline to pick your spots. So even if
you’re playing on Friday and Saturday, Sunday night is just as good as Saturday
night. You can go see a show, you can go out, you can go to a club, or you
could just stay home. So I used to tell my guys, just pick your spots, you know
when they are, every night’s a Saturday, you’re going to have fun any night of
the week, and if you do it that way you’re really going to enjoy this place. I
could tell you that I really didn’t have any big issues there.  But I could tell you, the opposition teams
probably had more trouble than we did.

FN: On that note, there’s been some
joking about how the Las Vegas team will have an incredible home record against
visiting teams. How did the other ECHL teams handle those road trips to Vegas?

GG: There
were certainly things when teams came in and you know they had a good team. But
what I did notice is that early on it was exactly what you would think. It was
a real novelty, it was really fun. But then management started to handle it
better. And what we found was that we played mostly Friday, Saturday and we’d
play a team back-to-back those nights. They’d come in, and they’d usually bus
in, and they’d have the carrot, “if we play good on Friday and Saturday we’ll
stay over after the game and if not, we’ll leave right after the game.” So they
started to temper their players’ excitement on the Friday with the carrot that
if they played well on the weekend they’ll extend the trip to Sunday morning
and then bus back. So we had a little tougher games Saturday night at the
beginning. 

  • freethe flames

    Boy I was hoping he was going to talk about hockey and not the nightlife in Vegas. Players can find themselves in trouble in any of the cities that the NHL is in; Vegas may have more easy access to these issues but players of good character will be fine there. I doubt they will be picking Evander Kane in the expansion draft.

  • Aadvarkian Abakeneezer

    I don’t mean to be rude, but you had Glen Gulutzan answering questions in the middle of summer and… this is what you asked?

    I’m looking forward to part two, where FN asks questions about hockey. Preferably Flames hockey, but I’ll take Dallas or even Vegas hockey, given the time of year.

  • Just.Visiting

    I thought that the article offered an interesting perspective on GG. He seems like a very well grounded, intelligent guy who would be fun to spend an afternoon with on the golf course. I’m looking forward to seeing how he works with the players and the fans, and hope that he has the team coming out to play every night.

    Whatever people here may think of Bob H, I’ve enjoyed watching this team more in the last three seasons than any Calgary Flames team since the late 1980s. They came out to play almost every night and, win or lose, we were typically entertained.