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Gulutzan focused on fostering team unity

Glen Gulutzan is putting emphasis on creating a tight-knit team culture in his first season behind the bench with the Flames

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH /

CALGARY, AB -- As the curtain begins to rise and a new dawn beckons, Glen Gulutzan, the man now entrusted with the keys to the Calgary Flames' kingdom, is asking his recruits to channel their inner Alexandre Dumas:

All for one and one for all; united we stand, divided we fall.

Young Mouseketeers and older Musketeers alike.

"Everything,'' promises Gulutzan, "is going to be about making 'us' better. About what 'we' do.

"About being a team, a unit.

"I'm sure that if you ask most of these players about their hockey experiences, at whatever level, they'll tell you the tighter the group they played on, the better that team played.

"So we're going to try and facilitate that as much as we can."

Amidst the usual array of clichés involving clean slates and fresh beginnings, the Gulutzan era opens 9:00 AM Friday down at the Scotiabank Saddledome with day one of training camp.

"Whenever there a changing coach, as a player it always comes with a bit of uncertainty,'' said assistant GM Craig Conroy, who over 14 seasons and 1,009 games in his share of power transfers. "That's unavoidable.

"Sometimes they're a good thing, sometimes a bad thing. In my case, it's weird to say but with Mike Keenan, both. A bad thing in St. Louis, when I was a young player and was sent down to the minors, and then later here in Calgary a good thing, because Mike likes older players and he leaned on me a lot.

"But whoever you are, there's always a bit of a feeling out process involved. Until you get in there and start working together, you don't know what's going to happen.

"Some guys that were in the doghouse? Out. Other guys that thought everything's perfect under Bob (Hartley)? They might be in for a bit of a surprise.

"With different personalities, dynamics change.

"You just never know."

One guy whose status wouldn't be altered by a dozen coaching switcheroos, Mark Giordano, is chomping at the bit to get the show on the road.

"Not only the new guys but the guys who were here last year, we want to get going,'' emphasized the captain, as veterans underwent physicals Thursday at WinSport.

"First off, as an individual you look at it like you always want to make the good first impression, with a new staff in.

"Our goal is to gel and come together and learn the system. There's a lot of good teams out there but the best ones all buy into the same system and play it the right way, the same way.

"Training camp this year can't be about easing into it. We have to be ready for day one to learn a new system and be ready to implement it before the first game of the season."

In Gulutzan's mind -- and that's the one opinion that ultimately matters, after all -- what's non-negotiable is buying into the collective outlook.

"I would like,'' he says, "to see team-building sewn into the fabric of our everyday routine.

"I don't want to start dreaming up stuff in reaction to losing a couple of games, that kind of 'Geez, things have been going badly, let's switch it up' knee-jerk reaction.

"You wait that long, by then usually it's too late.

"I want this to be a daily way of thinking, a way of operating.

"How we talk.

"How we interact with one other.

"How we have breakfast on the road.

"How we remember guys' birthdays, 300th games, 1,000th games, 100 goals. Whatever.

"We'll listen to speakers. Have card tournaments. Shoot hoops.

"Anything that brings the group closer together."

Gulutzan inherits a franchise that experienced a deflating fall from grace a year ago after astounding the hockey world by reaching the playoffs and burrowing into the second round the season before.

"He's been burning the midnight oil in the coaches' room for the last month,'' said GM Brad Treliving of Gulutzan. "I don't know if there's anybody more excited than the coaches."

Treliving then nodded downstairs to event level at WinSport, to a deserted, darkened Joan Snyder Arena.

"In fact, I think they're out there doing laps right now."

One of the new boys, Troy Brouwer, has positive early reviews of his new boss.

"Easygoing. Easy to talk to,'' he reported. Then, with a playful smile: "The complete opposite of Hitch (St. Louis Blues' head coach Ken Hitchcock).

"Look, Hitch was awesome. A great guy. Very intense, though. A very smart hockey mind. With Gully, it seems he's going to be more of a friend. A player's coach. A guy that wants to talk with you, know how your family's doing, how life away from hockey's doing.

"He knows if things are good away from the rink, your mind is clear and you'll be a lot better player at the rink."

Even factoring in the coaching shuffle, there should be no shortage of initiative after a disappointing 2015-16 campaign.

"The first thing that comes to mind about last year,'' said Giordano, "is we were just so inconsistent. We all know the start we had wasn't great. I felt around Christmastime there was a stretch there where we got back into it. And that was the most disappointing for us as a group, and me individually, is that we'd battled so had to get back into it and then we let it slip again and couldn't recover."

"Our camp,'' promises Glen Gulutzan, "is going to be a learning camp.

"And I want to see a lot of compete. The players are all in pretty good shape. So the one thing we do need to do is get them battling each other. That needs to get up to speed quickly."

So does the All For One mindset.

The buy-in starts Friday, 9:00 AM.

"At the end of the day,'' says the new man in charge, "there's a lot of parity in the NHL, a lot of good teams in this league.

"So you're trying to discover things that can separate us from the others.

"Being as tight-knit as we can as a group is one of those things.

"You can't do it alone. You do it together."

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