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Gulutzan ready to face off against the Canucks

On Friday, Glen Gulutzan will take on his former team for the first time since being named the Flames' head coach

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH / CalgaryFlames.com

CALGARY, AB -- The West Coast ties haven't broken entirely. They've only been loosened.

"Vancouver,'' Glen Gulutzan is saying, "will always be special to me. I really enjoyed my time there. I still have a great caring for and understanding of the people in that organization.

"Playing the Canucks? Well, Willie (Desjardins) and I would probably say the same thing: If you've ever competed against, say, a good buddy or your brother, it's that sort of situation.

"Cards. Hoops. Ping-pong.

"Whatever.

"Man, when you start playing against someone close to you it always seems you want to beat him more than the guy you don't know, right?

"So, yeah, I'm really going to want to beat the Vancouver Canucks.

"I'm sure Willie and everyone over on that side would say the same thing about beating us."

Friday's pre-season tilt at the Scotiabank Saddledome marks the first of seven Calgary Flames-Vancouver Canucks confrontations this season.

Gulutzan, of course, spent three winters out in the evergreen playground, working at Rogers Arena, after being let of following two seasons in charge of the Dallas Stars.

He was hired under the ever-smouldering Mt. Tortorella and the last two serving as an assistant to a far more subdued manner of chap, Mr. Desjardins.

"There's certainly a rivalry,'' concurs Desjardins. "He's a good man, a good coach, I know they'll be well prepared and I know they'll play hard.

"Things didn't work out for him in Dallas, but that doesn't mean he wasn't a good coach at that time. Whenever you go through things, you learn.

"If you don't learn, you're not in the game very long. He's a smart man, we've known each other a long time and I've always respected him."

Over Gulutzan's tenure out west, the Canucks went a collective 5-7-2 during the regular-season against Calgary and, most crucially, dropped a six-game first-round playoff series to the upstart Flames in April of 2015.

"That,'' admits Gulutzan, "was a tough one.

"But overall, a great experience. A first-class organization. And Vancouver is, as everyone knows, a beautiful city."

With not only temperate (if drizzly) winters, an unending stretch of coffee houses down Robson St. and picture-postcard-perfect vistas to recommend it.

"They were a fantastic group of people. I miss them. What did I learn there? Well, if you check back they had quite a run of success.

"Maybe that's dropped off a bit in the last few years but in my time there I could see why they'd had that success.

"Starting with the culture inside that locker room. The leadership that's been there through '08, '09, '10, '11, that run of time when they were competing every year for the Stanley Cup. Start with the Sedins, special players, great people. They set the tone.

"From Kevin Bieksa to Dan Hamhuis to Nick Bonino to Alex Burroughs, just a great core of players.

"I really saw a high-functioning team. It's obviously getting a little older now, they're getting younger and in a bit of a transition but when I first got there it was a high-operating, high-character hockey club.

"That's the part I'll miss the most: Those players, those relationships."

Gulutzan's association with Desjardins dates a ways back, before their days together in the Dallas organization. Desjardins replaced Gulutzan as head knock of the AHL Texas Stars when the latter was promoted to the top job in Big D.

"We've known each other a long time,'' says Gulutzan. "Willie and I are both old U of S Huskies guys. So there's that bond. He's just a great coach and a great guy.

"I'm like to consider myself one of those guys who enjoys life, enjoys good people. Willie is good people.

"A consider him a friend. A lifelong friend."

"We'd talk every once in a while, at different times,'' recalls Desjardins. "When he was coaching in the minors, we were both at different levels, trying to work our way up.

"He was a guy whose opinion I trusted. He always ran a really good program. The way he conducted himself and the way his teams played, I had a lot of respect for those things.

"When Calgary approached him, I wasn't surprised. Not at all. It was a good fit. I think that's where he wants to be and it's an opportunity he's going to make the most of."

Friday, another early step in the re-imagining of the Calgary Flames through Glen Gulutzan's prism.

This game, though, might hold a trifle more oomph than just your average, everyday, pre-season offering what with that old beat-your-good-buddy/beat-your-brother dynamic at play.

"The Canucks organization,'' says Glen Gulutzan, "treated me and my family as good as I could've ever asked for. I spent three years there and still have a caring for all those people in that organization.

"So, yeah, it's going to be different. It's going to be a challenge.

"But it's going to be fun, too. I'm looking forward to it."

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