I’ve been so lucky to have so many great people in my corner, to learn from, over the course of my career. - Glen Gulutzan
Beyond that Conan O’Brien facade, the inexhaustibly preppy look belying his 45 years and a reputation as a measured, thoughtful, new-age communicator, Glen Gulutzan has a confession to make.
A hair-trigger tuning fork vibrates silently, volcanically, underneath all that serene, analytical balance.
“It’s the Irish thing, I guess,’’ confesses the new man in charge down at the Scotiabank Saddledome. “I have an Irish mother with an Irish temper. And she didn’t waste any time sorting things out if we got out of line.
“So I’m generally a happy person. I’m good. I don’t like to be grouchy or miserable every day.
“But if I get mad … I get mad. There’s no middle ground.
“I’ve heard people say: ‘Glen? Oh, good guy. Nice guy. Good communicator. Patient.
“‘But push him far enough and … snap.’”
As his first training camp in charge of the Calgary Flames approaches, Glen Gulutzan fully realizes he represents a fresh beginning, a new era in the city.
What manner of man has general manager Brad Treliving hired?
Well, the studied, analytical side he’s best noted for is courtesy his Ukrainian dad, Gene, a long-time high-school calculus teacher in Hudson Bay, SK.
The less-seen fiery Irish side, as he mentioned, springs organically from his mom, Mavis, who worked for years as a hairdresser.
Case in point: Nov. 5th, 2005. Gulutzan behind the Las Vegas Wranglers bench for a one-sided East Coast League tilt against a franchise he'd once played for, the Fresno Falcons.
“Game out of hand,’’ he recalls with a small smile of remembrance. “We’re way up. Three minutes left. We had a WAY tougher team that they did. But (Fresno coach) Mattie Thomas - who’s a friend of mine, by the way - puts out a bunch of tough guys, including Brad Booth - good kid, but real tough - and he goes after a young guy we had named Tim Hambly.
“Hambly came to camp here in Calgary once, actually, if I’m not mistaken. Anyway, offensive guy, not big, college kid, probably never been in a fight in his life. And he gets … destroyed.
“I never like to see anyone beaten up that way. And especially under those circumstances.
“So I’m livid.
“Out of my ——ing mind.
“That Irish snap I was talking about before, right?”
When the melee had been temporarily aborted and the penalties sorted, the Falcons found themselves down to three skaters.
“I didn’t say anything,’’ recalls Gulutzan. “I just put out five guys and they are all tough. So it’s 5-on-3 and our five guys are circling, like a pack of wolves.
“Fresno waited at least three minutes to change. None of their guys want to go on the ice because they know what’s coming. And I’m yelling at Mattie.
“Now he’s gotta pick three guys, so they go out - reluctantly - and then the puck drops. It’s … chaos. We didn’t out-number anybody but let’s just say we did okay.”
Contrary to reports, Gulutzan insists he did not challenge his chum Thomas to peel off their sports coats and put up the dukes.
“Well, the game’s over - finally - and Mattie’s yelling at me: ‘Let’s go behind there.’ Pointing behind the stands. So we did. But being the East Coast League, there was a lot of security there. It turned into a lot of yelling and finger-pointing.
“I think we all got a $200 fine. That was it. No suspension, if I recall. In that league, you don’t make that much so they can’t hit you too big.”
Bios have Glen Gulutzan’s birthplace listed as The Pas, MN, 630 kilometres north of Winnipeg, noted for its annual Trappers Festival (“A Tourist Paradise” trumpets the fur-trapper electic sign as you enter town).
And technically, at least, that’s true.
The Pas and the Gulutzan’s home in Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan are an hour and a half drive apart. Nearing her due date four and a half decades ago, a very pregnant Mavis Gulutzan decided one day that it’d be okay to visit her sister, who lived in The Pas.
And it just so happened that while she was away …
“So I was delivered in The Pas. But in actuality I spent maybe two days there and then went back home to Hudson Bay.”
Gulutzan began his junior hockey career with the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors. The star at The Jaw at that time was a tiny tornado who’d go on to thrill Flames’ fans.
“I was 15 when I played my first game in Moose Jaw and 16 when I played the other six. But I was around during training camps when Theo Fleury was there, and some of those two seasons.
“He was … unbelievable at that level. No other way to describe him. As a young guy who’d moved from Hudson Bay to Moose Jaw, I would go to every Moose Jaw Warriors’ game just to see Theoren Fleury.
“What a remarkable, entertaining junior hockey player. Man, he was SO much fun to watch. Scoring goals, jumping up to smoke guys. Such passion.
“And, of course, he was the same in the NHL.”
A shift to Brandon in the fall of 1989 would introduce the young Gulutzan to one of the people who would greatly influence him - Wheat Kings’ boss Kelly McCrimmon.
“Kelly,’’ says Gulutzan, “made us grow up, made us be men. Taught us not to take things for granted. He helped me mature. Then I went on to play in Saskatoon and was coached by Lorne Molleken. I took a lot from him, too. We went to the final that year, I was captain, and lost to Kamloops, to (Scott) Niedermayer and (Daryl) Sydor.
“But just Lorne’s way of pushing the group, his regard for his players, really rubbed off on me.”
By 19 years old, Gulutzan had come to the realization that an NHL dream was beyond him. Although he’d continue a playing another decade following junior, at the University of Saskatchewan, in Finland for a winter and at various minor-league whistlestops (his final half dozen competitive seasons were spent in the WCHL, at Fresno), the reality of his limitations were never lost on him.
“I was a smaller player, which back then wasn’t the norm. I had a couple chances to go to NHL camps. But I was like … I knew. I guess I was cursed with self-awareness. I just wasn’t an NHL player. No, ‘Oh, poor me.’
“What kind of player was I? A small, bad-skating centreman who couldn't shoot.
“But I competed and I could think the game. I could pass the puck. I could play in traffic. But those athletic qualities required to play at the NHL level - speed, size, shot - just weren’t given to me.
“Happily I’m one of these guys who has no sob story. I maxed out. I know I did what I could with what I had.
“So, in a sense, I was always building to be a coach.”
The only other job Gulutzan seriously considered post-playing was as a member of the Saskatoon Police Force. He’d done the training, been accepted to join the force but the lure of continuing to play, and overseas in Finland, at that, won the day.
In the fall of 2003, shortly after retiring, Glen Gulutzan, after prepping with a player-coach role his swan song at Fresno, was announced as the first head coach of the WCHL Las Vegas Thunder.
He’d spend the next six years there and inspire a good deal of success.
Gulutzan thoroughly enjoyed his time in the neon-saturated playpen that Frank, Dean and Sammy had made hip in the early ‘60s.
“Loved it. Two of our kids were born there. We played in the Orleans hotel and casino back then and would take them for brunch. We’d walk with the girls through the casino and there’d be the ‘Clink, clink, clink’, that sound of the casino.
“And the waitresses weren’t dressing, how shall I say it, all that … modestly? So my wife and I would look at each other, sigh, and just kind of shrug. ‘Well, it is Las Vegas, right …?’”
He’d move on to Texas, of course, to the Dallas Stars’ AHL affiliate in Austin, first as an assistant to Willie Desjardins and then as his replacement. Working in that organization, he’d meet more people he now regards as mentors: Les Jackson, Scott White and the man who would elevate him to Dallas boss to replace Marc Crawford, former Flames’ sniper Joe Nieuwendyk, then GM of the Stars.
“I’ve been so lucky,’’ says Gulutzan, “to have so many great people in my corner, to learn from, over the course of my career.”
One man, though, towers above the rest.
“My father. He coached me the whole way through when I was growing up and taught me at school, too.
“He was a teacher. He was patient. He was methodical, highly organized. I don’t have all of his qualities but he was a very neat, precise guy. He wanted his students to succeed - he used to tell me, ‘I don’t have a three-strike rule. I want them to get through, I want them to succeed.’
“So there’s that side to me.
“And when you put it together with my mom’s Irish temper …”
You have the man now entrusted with the keys to Calgary’s kingdom.
Someone far more in tune with the job in this, a second go-round.
As the Stars launched a rebuild under a first-time NHL coach, Dallas would go a collective 64-57-9 and miss the playoffs in both of Gulutzan’s seasons manning the rudder.
“The NHL,’’ he says three years later, “is a special level. It’s just … different. I started out at the bottom. I played in Saskatchewan junior. I played in the Western Hockey League. I played in the East Coast league. I played in the American league, a little bit.
“And I coached at three of those levels.
“The NHL is its own animal. There’s a real - for lack of a better word - segregation to it. It is its own entity. You can say other leagues prepare you to deal with it but they don’t.
“I always said the American league was the easiest league to coach in because you’re still a conduit to the players. They’re still hungry, they still need you to make that next step, to get to the the NHL.
“Here, totally different.
“So the two years in Dallas helped me tremendously in learning this league. I wanted to stay in the league, so the three years as an assistant in Vancouver - when I could’ve gone to the AHL as a head coach - really settled me in the league.
“And now, this time around, there are no surprises for me.”
Maybe the only surprise for everyone else being the existence of a hair-trigger tuning fork vibrating silently, volcanically, underneath all that serene, analytical balance.
Good guy, Glen, it's often said. Nice guy. Good communicator. Prepared. Patient.
But push him too far and … snap.