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Gulutzan: "I think I can safely speak for everybody when I say we're eager to get back at it."

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

He's said it before.


Eight days of unfairly harsh, deflating results doesn't alter the conviction any: Glen Gulutzan's never been prouder of a group anywhere, at any time, over the course of his coaching career.

"Still holds,'' repeated the Flames' boss Thursday. "I quite honestly have not witnessed as much progress, improvement, development - however you want to label it - in a team from the start of a season as I did with this team.

"I think that speaks to our youth. As a coach, when you see marked growth, that's a neat thing.

"A real neat thing to watch.

"Dave Cameron echoes those sentiments. So does Paul Jerrard. Those guys have been coaching a long time.

"It's been really rewarding."

Wednesday night, post-post-season exit, Gulutzan and his whistle-toting cohorts - Cameron, Jerrard, Martin Gelinas and goaltending guru Jordan Sigalet - hung around the office for a while, almost as if they couldn't bring themselves to leave.

These sorts of wakes always invoke a sense of disbelief mixed with self-inquisition.

A around 1 a.m. the gathering broke up.

"It was quiet, everybody was sleeping when I got home. I crawled into bed, had a little tossing-turning sleep."

Arising around 6:30 to making sure his son reached school football practice on time, Gulutzan then made the habitual trek back down to the rink, his mental GPS now being set for: Scotiabank Saddledome, 555 Saddledome Rise, S.E.

Except on this crack-of-dawn early morning there was no game to battle-plan for, no opponent to study, no building buzz.

"Pretty quiet," he reported.

In the wake of the four-game playoff sweep inflicted by the Anaheim Ducks, the analyzing city-wide has begun in earnest.

Taken in whole, the season, from Game 1 to Game 86, can be compared to a book: a page-turning read marred only by an unsatisfying ending.

Naval-gazing, though, isn't Glen Gulutzan's style.

The front window, not the rear-view mirror, is what interests him.

"I didn't use any time for reflection,'' he said of his Thursday agenda. "It's like any other kind of endeavour: you sink everything you have into a season and then it ends. Just like that.

"So instead of sitting around and reflecting on what went wrong and all that, which is painful, I move forward.

"I've been doing this when it means something for quite a few years, right? And I've won one championship.

"So every year kinda ends the same way, whether it's in the first round or the fourth round - with a thud.

"What I try to do then, is look ahead. That's a kind of therapy for me."

Forward means five months from today and his second training camp in charge of the big team in this town. Gone will be that awkward feeling-out process for both groups, coaches and players, each tentatively taking the temperature of the other.

It'll be right down to business.

"Expectations,'' Gulutzan explained, "have already been set. We're comfortable with one another. There's a belief, a culture, that's already been started. We know the way we want to play.

"That sure helps.

"For me, as coach, I'm not going to have to do as much selling. I'm going to have 20 other teachers on the ice with me. When I was coach and GM at Las Vegas for six seasons, successful seasons, the key was always the returning guys who understood what was being asked of them, what the standards were.

"Those guys were your biggest aids. For instance, you're doing a drill, you're looking for something specific, and 14 or 15 guys are telling the newcomers: 'Oh, no, no, no. He wants it done this way.'

"It's sustainable. It's meaningful. They're helping push the program forward."

Friday morning, 36 hours removed from the playoff ouster, the inevitable garbage-bag day (sans the actual extra-large Glad garbage bags) began early at the 'Dome with exit meetings.

"I guess it provides a sense of closure to the season,'' reckons Gulutzan.

"Mentally, the players are pretty much in the same spot we are. Trying to rearrange their life back, probably have a few nights out with each other, a little fun, let loose a bit, get rid of some of the stress."

"So (today's) a little quick set-the-table. What's more important is the follow up from us coaches - Where are you at? What have you done?' All that kind of stuff.

"Because I think I can safely speak for everybody when I say we're eager to get back at it."

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