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Glen Gulutzan earns rave reviews in Flames debut

New coach 'quite comfortable' working first preseason game

by Aaron Vickers / Correspondent

CALGARY -- It took some getting used to, but Calgary Flames coach Glen Gulutzan admitted to feeling comfortable in managing his own bench for the first time in more than three years.

Gulutzan made his debut as Flames coach in Calgary's 2-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers in a split-squad game to open the preseason at Scotiabank Saddledome on Monday.

"The pedals might feel funny for a little bit … but then it feels like riding a bike," Gulutzan said.

"It was good. It was good for me to be behind there. Like I said to the guys, this is my first game in a while and it's their first game in a while. I still have some adjustments, certainly, to make after being an assistant for three years and getting back into it. It was nice to be in control. It feels like you're more in the fabric of the game."

Gulutzan was hired June 17 to replace Bob Hartley, who was fired May 3 after guiding Calgary to a 35-40-7 record last season. The Flames finished fifth in the Pacific Division and were 10 points behind the Minnesota Wild for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.

Gulutzan spent the previous three seasons as an assistant with the Vancouver Canucks, where he and Mike Sullivan helped fill in when coach John Tortorella was suspended in January 2014. Gulutzan was coach of the Dallas Stars from 2011-13, going 64-57-9 in his two seasons but failing to make the playoffs.

Forward Troy Brouwer, signed by the Flames on July 1 to a four-year contract reportedly worth $18 million, didn't see any jitters in his new coach, his third in as many years.

"He had a good pregame speech. No slip-ups there or anything," Brouwer said. "He didn't show any nerves. With head coaches, it's always good to get that first one out for him, and for us to get to know him as well … the way he's going to call lines for forwards, the rotations that he's going to use. But we'll get a better sense when we have the majority of our team together for the last little bit of the exhibition."

Gulutzan's positive reviews weren't just limited to Brouwer. Second-year center Sam Bennett also enjoyed his first experience with Gulutzan.

"I think he did a really good job," said Bennett, who skated on a line with Brouwer and 18-year-old Matthew Tkachuk. "He seemed like he's been a head coach for 20 years. You couldn't tell this was his first time in a while. He did a really good job.

"He was really positive. It's great to have some positive energy on the bench. If you have a good shift, it's nice to hear it. He did. I enjoyed him behind the bench.

"It's a real nice change of pace. He's a really smart guy and he was being really positive. He was putting me out in some good opportunities. I think I thrive … I play my best when I'm playing with confidence. He gave me that opportunity [Monday]. I felt confident.

"I really enjoyed playing for him."

That's his coaching philosophy, Gulutzan suggested.

"We made our corrections to the guys, especially our young players, in some teaching moments for them coming off," he said. "You just want to keep encouraging the guys and keep pushing them. For me, we get prepared as best we can to get these guys prepared, and then they play them and we make the adjustments and we push them in the game and coach them in the game, but it's their game."

Gulutzan wasn't shy about making adjustments. Trailing 1-0, he pulled goaltender Mason McDonald at 18:01 of the third period, and did so again with a two-man advantage and a two-goal deficit with 20 seconds remaining.

"I think we'll pull him in a game like that even at 2 ½ minutes [remaining]," Gulutzan said. "You guys are probably all up on the analytics. There are some studies we've looked into depending on how high scoring your team is, when the optimum time to pull your goalie is. That two-minute mark for me will be a marker for sure."

The second pull worked. Calgary captain Mark Giordano scored at 19:51 to cut Edmonton's lead to 2-1.

Gulutzan promptly called a timeout after the goal to try to draw up another quick play.

Those decisions, Gulutzan said, started feeling natural in his return.

"Calling the timeouts, managing the bench, there's penalties, there's injured guys leaving … those are all on me," he said.

"I feel quite comfortable."

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