When the Dallas Stars
brought Glen Gulutzan aboard as coach in June, one question surrounding the hiring of the veteran minor-league coach was how he would handle the transition, since he had no coaching experience in the National Hockey League.
But what Gulutzan didn't have in NHL experience, he more than made up for in enthusiasm, organization and a knack for teaching the game. The 40-year-old grew up in a teaching background and holds a Bachelor's degree in Education from the University of Saskatchewan.
That organization and attention to detail has served him well throughout a successful minor-league coaching career, including the previous two seasons with the Stars' American Hockey League affiliate, the Texas Stars. He twice led Texas to the Calder Cup Playoffs, including a run to the 2010 finals.
"It's just kind of the way we've done things in Austin the last couple of years. I come from a teaching background and I have a teaching background," Gulutzan said. "So this lesson planning thing isn't far stretched from practice planning, preparing, yearly plans and stuff like that. We want to be concise with what we do, clear, and make sure the message doesn't get convoluted when it gets to the players, that they know exactly what we want them to do and there are no gray areas. I think that's what can help build the team."
And while he's only 14 games into his NHL coaching career, the Stars are 11-3-0 and lead the League with 22 points. It's clear the approach has worked. Just ask his players.
"You see he's prepared so well, how organized he is. He's coming in with a direct message," Dallas forward Krystofer Barch
said. "I think it's the simplicity of things. Pro athletes don't like to think too much. He's always up front with things, honest and that's what you want. You don't want to be guessing. Everything's set in stone. It's clear. We all know what we have to do every night. His adjustment's been pretty much flawless."
One player who knew him well before he arrived in Dallas was Stars left wing Jamie Benn
, who spent 24 games playing for him in the 2010 Calder Cup Playoffs with the Texas Stars.
So Benn isn't at all surprised with how much structure and organization the new man behind the bench in Dallas has brought to the club.
"I think he definitely came in prepared," Benn said. "He knew what he wanted to do and the things he had to do to make this team win. It's paying off."
And while he didn't have any NHL coaching experience, Gulutzan did have several luxuries waiting on him in Dallas. Assistant coaches Stu Barnes
and Willie Desjardins, along with goaltending coach Mike Valley
, remained on the staff after Marc Crawford
was let go, and Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk
also has been available to answer any questions he might have.
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Those are four resources he's taken full advantage of since being hired to replace Crawford.
"I think learning the personnel of the other teams and getting to know the coaches (has been the biggest adjustment)," Gulutzan said. "I don't have as good a handle on that. It's good to have (Barnes, Desjardins and Nieuwendyk) here because I ask a lot of questions and some of the players I'm not familiar with. Just getting to know the other coaches' styles, too, that helps out. That's probably been my biggest adjustment in my mind, on the bench, just getting used to that on the bench."
Gulutzan did bring one assistant with him from the AHL, Paul Jerrard
. The 46-year-old has been in the Stars' organization for the last five seasons, including two on Gulutzan's staff in the AHL, where his main responsibility was working with the club's defensemen.
Jerrard holds similar duties in Dallas, and also teams with Desjardins in coordinating the Stars' penalty kill. He might be new to the NHL, but it's evident he's earned the respect of everyone in the Stars' room.
"It's very enjoyable (working with Jerrard)," Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski
said. "He really understands and he cares. He cares about the team and everyone on the team. He does everything that he can to make guys better every day. It's a pleasure coming to the rink and working with Paulie."
Another endearing thing about Gulutzan is the incredible enthusiasm and strong positive energy he has brought to the Stars. He admits coaching in the NHL has long been a dream of his and now that he's living said dream, he wants to soak in each and every moment along the way.
While Gulutzan brings structure and a workman-like approach, he's not afraid to have a little fun with his fellow coaches and players. Take a recent practice as a prime example: During an off-day on their current four-game road trip, he started the session with all 22 of his players, assistant coaches and two pucks on the ice in a no-holds-barred, first to score seven goal game.
"There has to be fun in a season. It's a long year, and if you're not having fun in any job you do, then I think you're not as productive," Gulutzan said. "We're all in this together. It's certainly a collaboration. That's the way we want it. At the end of the day, we've all got to move in the same direction."
Dallas has been so successful thus far for several reasons. One, the Stars' players instantly bought into their new coach's structure and philosophy. When he was hired, Gulutzan said he wanted his team to be much harder to play against. And by having a solid penalty kill, scoring from all four lines and stellar goaltending, those are just three reasons why the Stars are among the NHL's biggest early surprises.
Gulutzan might have come to the NHL an unknown commodity, but given the favorable early results, that anonymity might now be something of the past.