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FEATURE: Gulutzan to have a pulse on players

Oilers Assistant Coach Glen Gulutzan believes his best asset will be getting the most out of the Oilers player personnel

by Paul Gazzola /

EDMONTON, AB - If the famous Calgary Flames train ride from Montreal to Ottawa during the 2016-17 season is any indication of the effect Glen Gulutzan can have on his players, it's a profound one.

The Flames had dropped four eggs in a row and tensions were high. A 5-1 blowout courtesy of the Montreal Canadiens made the East Coast travel itinerary that much more laborious. 

Add the fact that their then-head coach, Gulutzan, was unimpressed with his squad's recent performance and decided to have all the alcoholic beverages from the carts removed - souring the taste in his players' mouths until the prohibition was lifted.

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"Just in my gut, sitting there as we were driving for the first 10-15 minutes, the whole thing didn't feel right," said Gulutzan at the time. "I wanted to move forward, not backward. The lady came to me later and she said, 'Well, that changed the mood in that cart.'"

Gulutzan is not a psychic and didn't need to inspect a palm to sense the spirit of his team. His sudden change of heart proved to be drastic. The Flames responded in a big way, snapping their four-game slide with a 3-2 win in overtime against the Senators. It was the beginning of his club's mid-season turnaround, as they won three of their next four games to set up a cataclysmic winning streak in February.

From Feb. 21 to March 13, 2017, the Oilers provincial rivals were unstoppable. They stole 10 consecutive outings, catapulting themselves into a playoff position, all stemming from Gulutzan's train ride audible.

"I think the players that have played for me would say that is my strength: just being in-tune with the locker room," Gulutzan said on Friday, after being named one of three new Oilers assistant coaches. 

"Trying to have a good pulse in the locker room, I think, certainly is one of my strengths," said the Hudson Bay, SK, product who owns a 146-125-23 record as an NHL head coach.

Assistant coaches, of course, have different responsibilities than the bench boss. That much, Gulutzan is aware of after spending time as an assistant with the Vancouver Canucks and then as the head coach of the Dallas Stars and Flames.

"One comes with a lot more pressure," said Gulutzan, undoubtedly referring to the head coach role. "The other one comes with a lot more contact and more shoulder-to-shoulder with the guys.

"You're never as in-tune with the locker room as the equipment guys or the medical guys (as an assistant coach) but you're probably at the next level. You get a little bit more insight, you get to talk to the guys a little bit more with their guards down. You see how they're doing and feeling.

"That's the way I see it transpiring here."

That could prove to be beneficial for the Oilers, as they bring in a new collection of assistants to provide support to Head Coach Todd McLellan for the 2018-19 campaign. Alongside Gulutzan comes Emanuel Viveiros, who most recently led the Swift Current Broncos to a Western Hockey League championship, and Trent Yawney, a development guru who most recently manned the defence on the Anaheim Ducks' bench.

"Knowing whether it's having a day off, a beer, or whatever the guys need. Just being in rhythm with the team. That's kind of the way I've always coached," said Gulutzan.

McLellan is friends with Gulutzan and believes he will bring a wealth of knowledge with him to the position. 

"He understands what it's like to be a head coach, especially in Canada, western Canada and in particular, Alberta," said McLellan. "That's a strong asset for us to have. He brings an upbeat personality and a good hockey mind."

Not only that but as opposition of the Oilers for the past few seasons, Gulutzan can provide information McLellan will surely find valuable.

"I'm sure they're going to pick my brain on the Calgary-Edmonton thing," quipped Gulutzan. "And just helping Todd in any way, shape or form about maybe seeing strengths or weaknesses in some players. Maybe myself and even Yawns (Trent Yawney), we can see some of that stuff and hopefully pull out the better parts of all the players to get it on the table.

"Those things don't come by easy. You have to facilitate them. I know some of the guys there in Edmonton, I know it's a great group. I'm just looking forward to helping out."

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