|photo by Trey Hill |
It’s definitely that way in year one of the Glen Gulutzan era with the Dallas Stars. Gulutzan has been an NHL head coach for right around six months and he has already shown he has the makings of a solid man behind the bench for years to come in this league.
But he also has a solid corps of lieutenants around him. It all starts with Paul Jerrard, who accompanied him from the AHL’s Texas Stars when he was hired back in June. Jerrard works with the Dallas defensemen and also teams up with fellow assistant Willie Desjardins to coordinate the club’s penalty kill, which has been a much-improved group thus far.
Desjardins is a holdover from the Marc Crawford era, having been brought in by the former Stars head coach before last season. Gulutzan’s third lieutenant, goaltending coach Mike Valley, is another holdover from the previous regime, as he was also brought in by Crawford to work closely with the club’s netminders.
But no matter whether they are guys he’s known for some time or coaches who were already in place when he was hired, the current Stars coach is glad to have him and knows they are a big reason for the team’s early success this season.
I think the biggest assets are three things with those guys. One, they’re smart hockey guys, all three. Two, their work ethic is impeccable,” Gulutzan said. “They’re not afraid to dig in and work. There are a lot of good hockey guys out there for sure but guys that are deeply vested, we’re very fortunate to have in our organization-staying out late, going out early, everything’s done, everything’s prepared. They’re all in guys and it makes my job certainly easy. But we all aren’t afraid to work and dig in. If you’ve got a coaching staff that does that and a team that does that, you know you’re moving in the right direction.”
Jerrard quickly earned the respect of the Dallas defensive corps. Even with several recent key injuries to the Stars’ rearguard, he has helped the unit remain both cohesive and effective on the ice, something those who play for him have definitely noticed.
For the club’s d-men who have been here for the last few years, it did take some time getting adjusted to his coaching style, but it’s safe to say they’ve all bought in and have immense respect for their new assistant coach.
“He’s very approachable, which for a guy like that is needed. He’s very positive. He stays positive throughout the game,” defenseman Trevor Daley
said. “He always keeps that positive atmosphere around. It’s exciting for us to have. We had that too [in the past]. Charlie Huddy was the same way. So it’s not much of a difference than how he was, so we’re enjoying it.”
Fellow blue liner Nicklas Grossman also gave Jerrard high marks for how well he’s been working with the club’s d-men but Grossman also logs minutes on the club’s PK, where he works closely with Desjardins, who he also has a strong rapport with.
“I think he’s doing a good job there,” Grossman said. “He emphasizes attention to detail and does a lot of video with us. I think that helps out a lot. We know where we want to be at, so we’ve got to keep pushing. It’s just small things like going out there, practicing and trying to get better. That’s the key and they are giving us the tools to do that.”
Valley is the third member of this talented group. Before his recent groin injury, Stars No. 1 goaltender Kari Lehtonen
was off to one of the best starts of his NHL career, something he partly attributes to working with Valley.
The two have developed a strong bond working together over the past several years, partly because Valley and Lehtonen share the common experience of both having played in Europe. Backup goaltender Andrew Raycroft has also bonded with Valley and has credited him for helping his game to continue to evolve.
With Lehtonen out for at least a few more weeks with that aforementioned injury, Raycroft has ably stepped into the top spot between the pipes and prospect Richard Bachman
was recalled from the AHL. The 24-year-old rookie netminder won his first NHL start on Saturday night in Los Angeles and he too credits much of his success to working with Valley.
“It’s awesome, working with Vals,” Bachman said. “It’s nice to have him around. If you have any questions, he’s always there. No matter what’s going on, he’s always there. Even when I was in Austin, he was a quick phone call away. He can answer anything and over the last two years, we’ve really built a good relationship. He’s made me a really good goalie, 100 percent better from when I first came in and started working with him. He’s been awesome and really not changing my game but fine tuning it to a new level.”
So any successful head coach is only as good as his assistants. With the Dallas Stars off to a solid start this season as they look to return to the playoffs after several years away from the postseason, not only has rookie head coach Glen Gulutzan been solid behind the bench, but his three-man army of assistant coaches has also been up to the challenge. Should the Stars return to the postseason next spring, it will be because of a total team effort, both from the players as well as from each member of the coaching staff.