At 31-years-old Glen Gulutzan got his first taste of being a head coach in the Calgary Flames organization, as he took the reins of their ECHL affiliate in Las Vegas. 13 years later he’s returning to the Flames organization, but this time he’s getting a crack at the top coaching job. The Saskatchewan product was named the 18th head coach in Flames franchise history at a news conference at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Friday morning, making official what general manager Brad Treliving jokingly referred to as “the worst-kept secret in hockey.”
Gulutzan’s hiring ends a six-week search for Treliving and the hockey operations staff, and ended with arguably the perfect fit for the Flames for several reasons. Most importantly for a team on the cusp of consistent playoff contention, they end up with a new coach that is completely different than his predecessor, Bob Hartley.
Hailing from the francophone community of Hawksbury, Ontario (near the Quebec border), Hartley came to the Flames with a Stanley Cup ring, a decade of experience as an NHL head coach, and a very specific view of what an NHL coach should be. Hartley worked at a windshield factory while starting out in his coaching career, and that blue-collar mindset seemed to frame a great deal of his coaching style and decision-making. When in doubt, he emphasized hard work over systems and tactics.
When the Flames were in the early stages of their rebuild and had a very raw roster full of rookies and cast-offs playing unfamiliar roles, Hartley’s emphasis on conditioning, grit and shot-blocking made a great deal of sense. The team needed to master the basics before they could make the leap to more advanced battle plans. But for the Flames’ core players four years of emphasis on hard work likely wore thin after awhile, and the Flames’ defensive-zone tactics were laughable last season and contributed to their awful start.
Gulutzan is practically the polar opposite of Hartley. Raised in Saskatchewan, he played in the Western Hockey League while managing to complete a bachelor’s of education degree, with a minor in mathematics, at the University of Saskatchewan. Truth be told, Gulutzan’s primary coach growing up was his calculus teacher father, and by all accounts the younger Gulutzan developed a very cerebral, nuanced style of coaching as he worked through the ranks. He’s been frequently described as a smart tactical hockey mind and praised as a “player’s coach.”
While Hartley cut his teeth as a coach while working at a factory, Gulutzan began his coaching career with the (now-defunct) West Coast Hockey League’s Fresno Falcons as a player/assistant coach. The club’s success with him in the dual role earned him a job working for the same owner’s ECHL expansion club in Las Vegas in another dual role as general manager and head coach. Gulutzan’s success with the Flames-affiliated Wranglers earned him a shot as head coach in the American Hockey League with the Texas Stars, and eventually a two-season stint as an NHL head coach in Dallas. He spent the last three seasons with the Vancouver Canucks as an assistant before being courted by the Flames.
Gulutzan turns 45 before the season begins, but he’s a hockey-lifer, having played three seasons in major-junior, two seasons in Canadian university and nine seasons of pro (including three in Sweden) followed by 13 seasons as a head coach (or NHL assistant). He’s young and a relatively fresh face among the NHL head-coaching ranks, but he’s spent most of his life in hockey rinks.
The Flames learned to work hard under Hartley. Now Gulutzan will aim to have them working smart. The Flames hope that the difference between the two approaches will unlock the young club’s potential and get them to the next level.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.