DALLAS – Before Glen Gulutzan even became coach of the Dallas Stars, captain Brenden Morrow tapped into his grapevine to learn about the 39-year-old career minor-leaguer.
Morrow called between six and nine guys who’d played for Gulutzan. He made sure to include stars and bench warmers, guys likely to praise Gulutzan and those who might hold a grudge.
He grilled them all on Gulutzan’s personality in practices and in games. He asked whether Gulutzan holds guys accountable, and how much time off he gives.
Morrow liked everything he heard.
“There wasn’t one bad word about him,” he said. “They’ve all said, ‘This is the guy you want leading your team.'”
Morrow came away believing Gulutzan has what it takes to be the latest success story in the NHL’s trend of plucking coaches from the minors. He was at his new boss’ introductory news conference Monday, looking forward to building the coach-captain relationship he believes is needed to return the Stars to prominence.
“We’re excited to have him here,” Morrow said. “He’s had success at every other level. Why not here?”
Gulutzan (pronounced GULL’-it-zen) has been a head coach the last eight years, going from a successful stint with Las Vegas of the ECHL to another successful stint with the Stars’ top affiliate, the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League.
Dallas general manager Joe Nieuwendyk already had Gulutzan in mind when he fired Marc Crawford a few days after the season ended. Gulutzan was among four candidates interviewed and on Friday he received a two-year contract with a club option for a third season.
In his opening remarks at the news conference, Nieuwendyk congratulated the Stars’ arena-mates, the Dallas Mavericks, for winning the NBA title, noting that he hopes to one day have another parade on behalf of another Stanley Cup won by the Stars.
First things first, though. This club has missed the playoffs for three straight seasons, which is more than it had its previous 14 seasons in Dallas.
“We have a lot of high-end talent here, players that can make plays,” Nieuwendyk said. “I think Glen is the right guy to put it all together.”
Gulutzan agreed, saying “the building blocks are here.” He noted the 95 points the Stars racked up last season—matching the most ever by a team that missed the playoffs—and named several quality players, from veterans like Morrow to youngsters who played for him in the minors.
He also described three “non-negotiable items” for his team: being hard to play against, having a good defensive structure and having fun playing the game.
“I intend to help these players to the best of my ability to move forward and achieve their goals, which ultimately will help us achieve all of ours,” he said. “I’m very appreciative of the opportunity.”
While his references are strong, and his resume is solid (making the playoffs all but once, reaching the finals twice), what may have stood out the most is his personality.
Simply put, it’s the opposite of his predecessor, the hard-driving Crawford.
“It seems like he’s got a little bit more patience than what we’ve been used to the last few years,” Morrow said. “Young guys … don’t want to be yelled and screamed at any more. I think a guy like Gully, who is kind of new and fresh and has played the game and is not too far from it, I think they kind of get that.”
Morrow is 32, only seven years younger than Gulutzan, so it should be easier for him to relate to this coach than any other he’s had. They’re also both from Saskatchewan.
“We probably have a lot of things in common that we haven’t really talked about,” Morrow said. “But it’s one thing to talk to a guy in June or July. It’s another thing when you’re down a goal or two with five minutes left in a game, how he’s reacting behind the bench. … When you’re winning, things are pretty easy. Everyone’s going to get along.
“It’s when you go through rough patches, how do you get through those times? That’s why you have to build up and to have strong relationships and to really understand each other.”
Toby Petersen is one of the Stars who has seen Gulutzan in action up close: A loss in Cleveland last season while he was on an injury rehabilitation assignment.
“I did notice, definitely, that he was patient, a calming presence behind the bench,” Petersen said. “You play that out over the course of a season and that can be a very helpful thing. … A couple of other players commented on what a great teacher he was, how calm he is. Those are great attributes that will definitely come into play at this level.”