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Graney: Former Wranglers coach looks to lift Cup with Oilers

He still has a home in Las Vegas, still has ties to the community.

Glen Gulutzan remembers his time here fondly. He should. He was the town’s best coach back then, always too smart and skilled for the minor leagues of professional hockey.

Gulutzan, once the Las Vegas Wranglers boss, is in his sixth season as an assistant coach with the Edmonton Oilers. He and his team are in the Stanley Cup Final and trail the Florida Panthers 1-0 after a 3-0 loss Saturday.

Game 2 in Monday night in Florida.

You might remember Gulutzan’s success with the Wranglers well.

He was their coach and general manager from 2003-09. They produced three straight 100-point seasons from 2005-07, becoming the first ECHL team to do so.

The Wranglers tied a professional record during the 2006-07 season by winning 18 straight games. They made the Kelly Cup Finals in 2007-08 and missed the playoffs only once in Gulutzan’s tenure.

They were really, really good.

Learning things

“I took a lot from that experience, and it was a huge growth step for me,” Gulutzan said. “When you oversee everything, you understand how the whole dynamic works. I loved my time in Vegas.

“We always knew we had something pretty good with the Wranglers, and then to see now what they’ve done with the Golden Knights … Even prior to them getting there, I thought hockey could certainly work in that city. I learned there are great hockey people there.”

He has also learned a lot about the game and himself since departing. About how rewarding and difficult things can be at the highest level of hockey. Gulutzan spent time as head coach of the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames, stints that lasted just two years each before his dismissal. He made the playoffs once in those four seasons.

But Gulutzan seems to have discovered a home in Edmonton. He arrived in 2018 and has now served under five head coaches.

“We’ve gone through the gamut, for sure. But this is Canada, right?” said Gulutzan, 52. “They get a little edgy. It’s always a transition with new people. The hardest part is you’re moving on from good people and great coaches and relationships you’ve formed.

“You take a little bit of the strengths from each coach and add them to your own personal toolbox, and I’ve done that. You learn that you never stop learning. I look back at when I started off coaching in this league in 2011 and realize maybe back then you didn’t know how much room for growth you really had. What I learned most is that it’s hard to win in this league.”

He says one of the most rewarding things about coaching in Edmonton is watching the development of superstars like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. To see their progress on a daily basis over his six years with the franchise. How they handle the highs and lows and wins and losses.

McDavid’s perfection

It’s a question many ask: What makes the world’s best player in McDavid so special?

“He makes everyone around him better, including the coaching staff,” Gulutzan said. “He is so driven to be the best, so detail orientated. His passion is a bit infectious — not only to other players but to the coaches. He just has this way about him — it’s the drive for perfection.”

This is also true: Should he again receive the opportunity to be an NHL head coach, Gulutzan would adapt his style more to the roster. Things aren’t drastically different from staff to staff besides small tweaks in how coaches might approach the job.

“Do what’s best for the players,” Gulutzan said. “More to the individuals and their talent. There’s always room to grow.”

Gulutzan has learned that and a whole lot more as a coach.

And could one day (very soon) call himself a Stanley Cup champion.

Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.

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