By Cleve Dheensaw
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007
VICTORIA, British Columbia – It’s the No. 1 question Las Vegas Wranglers head coach Glen Gulutzan is asked wherever he goes.
“I’ve been asked it a million times: How do you control your players in a 24/7 place such as Vegas?” he said, as his club prepared Thursday at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre for Friday’s and Saturday’s ECHL games against the Victoria Salmon Kings.
The answer is simple. If you’re serious about moving on to the AHL and potentially NHL, and virtually all his players are, you learn to control yourself.
So much so that Gulutzan doesn’t even set a curfew.
“Every night is Saturday night there. If you’re not pro enough to handle yourself in Vegas, then you can’t play there,” he said, flatly.
And these guys apparently know how to set aside the distractions and play. The Wranglers, farm team of the Calgary Flames, are 10-2-3 in their last 15 games and 29-10-12 overall to lead the Pacific Division and trail only the Alaska Aces in the National Conference after going a blazing 53-13-6 last season.
Among the Flames prospects on the Wranglers is rookie pro Adam Cracknell, who moved with his family from Prince Albert to Victoria at age 15, and played a season each for the Juan de Fuca Orcas in bantam rep and Saanich Braves in Junior B before four seasons with the Kootenay Ice of the WHL.
“You can go out at any time of day or night in Vegas but you have to be smart about it if you want to make it to the next level,” said Cracknell, a 2004 Flames draft pick, who broke his leg in a game in Idaho in November and is two weeks away from returning to the Wranglers line-up.
“You have to take a lot of responsibility for yourself in that town.”
And the Wranglers do take responsibility for their off-ice behavior, thanks in no small part to the tone set by coach Gulutzan. And it’s interesting that it’s Flames head coach Jim Playfair whom Gulutzan deals with when talking to the parent club. Playfair is a former ECHL coach of the year during his three seasons guiding the Dayton Bombers. Gulutzan, only 35 and already in his fourth season as an ECHL success behind the bench in the Nevada high desert, looks to be a prime prospect to move up the coaching ranks.
“I talk to Jim about these types of things, sure,” he said.
“And [Carolina Hurricanes head coach] Peter Laviolette is another example of a coach who came out of the ECHL, and he’s won a Stanley Cup.”
Gulutzan, a Saskatchewan-raised native of The Pas, Man., keeps the glitz of Vegas in perspective by retreating in the off-season to his prairie roots at his cabin near Foam Lake, Saskatchewan
“It keeps it real,” chuckled Gulutzan, who played for the Brandon Wheat Kings and Saskatoon Blades over three seasons of major-junior hockey in the WHL.
Meanwhile, Cracknell admits it hurts having to watch this week’s games from the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre stands.
“My family is all here and I wish I was playing,” said Cracknell, who had 42 goals and 93 points last season with the Ice and five goals and 11 points in 17 games this season for the Wranglers before the injury, which required surgery and the placement of two pins in his leg.
“I was learning a lot about how to play smarter – and was breaking out of junior habits – so the injury was hard to take. Suddenly, you are no longer playing against 16-year-olds but men who are trying to make it to the next level. I was learning how to play the pro game, which is more technical.”
But Cracknell could be back on skates at SOFMC. If the Salmon Kings (23-30-1) manage to squeeze into the playoffs, they will likely meet either Alaska or Las Vegas in the first round.
“Maybe we’ll see Victoria in the playoffs,” said Cracknell.
“I’m really looking forward to the playoffs. I’ll be well rested, that’s for sure.”