SAN JOSE — The Fresno Falcons as you know them are out of business, and have been for five years. No more red-haired enforcers dropping the gloves, or Freddy the Falcon playing the fool, or Selland Arena blasting "Cotton-Eyed Joe."
That doesn't mean the Fresno Falcons are altogether dead and gone. Not yet, they're not. The Falcons live still, vicariously through the life of their former player and assistant coach Glen Gulutzan, who went on to become NHL coach to the Dallas Stars and current assistant to the Vancouver Canucks.
"I still gets calls from the guys, and they're like, 'Gully, I can't believe that's you standing behind the bench, man,' " Gulutzan said after a morning skate at the Sharks' SAP Center, looking at age 42 like he could still suit up for the Falcons if there were still Falcons to suit up for.
Gulutzan was the first and only Fresno Falcon to ever make it to the NHL as a player or coach. He's also one of the last former Falcons still standing in professional ice hockey, with the other survivors holding a faint pulse across the lower minor leagues and overseas.
Every time Gulutzan's neatly greased blonde hair flashes on the TV screen behind the Canucks bench, it serves as a sad reminder of how 40 years of Fresno minor-league hockey got tossed off the cliff during the 2008-09 season, never to return.
A Falcons great finally made the big time, and it was too late for the defunct franchise to celebrate his arrival on its behalf.
Gulutzan arrived in Fresno in 1996 as a 25-year-old Canadian with a sweet slap shot. He left six seasons later as a player-assistant who set scoring records and kissed a championship trophy.
This is the city where Gulutzan got his start as a coach. This is where he married his wife and had their first two children.
"I remember moving to Fresno, walking in with my hockey equipment and they've got the pools and the palm trees waving," Gulutzan said. "I remember being able to wear shorts off the rink and playing golf in the winter, which had never been done.
"I knew this was going to be a neat experience."
With the Falcons closed down, there is no back to come back to, so Gulutzan simply brings the lessons learned and memories made in Fresno wherever he goes.
In Dallas, he learned to build teams with character players, because that's what won a Taylor Cup trophy for Fresno in 2002.
In Vancouver, he still uses terminology that makes no sense to NHL lifers because Gulutzan never did learn their language, so he made up his own terms along the minor-league way to explain ideas.
At all points in between, he tells stories about postgame trips to the old Downtown Hofbrau and old teammates who came from Canada but never left Fresno.
Most of all, Gulutzan remembers a city that embraced a bunch of snow-bound Canadians who chased every sentence with a strange-sounding "Eh." He just wishes there was a hockey city to come back to, just for good time's sake.
"There was a real hockey community there," Gulutzan said before going on with his NHL life.
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