Kulak gaining experience on Flames blueline with no post-season in sight

Author: Kristen Anderson, Postmedia
Date: Mar 28, 2018

It’s this exact feeling that Brett Kulak wants to remember.

Not the elation of his first full season with the Calgary Flames or the personal satisfaction of being an every-day National Hockey League defenceman. Or the charter planes, the food, the five-star hotels, and living the life that he dreamt of when he was growing up in Stony Plain.

Looking around the sullen, dejected faces in the dressing room and his teammates that likely won’t be Calgary Flames next season, it’s the gut-punch of missing the Stanley Cup playoffs is the only takeaway that matters to the 24-year-old.

“It’s tough and it’s hard on everyone,” Kulak said. “We obviously pushed hard all season. We left it all on the table and we worked hard. It’s definitely disappointing. You play all season long and you train so hard in the summer to play after the regular season and in the playoffs. 

“It’s pretty disappointing but there’s some positives I can take from the personal side. At the end of the day it’s not like tennis or golf. It’s a team sport.”

The Flames were officially eliminated from the NHL post-season with Monday’s 3-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings. That, in itself, was a downer but the past few weeks have been a rollercoaster ride in the Pacific Division standings.

At this time last year, Kulak was with the Stockton Heat and keeping one eye on the Flames who were gearing up to make their final push into the post-season. They did, and the smart blueliner managed to gain some experience as a ‘Black Ace’ during a four-game sweep by the Anaheim Ducks.

Fast forward to October and Kulak managed to crack the lineup as their seventh defenceman, eventually out-playing Matt Bartkowski for the sixth spot on the third pairing.

It was a good year to have a good year and Kulak, despite the team’s underachieving season, has logged 66 games — his longest NHL campaign yet. He also managed to notch his first big-league goal Feb. 9 at New York and collected another one on March 2 (against the Rangers, again).

But it’s the way he was utilized that should give him hope, especially considering he’ll become a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

Kulak’s path is a lesson for aspiring professional blueliners — ECHL with Adirondack/Colorado in 2014-15, AHL with Stockton in 2015-16 and 2016-17, and the NHL.

“He went from the East Coast League, to the American League to part-time last year to almost full-time this year,” said Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan. “He’s on a road to become a regular NHL-er and he has to keep improving every day. That’s what he’s going to take is that, ‘I belong here’ (attitude).”

There’s a newfound confidence to the left-shooting Kulak, no doubt about it. 

On Saturday at San Jose, Gulutzan wanted to test the waters with him on a pairing with Travis Hamonic but he moved back to his regular spot on the third pairing with call-up Rasmus Andersson on Monday at L.A.

However right now Kulak is seeing the bigger picture, especially this week as the Flames, losers of six straight, return to Calgary for a three-game homestand and play out the five remaining regular season games of 2017-18.

“I think it really drills into your head the importance of every game,” Kulak pointed out. “You know, if it comes down to the stretch, it could be a matter of two points. Games back in November — those are crucial games. Sure, the last six weeks have felt like crunch time for us. It just opens your eyes. Even back before Christmas, it was crunch time. You have to bring that attitude back (next year) as well.”

  Share   Tweet

Strategic Partners