Funny how things work out.
A little more than two decades ago, then Washington Capitals general manager David Poile decided to fire his coach Bryan Murray and replace him with his brother Terry Murray midway through the 1989-90 season. The ramifications were Poile needed to find a replacement for Terry, who was at the helm of the franchise's farm team in Baltimore. That call went out to Barry Trotz.
Fast forward to Saturday night. Both Trotz and Terry Murray will celebrate their 1,000th games behind an NHL bench. But while Murray has reached the milestone as coach of the Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, Florida Panthers and Los Angeles Kings, the 49-year-old Trotz has accomplished the feat with only one club, the Nashville Predators.
Only three others have coached 1,000 NHL games with one NHL team, a group that includes retired New York Islanders coach Al Arbour (1,500), current Buffalo Sabres bench boss Lindy Ruff, who will coach his 1,082nd game on Saturday, and ex-Chicago Blackhawks coach Billy Reay (1,012).
"To be able to do this on the same night as Terry is special," Trotz said. "I have learned a lot from him and have the utmost respect for him. I have the utmost respect for his Bryan, too. He was once my coach in junior and I learned a lot about the structure you need as a coach back then."
Back then Trotz was a smallish defenceman with the Regina Pats, but good enough to earn a tryout with the Capitals in 1982. It was at Washington's training camp Trotz sought out to thank the man responsible for his invite, Capitals assistant GM Jack Button.
Button bluntly told his young player that they hoped he would one day be a competent minor leaguer. But that day never came. A few seasons later Trotz suffered a serious back injury while playing for the University of Manitoba Bisons and his playing days ended.
Fortunately, Bisons head coach Wayne Fleming made room for Trotz as an assistant coach while he finished his studies. Trotz recalled his role as nothing more than "pushing pucks" around at practice. But he was inquisitive and wanted to learn. So he went to seminars like the one Roger Neilson used to hold and he attended other clinics to broaden his coaching foundation.Coaching philosophy
Fleming, however, played a huge role in shaping Trotz's coaching philosophy.
"The main thing he taught me was to be myself and not someone else," Trotz said of his mentor, who is back home in Calgary recovering from his brain cancer treatments. Fleming and Trotz remain close today. "Players can see through you if you're trying to be someone you're not."
After his studies finished at Manitoba, Trotz began to find his way in the business world only to be lured back to his hometown to run the junior team he once played for, the Dauphin Kings.
He later returned to the University of Manitoba as head coach and his development continued as he matched wits against legendary Canadian University coaches Clare Drake (Alberta), Dave King (Saskatchewan) and George Kingston (Calgary).
"It wasn't an easy gig going up against those guys, but I think I was very fortunate to coach against them. The biggest thing I learned from them was the level of commitment it took to be a coach. You need to give the same level of effort and commitment that you want from your players," Trotz said.
While at the helm of the Bisons, Trotz also became a part-time scout for the Capitals and this role turned into a full-time position a few years later.
Button's words were prophetic. Trotz became a success in the minors, but not as a player, instead as a coach after he replaced Terry Murray. He led the Capitals farm team, which moved to Portland, Maine to a Calder Cup championship in 1993-94.
When Poile turned down an offer to become the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager to accept the same position with the Predators, he hired Trotz as the organization's first and only head coach.
The move was made Aug. 6, 1997, two weeks after the Sabres installed Ruff as their head coach. There have been 163 coaching changes since the dynamic duo were hired.
"I'm fortunate to have a boss like David," Trotz said. "When things go bad he challenges you to find solutions in the dressing room. It has made me a better person."
Trotz believes the closest he has come to being fired in Nashville was early in the 2003-04 season when his team struggled to a 4-8-1 start then fell behind 3-1 in a game in Detroit against the Red Wings.
The Predators rallied to win 4-3. Trotz kept his job and went on a few months later to steer his team to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. But he was told later by then Nashville owner Craig Leipold that had he not won that game in Detroit, he likely would have been fired.
Trotz has changed in his days in Nashville. He's more calm. He has had young teams, so he has tried to teach more and stay positive as his players develop.
He credited his longevity with the Predators to a strong coaching staff that has included former assistants Brent Peterson and Paul Gardner as well as goalie coach Mitch Korn. Trotz also has a supportive family in his wife Kim, two daughters and two sons. Way back when, Kim urged her husband to chase his coaching dream.
The couple's youngest son, Nolan, has Down syndrome. He is a big reason why the Trotz family has been omnipresent in their charity work in Nashville.
"He's a special kid," Trotz said. "We feel blessed.
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