How Barry Trotz went from 50/50 sales to winning the Stanley Cup

Barry-Trotz-Stanley-Cup

Barry Trotz brought the Stanley Cup back to his hometown of Dauphin, Man. (Pederson Photographic)

Barry Trotz has a home in Nashville, where he stood behind the Predators’ bench for the franchise’s first 15 seasons. He has a home in Florida, where he can imagine retiring someday, though at age 57 not anytime soon. Now in his second season with the Islanders, he’s still unpacking boxes in Huntington, N.Y. Such is the transitory lot of an NHL coach.

But when Trotz won the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals in June 2018, no one who knows him had any doubt about where he was going to take it: a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Winnipeg, first on Highway 68 West and then turning onto Highway 6 North, the route to Dauphin, Man., a town of 8,457.

“My father, Orest, worked as a mechanic for the CNR and he got transferred to Dauphin from Winnipeg,” says Trotz, now head coach of the New York Islanders. “Dauphin’s where I learned to love the game and play the game. It was important for me to bring the Cup back there.”

Trotz has coached 1,623 NHL games, third all time behind only Scotty Bowman and Joel Quenneville — no doubt an incredible accomplishment even before you factor in the fact he spent a few seasons in the American Hockey League in addition to some time behind the bench at the University of Manitoba. Still, his first head coaching job was with the Dauphin Kings — the team that he followed going back to grade school; the team that played nightly with his parents and friends in the crowd.

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Trotz was in kindergarten when the Kings made their debut in the Central Manitoba Junior Hockey League in November 1967. Not long after, the CMJHL merged with the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and the Kings remain a fixture in the league to this day.

“The Kings played out of the Memorial Community Centre, an old wooden barn like you’d see in other Prairie towns,” Trotz says. “It was built after World War II and the Kings were the biggest thing in town. The Memorial was packed for every game — maybe 3,000 when we’d play the Kenora Muskies or other rival towns. It seemed like everyone in town came out to games. There were no seats left, so we used to sit in the aisles where we could.”

When he was a little older, Trotz walked up and down those aisles during games, selling 50/50 tickets to support local age-group teams he played for. Back in those days, the Junior A team was a stepping stone to the Western Hockey League and sent a few stars to the NHL.

First it was journeyman goaltender and future NHL coach Ron Low and Butch Goring, who won Cups and a Conn Smythe Trophy with the New York Islanders. Goring’s name comes into conversation on an annual basis — the Isles’ acquisition of Goring from the Los Angeles Kings, you could argue, takes either credit or blame for setting in motion the annual rite of late February: the NHL trade-deadline deal. Some say his trade to Long Island was the first of its kind, and even more would put it high up on the list of the best deals of that sort ever. Before he made the NHL, though, Goring was the talk of Dauphin, having landed there in the middle of the 1968–69 season, walking away from WCHL Winnipeg Jets to join the championship-contending Kings.

Other future NHLers who skated for the Kings included goaltender Murray Bannerman and Ron Chipperfield. But Trotz’s favourite player was a centre named Bob Buchy.

“He reminded me of Jean Beliveau — tall, graceful, skilled,” Trotz says. “Everyone has a favourite player growing up and I guess a lot of them are [NHL] stars these days. Mine was a player from our hometown.”

Record-keeping in the Manitoba junior leagues was hit and (mostly) miss back in the day, and info on Buchy’s career is scarce. According to hockeydb.com, Buchy racked up 21 goals and 63 points in 34 games as an 18-year-old in the 1968-69 season. He skated for the Kings the next season, but individual stats seem to have fallen through the cracks. Buchy then played three seasons with three teams in the long-gone Eastern Hockey League, including a season with John Brophy behind the bench, but his hockey journey ended there. A search online turns up as many hits for Bucky’s baseball career with the Dauphin Redbirds, a game-winning homer here and there.

Still, for all the stars who skated for the Kings over the years, as unlikely as it seemed at the time, it was Barry Trotz, an under-sized defenceman, all of (maybe) 5-foot-9, who, at some future date, will be the first Dauphin Kings alumni to make the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Trotz logged three seasons with the Regina Pats before heading back to Dauphin for an overage year with the Kings. Though Dauphin won the MJHL championship that season, his time in the junior ranks were enough to convince him that, if he had a future in pro hockey on the ice, it was going to be limited to practices while blowing a whistle. At age 22, he took a job behind the bench as an assistant with the University of Manitoba, but a year later he became Dauphin’s coach and GM.

“The opportunity I got in Dauphin was so important to me,” Trotz says. “I realized [coaching] was something I wanted to do and something I could do.”

New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz
New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz. (Jessica Hill/AP)

Some who make it big rarely or never go home, but Trotz has always found a way to get there. During the break for the NHL All-Star Game, he travels to Dauphin to see his parents, who still live there, and his extended family — aunts and uncles — who live nearby.

“It’s the mandatory five days off, so lots of people go south,” Trotz says. “I could go to my Florida place, but I go to Dauphin instead. When I went the last time, it was minus-40.”

Flash forward to the summer of last year: When it came to Trotz’s day with the Stanley Cup, he brought the trophy to Dauphin. The old arena burned down years back and a new building, Credit Union Place, is the hockey hub these days. But people turned out like they had for the Kings back when Trotz was selling 50/50 tickets.

“The [Cup] had never been in town before,” Trotz says. “We did some fund-raising there — we raised $170,000, which we gave back to the hospital in town and local teams.

“And when I brought it there, I had to make a stop at Bob Buchy’s home — he still lives there, too. He’s had a bit of a rough time for a while health-wise. He’s in a wheelchair and has trouble getting around. We’ve been involved in getting him some help. That day was just a chance to tell him how much he meant to me as a kid.”

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