‘Harmony guy’ Bryan Trottier on why he doesn’t make a good scout

Bryan-Trottier

Hockey Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier waves to fans as he is introduced before an NHL hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins in January 2015. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Bryan Trottier’s dynastic New York Islanders were unique in that, unlike other teams that had signature runs, the Isles didn’t have an indisputable lead horse.

Denis Potvin was the captain; Mike Bossy was the sublime goal-scorer and Trottier — the only one among them to claim a Hart Trophy as league MVP — was the two-way centre who could do a bit of everything. Whereas the Montreal Canadiens who preceded New York as the league’s top club had Guy Lafleur and the Oilers who eventually knocked off the Isles were blessed with Wayne Gretzky, the Long Island crew was a true collective.

Forty years after the Islanders started winning Cups, Trottier remains connected to the game. When Hockey Day in Canada hits Yellowknife this week, Trottier will be a big part of the festivities, playing guitar and serving as lead vocalist for the Bidiniband. Truthfully, though, he’s still most comfortable being part of the choir.

“I’m kind of a harmony guy,” he says.

That was Trottier’s place while growing up playing country music with his family’s band in and around his rural hometown of Val Marie, Sask. Trottier’s dad and sister had the strongest voices, and he was always happy to support them. It was a mentality he transferred to the ice, whether in his role as a go-to guy with the Islanders clubs that won four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983 or when he was firmly support staff on Mario Lemieux-led Pittsburgh Penguins squads that went back-to-back in 1991 and ’92.

Hockey Day in Canada in Yellowknife, NT
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The value of teamwork is a big part of the message Trottier tries to get across when he and his fellow members of the Aboriginal Alumni Hockey Team visit Indigenous communities across Canada. Trottier, who describes himself as the world’s greatest mutt — “Métis, French, Irish, Scottish — I don’t know what else I’ve got in me. I’m a pretty good blend.” — began organizing these trips in 2003, after one chapter of his NHL coaching career came to an end. Along the way, he discovered former Penguin and Detroit Red Wing John Chabot — an Algonquin from the Quebec-based community of Kitigan Zibi — was doing similar work, and the pair decided to team up.

For more than five years now, Trottier and Chabot have travelled with a group that often includes the likes of father-and-son duo Reggie and Jamie Leach, Arron Asham, Gino Odjik and Blair Atcheynum. They try to hit a few communities on each trip, visiting schools, enjoying big feasts and, of course, playing some hockey.

“I’m so proud of the guys when they come in and represent not only the NHL, but their families and their First Nation heritage,” he says of his fellow Aboriginal Alumni members. “Hopefully we inspire young athletes to take that step and use their athleticism as a vehicle to continue their education or advance their sporting career [or] just experience new things in life and take it back to their communities. It’s a unique opportunity when you have a special skill [in any discipline]. You take advantage of it and it opens doors. You build relationships.

“They can see an old hockey guy like me strum a guitar and figure, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’”

Inclusivity is a huge theme, often driven home with humour. Ric Nattress, a Stanley Cup–winning D-man with the 1989 Calgary Flames, is one of the non-indigenous guys who sometimes travels with the group. When Nattress is introduced as a “moniyaw” — the Cree term for “white man” — it’s always met with uproarious approval.

“The kids all laugh,” Trottier chuckles. “It’s an endearing name.”

Bryan Trottier
Bryan Trottier is pictured standing next to memorabilia after being inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2016. (Chris Young/CP)

Trottier would love to continue on with this work, but acknowledges there are roadblocks.

“I’m really enjoying getting into those First Nation communities,” he says. “We’re trying all the time, but it’s a constant battle — we’re always looking for sponsors to help us get into these communities.”

Another thing on Trottier’s radar is a way back into day-to-day work with the game he loves. He lives in the Pittsburgh area and his youngest child is now a senior in high school. A few years ago, Trottier joined Ted Nolan’s staff in Buffalo when the latter performed a second stint as the Sabres’ head coach. He soon learned that 24/7 commitment was a bit too much. But with his parenting duties about to downshift, the 63-year-old Trottier — who believes he could help with anything from sales and marketing to skill development — is intrigued by the idea of working with an NHL club in some capacity if he can find the right fit.

“I tend to have rose-coloured glasses when I’m watching hockey players, so I don’t make a very good scout,” he says. “But at the same time, give me that player for a little while and I’ll have his confidence up, I’ll have his skills up and I’ll have him feeling really good about his game.”

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