WASHINGTON — Barry Trotz stood on the unfamiliar visitors’ bench and scanned the rafters at Capital One Arena as the national anthem played.
It had to be around here somewhere. He looked to one side of the scoreboard and then the other. Finally his eyes locked on the 2018 Stanley Cup banner hanging in the south end of the arena, a testament to a season he will remember the rest of his life.
"I was just focused on the game. Until the national anthem, I didn’t even know where it was,” Trotz said. “I was looking on the other side, around the clock, and then I turn around and there it is. That’s a proud moment for everybody involved: ownership, Ted Leonsis, and [Brian MacLellan] in management, and the players and everybody, the fans. That’s the one you want.”
Trotz could afford a reflective mood as he spoke after a 2-0 win against the Capitals in his first game back in Washington since leading the franchise to its first Stanley Cup last June. The Islanders broke a scoreless tie with two goals in the third period just 2:26 apart. They are the surprise of the NHL after losing star center John Tavares to free agency last summer. They are all alone in first place in the Metropolitan Division now well past the halfway point of the season.
Trotz stayed focused before the game. He arrived hours before game time and holed up in his office trying to figure a way the Islanders could win the second of a back-to-back against the rested Capitals.
At the first television timeout of the first period, Trotz steadied himself for the video tribute the Capitals put together. There, on the giant scoreboard, the indelible images flashed: Trotz at his opening press conference in 2014, promising his new team had what it took to win a championship, winning the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year, laughing with his players, skating the hot laps during last year’s playoffs, lifting the Stanley Cup. The Capital One Arena crowd stood and roared for the entire break in the action.
“My heart got full of all the good memories,” Trotz said. “I was looking up there. I was trying not to look too much because I was getting pretty close to that sensitive side of myself. But it was extremely well done and it was just great memories. Everybody was a part of something special.”
Afterward they had another mini reunion outside the Washington locker room, his home for four years. Trotz and Lane Lambert, his assistant for all four years with the Caps, chatted with players as they came out. It wasn’t as emotional as the championship ring ceremony when the two teams first met on Nov. 26 in Brooklyn. Trotz’s voice wavered as he addressed his former players before that game. This time was all laughs.
Capitals assistant Blaine Forsythe was there and head coach Todd Reirden briefly stopped by. Tom Wilson and Matt Niskanen and Devante Smith-Pelly came over to say hello. Brooks Orpik, who had a memorable night of his own with a ceremony for playing in his 1,000th NHL game earlier in the week, leaned against a wall and chatted with Trotz and Lambert, who jabbed Caps goalie coach Scott Murray and said he better have a “hotter suit” the next time they meet, which will be in New York on March 1.
Maybe then the Islanders will have come down to earth or maybe Trotz is in the midst of another magical season. Maybe these two teams, with so much shared history, are destined to meet again in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“They’ve got the same team. They’re a good hockey team. There’s no question,” Trotz said. “They’ve got lots of mettle and it starts with their leadership and [Nicklas Backstrom] and [Alex Ovechkin] and that core group….That whole group, Johnny Carlson, all the guys that have here for a long time, they’ve got lots of mettle. I’m fortunate to have another great group to work with on the Island. As I said to them, I hope we can have the same experience down the road. It’s special doing that.”
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