|Barry Trotz is the only head coach the Predators have had in their ten-year history.|
It seems the Nashville Predators coach and newly minted Hall of Famer Al MacInnis were roommates 28 years ago when they were in the Regina Pats organization. MacInnis was playing with the Tier II Regina Pat Blues midget team and Trotz, a year older, was with the Pats. They billeted in a basement apartment in Regina.
There, Trotz was called upon to do a bit of translating for MacInnis, his fellow Canadian.
"I enjoyed it when we lived together," Trotz said. "Al was easy to live with, but he was from Nova Scotia and when he first arrived in the West, he had a really heavy accent and a lot of us had trouble understanding him. It was a little difficult, but after we spent more time together it was easier.”
Trotz also scuttled any plans for some "wild and crazy" Al MacInnis stories. In fact, he doubts there are any.
"He's just a solid citizen and a lot of fun," Trotz said. "The way he is as a person today is what he was like when he was 16 and there aren’t a lot of people you can say that about. He has a great sense of humor that he doesn't always display, very dry. We had a nice setup, one room with a partition in an older couple's house. I think we really respected them for that because they were older than most of the billeting families.
"Al was among the youngest, if not the youngest, but he could play back then and he could always shoot. Back then, though, his stick had the funniest curve. I remember him firing off a shot and it going straight into the corner. We got Al on weights in Regina and that's what we'd do at night, lift weights and watch TV.
"Sorry, we weren't too crazy, no stories, but they had a fun crew on the Blues, Esa Tikkanen, Garth Butcher, Al Tuer, Jim McGeough. Al came up and played a couple games with the Pats and I played down about 15 games with the Blues. It was a good time with nice memories. We all knew Al would make it to the NHL with that shot."
The last time we saw Trotz was at the 2007 Entry Draft in Columbus, Ohio, in June. Trotz has been a great friend to NHL.com and its readers over the years and we wanted to thank him for that and express some concern because the team was in the process of being sold.
"Don't worry, I'll be all right," he said, with his trademark wink and smile. We loved his optimism, but things didn't seem to get better in the next few days when the Predators engineered a series of deals that sent some of its top players away.
Tomas Vokoun, Paul Kariya, Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell and Peter Forsberg are working from different addresses these days. Dire things were predicted for the Predators and a six-game losing streak in October seemed to confirm fears.
But the Predators have gone 5-1-2 since then and Trotz likes the coordinated play of his squad.
"I think we've got it turned around," he said. "You can dig yourself a hole with those losing streaks and we're in a very tough, tight division. There was a transition period for our team after we lost a lot of key people. When that happens, you lose a bit of your identity and leadership. It takes time for people to fill those roles and for your team to develop a new identity.
"That doesn't begin to happen until you win some games. We seemed to have our identity early when we won our first two games against Colorado and Dallas and then, for whatever reason, we didn't play the way we needed to. It got away from us and we couldn't score. It took for us to almost hit rock bottom to come back up. We have to play a certain way and when we did, we started winning and it galvanized our new identity.”
"You can't use changing personnel as an excuse because it happens, to some degree, every year," Trotz continued. "Each year's team has its own identity, even if you change only one or two guys."
Trotz doesn't like to give an inch. After a 5-4-1 run, his team is 9-7-1, tied with Columbus for third place in the Central Division.
"We shortened the season by 15 games," he laughed, "But it looks like we're on even ground and in the mix. We're playing hard and getting pretty good goaltending. The lines are set and guys are comfortable with their roles."
Trotz is the only coach the Predators have had, and his boss, David Poile, is the team's only general manager. They've shared a close relationship while building an NHL contender. There had to have been some hand-wringing and some emotions as the team was restructured.
"We adjust our team systems every year, based on personnel," Trotz said. "Some teams say, 'This is the way we play,' but with personnel changes, we want to utilize the abilities of our players. The NHL game is constantly changing and we've changed something every year.”
"We had a lot of turnover, but we felt we had a lot of good, young players coming back and young guys always feel they can play more minutes and step up into a role," he added. "We maintained close contact with them over the summer. Almost to a T, players told me we might be as good in the long run as we were last year. Remember, we didn't get Peter Forsberg until the last 10 games and Scott Hartnell was out for a long period of time. We've added Jed Ortmeyer and Radek Bonk. We're less flashy, but I think we're harder to play against. We're were hoping to have Steve Sullivan back, and losing Shea Weber in the first game of the season hurt us.
"We took a bumpy road out of the gate, but we're where we want to be in our heads with our team and how we have to play now. We can't play like last year's team. That doesn't work with this team."