Barry Trotz was asked a lot this week about his upcoming return to Washington DC.
He's largely downplayed it, insisting it'll be another game when he takes the visitor's bench at Capital One Arena on Friday night, his first visit since delivering a Stanley Cup as the Capitals head coach. He'll try to keep it all business, as the Isles can leapfrog the Capitals and potentially be in first place in the Metropolitan Division with a win, but if being back does stir up emotions, they'll be positive.
"I'm going to have a lot of good emotions," Trotz said. "The four years I spent there were tremendous. We won a lot of games. I have a lot of friends in that dressing room and I have a lot of friends away from the dressing room."
"It'll be fine," he added. "I think the first time you play them it was here, and that was closure. I'm an Islander. I appreciate the ownership, the fans, the players and the trainers, coaches and all the people that were involved in the success we had together, but we're going to try and go in there and get two points. I'm going to treat it like any other game."
Trotz, who went 205-89-34 in four seasons with the Capitals, said he moved on when he received his Stanley Cup ring from the Capitals on Nov. 26 in Brooklyn. That was his first time he, Associate Coach Lane Lambert and Director of Goaltending Mitch Korn, had seen the team since leaving the Caps and joining the Islanders over the summer.
It was a heartfelt moment, one captured on video by the Capitals. Trotz thanked the Capitals for his four years there and congratulated them on overcoming adversity as a group. He told his former team they were capable of winning another Stanley Cup, but that to do so, they'd have to go through the [something we can't quite say here] Island.
"I think the first time going into Barclays and actually going into the locker room and seeing the guys again for the first time, that was more emotional probably," Trotz said.
Trotz has already gone all-in on being an Islander. He's uprooted himself from Washington DC and spent the summer setting up shop on Long Island, laying the foundation for the Islanders stunning turnaround from the leakiest defensive group in a decade to one of the tightest ships in the league.
"For him to come here and done what he's done, it's helped me a lot and helped this team obviously," Mathew Barzal said. "Him, Lane Lambert and John Gruden and the new coaches as well as Lou. Just kind of turning things around like habits and professionalism, it's all the time and from top to bottom. That detail off the ice translates on the ice."
"If you look at the way we're playing systematically we're a different team from last year forsure," Jordan Eberle said. "We're obviously defending a lot better, that's the biggest thing Barry has brought in and we're winning hockey games because of it. All credit to Barry, he's done a good job."
The Capitals have a video tribute planned for the coach, who was absent for the team's ring ceremony to coach the Islanders season opener in Raleigh. Trotz said he wasn't expecting a video tribute, but had one request.
"If they're doing a tribute, I hope they include Lane and Mitch because they were a big part of that success we all had together," Trotz said. "To me, that'll be a nice gesture, no question."
The humble coach said he's not sure what the fuss was about, since he was only in Washington for four years - compared to 15 in Nashville - but how the city feels about him is for them to decide. Washington wants to say thank you for its first Stanley Cup and first major sports title since the Redskins won the Superbowl in 1992. That should stir something, even if the coach is good at keeping his cool.
"Emotionally I'll be fine," Trotz said of going back to Washington. "I'll cry watching The Notebook on TV when it's on… I think I'll be okay, but I appreciate the organization, the players, the fans and the support people around the game."
Trotz hasn't been back to DC since late August, but with the Islanders playing the second half of a back to back, he figures he won't have time to see his friends away from the rink. (He's a big proponent of getting to know his neighbors.) He said Friday will be a chance to thank and say goodbye to the arena staff at Capital One Arena.
As for the Islanders, it's some added incentive to dig deep on the second night of a back to back - not that they need it with a shot at first in the Metropolitan Division on the line.
"I know he's saying he's treating it like another game, I've been in that situation," Eberle said of his first game back in Edmonton last season. "For him to have obviously won the Stanley Cup last year with those group of guys and going back there, it'll be special for him. A little extra incentive for the guys to pull a victory out for him."