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Stanley Cup Final

Trotz savors winning Stanley Cup with Capitals

In 19th season as NHL coach, appreciates his long road to first title

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

LAS VEGAS -- Barry Trotz has kept the same bottle of champagne for 22 years. A former boss gave it to the Washington Capitals coach with the caveat that he would open it only upon winning the Stanley Cup.

It's time to pop the cork.

"I don't care how skunky it is, it's going to taste really good," Trotz said on the ice at T-Mobile Arena, not long after raising the Stanley Cup for the first time following Washington's championship-clinching 4-3 win against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday. 

"I'm going to drink it."

Trotz received the bottle in 1996 from Tom Ebright, then the owner of Portland of the American Hockey League. Trotz coached Portland to Game 7 of the Calder Cup Final at Rochester on June 13, 1996.

 

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Ebright bought a case of champagne for the team in case it won. Portland lost 2-1, so Ebright brought the case home and, a few days later, brought Trotz into his office.

"He handed me the bottle of champagne, and I said, 'Well, I don't really want to drink it,' " Trotz said. "He says, 'No, this is not for winning the championship or not winning the championship, this is for when you win the Stanley Cup.' "

The plan was for them to drink it together, but Ebright died of a heart attack July 14, 1997, less than a month before Trotz was hired to coach the expansion Nashville Predators, his first NHL job. 

The bottle has remained with Trotz, a treasure in storage, sitting in a case in his house in Nashville where his daughter, Tiana, still lives. It's marked so everyone knows what it is.

Trotz said there are four people he's going to salute when he drinks it.

Ebright is one of them. So is the late Jack Button, the former Capitals scout who gave him his first job in professional hockey, as a scout for Washington. He'll toast the late Wayne Fleming, his coach at the University of Manitoba. And Predators GM David Poile, who gave him his first NHL coaching job.

"I'll probably take a picture of it and I'll send it to their families or have it made," Trotz said. "To me, they allowed me to do what I love doing."

Video: Barry Trotz on winning the Stanley Cup

Trotz said that last offseason, after the Capitals lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Second Round for the second straight season, he found clarity on how he defines himself and other people around him. It's unclear if he had something impactful happen in his personal life at that time, but he was not offered a contract extension by the Capitals. 

That meant Trotz, a 55-year-old with 18 seasons of NHL coaching experience, who entered the season sixth all-time in wins (he's now fifth with 762), had no guarantee after this season, with his four-year contract set to expire. He was essentially coaching for his future.

A lot of coaches would have tensed up and let the stress of the unknown get to them. Trotz probably would have a few years ago.

Instead he relaxed. He bet on himself. He won.

"If he wants to be back, he'll be back," general manager Brian MacLellan said on the ice following Game 5.

 

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Trotz made it sound like he wants to return.

"I will say this, I said to Brian, 'There's no reason that I don't want to be there,' " Trotz said. "I said to Brian, 'No matter what happens, give me a couple of days to enjoy or not enjoy what happens and let's talk and we'll go from there.' 

"I've been doing this for a long time. I don't lose any sleep over it."

That he doesn't is an example of his newfound calm.

"I ran into him in Nashville this year and the two of us were talking and he was in such a better place," said Minnesota Wild general manager Paul Fenton, the Predators assistant GM for Trotz's 15 seasons in Nashville. "The two of us used to have this kind of thing that both of us, when we have stress you can feel it in our shoulders. He used to grab me and rub my neck and vice versa, but his always felt like a vice grip. I grabbed him by the neck this time and said, 'What happened here, this isn't you. Normally, you're just so ridiculously tight.' He said, 'I'm just in a better place. I feel better about everything.' "

Video: WSH@VGK, Gm5: Trotz on the Caps' first Stanley Cup

Trotz was arguably at his most relaxed in the last two rounds of the playoffs, after the Capitals finally got past the Penguins, who eliminated them the past two seasons.

He did the "hot lap" before the Capitals played Game 7 at the Tampa Bay Lightning and again before Game 1 at Vegas. A video of him doing it went viral. He wanted to know his time and joked that he needed to get his skates, which he called "rudders," sharpened.

He jokingly mimicked a Gatorade commercial by taking a swig and saying, "Smooth, real smooth," prior to his press conference before Game 2 of the Final.

He reminded the media at every press conference to "hydrate, it's hot out there."

"This is a time to enjoy," Trotz said prior to Game 5. "I don't know … if you ever get to this moment again. You don't know, so why make it tense and stressful. You have to respect the process. You have to respect what you need to do to be successful. But enjoy it."

Poile said he can't imagine another coach handling this season, with all the uncertainty about the future, better than Trotz did.

"He's in a really good place," Poile said. "I can't imagine anybody isn't happy for Barry Trotz."

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