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Trottier recalls the challenges of repeating

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins continue their quest to win back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, something that hasn't been done since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings.

But even before the Red Wings, the previous NHL team to repeat as Cup champs was this very organization, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The club won back-to-back titles in 1991 and '92. 

"You're the defending champs. Everyone is looking to knock you off," said forward Bryan Trottier, a member of both of those early 90s championship teams. "You've got to find another level. That's the greatest challenge."

Trottier, a member of the illustrious Hockey Hall of Fame, knows a thing or two about repeating as a champion. Not only did he win consecutive titles with the Pens, but he won four straight Stanley Cups as a part of the New York Islanders dynasty from 1980-83.

Teams need a lot of dominos to fall their way in order to win multiple championships, especially in sequential seasons.

"You have to stay injury free. You need to overcome bad bounces and tough calls," Trottier said. "You have to make the most of your opportunities. Everyone has to kick in. There are no easy nights. You need everyone."

The Pens had their fair share of adversity in their quest to repeat in the 1991-92 season. The biggest was the loss of their head coach. "Badger" Bob Johnson, who steered Pittsburgh to its first-ever Stanley Cup championship in May, underwent emergency surgery in late August and past away in November. Mario Lemeiux was battling his own injury issues. The team's performance on the ice was slacking, which led to general manager Craig Patrick trading Paul Coffey and Mark Recchi to rejuvenate the team. 

But during that whole time they had Scotty Bowman, who won four straight Cups as head coach of Montreal from 1976-79, steering the ship.

"Scotty's experience helped," Trottier said of Bowman, who also happens to have led Detroit to their back-to-back Cups in 1997-98. "But Scotty's gamesmanship during games, line matching, utilizing the bench. He was masterful in that regard.

"He gave us the commander at the helm making those decisions."

But maybe the biggest challenge involved in repeating is fatigue. Hockey is a grueling and demanding sport that takes its toll on the body. Playing in over 100 games in a calendar year is taxing.

"(Fatigue is a factor), but you never want to use that as an excuse," Trottier said. "There is fatigue for everybody. That's part of the game. With the travel, being away from your family, all of those things. Whoever doesn't let it affect them, they'll have an advantage."

Trottier's Islanders not only won four Stanley Cups in a row, but played in the Stanley Cup Final in five consecutive seasons. So he knows how to deal with the grind.

"Even veterans like myself, you get battle scars. You can't let them affect you," he said. "You have to find a level better than the other player that you're playing across form. I've got to play better than who I'm across from and inspire my teammates and overcoming the battle scars."

And besides, when the Stanley Cup title is this close, it's easy to find the needed energy and motivation.

"I've never heard a player say to me that he's tired in the Stanley Cup playoffs come the Final," Trottier said. "It's exciting. It's what you dream about as a kid. There is a lot of rest after the playoffs are over. I had plenty left in the tank."

Trottier and the Pens had enough in the tank to sweep the vaunted Chicago Blackhawks - a roster that featured Jeremy Roenick, Chris Chelios and Ed Belfour - in the 1992 Stanley Cup Final.

Trottier has raised the Cup many times in his career. But he still feels that second Cup with Pittsburgh was special.

"It was spectacular. We felt like the underdogs against Chicago," he said. "Everyone had a hand in it. At the end of the series you could go around and say great series to each guy and you're not blowing smoke because someone did something great. That made it so gratifying.

"Looking now at the history of the Pens and the legacy that follows, even losing Bob Johnson, Mario's injuries, we found a way to repeat with a veteran squad and some young kids like (Jaromir) Jagr. That was special. We got to share it twice with the fans of Pittsburgh and party with them afterward. It was a great memory for all of us." 

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