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Full Circle: Trotz's Return to Winnipeg

by Bryan Mullen / Nashville Predators
Winnipeg, Manitoba – On a downtown street, in a city where an NHL hockey club was recently reborn, Barry Trotz stands and smiles.

The Nashville Predators head coach points at the intersection.

“Portage and Main,” Trotz says. “It’s known as the coldest street corner in North America.”

Trotz knows what he’s talking about. Google it and four of the first five results tell you that Portage and Main, indeed, holds the title.

As Trotz tells you the reason – something about winds coming from different directions and creating a perfect storm – a man dressed in a suit, sitting in traffic, rolls down the window of his gold, two-door Acura sports car and playfully yells, “Barry, get a Jets jersey!”

Standing on the coldest street corner in North America, Trotz gets a warm feeling.

Trotz was born here, played hockey here, began his coaching career here. He forged the foundation of a marriage here. As a young man, he saw the NHL up close, saw the Winnipeg Jets flourish, sometimes allowed himself to wonder if he could coach at the highest level.

Then, just like that, he saw the club get ripped away in 1996 and sent to the states.

Now they’re both back in Winnipeg, Trotz as an NHL head coach, the Jets as an NHL franchise. Winnipeg will host Nashville tonight in front of an energized and sold-out MTS Centre.

“It was cold and dreary until the Jets came back,” Trotz said. “It’s almost like a family member going missing, and all of a sudden they return after 15 years. There is more of an appreciation factor. Winnipeg has its swagger back. It brings a life back. That’s how important it is to this city.”

There’s no better tour guide in Winnipeg than Trotz. He mentions a town, a university, an arena, an era, and points to different directions, giving distances, temperatures and memories.

One of his earliest memories was leaving this city. He was 5 years old when he and his parents moved from Winnipeg to Dauphin, Manitoba, about four hours northwest. It helped forge him as a person and he learned to work hard at an early age.

COACHING LESSONS: Barry Trotz’ father, Orest, is a man’s man. He worked as a mechanic for the railroad. Sometimes he went as far as Thompson, Manitoba, 10 hours north from Dauphin, to work. Thompson has a subarctic climate with bitterly cold winters. It is a hub for some car companies – like Ford and Hummer - to test their vehicles in the most extreme cold temperatures.

And Orest Trotz worked with his hands to fix machines on railroads.

“The town is about 8,000 people,” Trotz said. “It was in a valley, and there are very few valleys there. I grew up between a provincial park and a national park. It was a good place to grow up.”

Winnipeg Roots
Barry Trotz wasn’t the only Nashville Predator eagerly awaiting tonight’s game against the Jets.

Colin Wilson and Jordin Tootoo spent extensive time in Winnipeg during their younger years and have strong ties to the area.

Wilson lived in Winnipeg from age 3 to 16. He was actually born in Connecticut, but it was because his father, Carey, was playing for the New York Rangers at the time.

“He retired when I was 3 years old and we went immediately back to Winnipeg,” Wilson said. “My whole family is here. Both sides are Winnipeg natives and it’s where I grew up. I call it home because it is my home. I generally go back for the summers, but this was the first summer I wasn’t able to get back.”

His return will be a little different this time. Wilson was able to get 20 tickets for family and friends, but it would have been impossible to fill every request. He expects to have more than 50 people who are close to him attend the game, including every ex-coach he had.

To illustrate what it means for Winnipeg to get its franchise back, Wilson used a football reference.

“If the Titans lost their franchise to another city, people in Nashville would understandably be freaking out,” Wilson said. “It’s just as big in Canada. Hockey is Canada. Everyone jokes around about it, but it’s the honest truth. That’s all anybody really talks about.”

When Winnipeg finally announced the franchise was returning, Wilson was not only ecstatic but also relieved.

“For the last three years, I would get so many emails from friends saying, ‘Hey, we’re getting the Jets and it’s being announced tomorrow,’ ” Wilson said. “And then, sure enough, there was no announcement. I’m just glad it finally happened. They definitely deserve to have a team.”

A picture of Carey Wilson is featured inside MTS Centre where the Predators and Jets play tonight. It honors Carey Wilson as a member of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame.

Tootoo's roots are strong here as well. He is from Rankin Inlet but was born in Winnipeg because it was where the closest birthing station was located. He considers Rankin Inlet his home, but has fond memories of Winnipeg.

“I played five years of my amateur hockey in Manitoba, playing in Brandon for four years and in northern Manitoba for a year,” Tootoo said. “I definitely have a lot of people from there who have been watching my career over the past 10 years. Being born in Manitoba, I think a lot of Manitobans cheer for players who were born there.”

Tootoo expects plenty of family and friends to make the trip to Winnipeg for tonight’s game. And if the last game he played in the area is any indication, he will have thousands more fans in the stands.

“I played half a game there during the lockout against the (AHL’s Manitoba) Moose,” Tootoo said. “The fans that I had there were unbelievable. It’s been a long time coming for this city.”

--Bryan Mullen,
As is custom, the son took up hockey and was good at it. Trotz later attended the University of Manitoba and played one year as an undersized defenseman before a previous back injury forced him to give it up. The head coach, Wayne Fleming, accepted Trotz’ decision but asked him to think about staying on to coach.

“I basically moved pucks, listened and kept my mouth shut,” Trotz said.

He enjoyed the work, and before long, the team in his hometown of Dauphin called. The team was having some financial difficulties but the coaching experience would be greatly beneficial.

“They were looking for a local guy who could come cheap, I think,” Trotz said with a laugh.

He became the head coach and general manager. And he continued to learn.

As he progressed through his career, Trotz began to turn heads.

The University of Manitoba offered him the head coach position and Trotz accepted it. He was 23 and was now coaching players he had played with and against.

“One of my first cuts was a local player,” Trotz said. “He was a young player when I played in Dauphin, and now he was an older player. It wasn’t that he wasn’t a good player. I felt he had the attitude that he was going to take advantage because we had been teammates. I had to draw that separation pretty early. There were a lot of players I had played with or against that I was coaching. That was sometimes a little tough.”

As his coaching reputation grew, Trotz accepted a role as an area scout for the Washington Capitals, who at the time had a young general manager named David Poile. Shortly after, Poile asked Trotz to come on full time as the team’s scout in Western Canada.

“My wife (Kim) was the smart one and said, ‘Why don’t you give it a try for a couple of years? It might be your calling,’ Trotz said. “She always seems to be the voice of reason when I have a tough decision.”

It proved to be the right call.

Poile later became the general manager of the Predators. He hired Trotz as the head coach, and the rest is Music City history.

FULL CIRCLE: As Trotz walked around downtown Winnipeg on Thursday, the new vibe of the city stuck out most.

The lead up to tonight’s preseason game has been gargantuan. It sold out quickly and tickets were going for more than $200 on secondary markets. Trotz is part of the reason. His name still resonates with the locals here and he is regarded as a hometown guy who has gone on to do great things with a high level of respectability.

The Predators players sense it.

“He was born here and spent a lot of time coaching here,” Predators Captain Shea Weber said. “It’s going to be a special moment for him coaching an NHL game here.”

It will be made more special because his mother and father will be in the stands, as will others who have supported him and helped him reach this stage.

“When you first start, you dream of maybe one day coaching in the National Hockey League,” Trotz said. “Now I get to do that in an area where I started my coaching career.”

In the moments before the puck drops at MTS Centre today, just down the road from the coldest street corner in North America, expect Trotz to get a warm reception.

And maybe a chill bump or two.

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