While a pro team losing a head coach is always inevitable, I think NHL hockey in Nashville is going to feel this for a while. Barry Trotz is the reason people in Nashville love hockey, and in my case, he personally went out of his way to deliver. He fostered not only my love for the game, but my ability to play it, and later, my ability to broadcast it. I have my personal reasons as to why I think Coach Trotz was the best thing to happen to the expansion Predators, but I just wanted to take the time to write about how he took the time to personally have an impact on my love for the game on more than one occasion.
In 1998, the Predators started their first season in Nashville. The Music City didn’t really have solid pro sports yet. We got the Oilers (Titans) and the Predators about the same time. So with the absence of big league sports, our family followed all things Pittsburgh. I causally watched Penguins games throughout the years, but hadn’t taken too much interest in the sport. Game 4 of the Predators inaugural season we got tickets to see the Preds face Mark Messier and the Canucks. We sat in section 101, row GG. I was hooked right away and went straight to learning how to play in my parent’s garage with an old broom, a tennis ball, and an empty box to act as the net. Somewhere around that time my dad ran into Barry Trotz and told him about how I’d been to a game and was now obsessed. A few days after that, I received a package in the mail. Sender: Barry Trotz. In it was a note with some encouraging words, an autographed picture, and some hockey magazines he had a subscription for. It’s a small gesture he probably doesn’t remember but it meant the world to me, and fueled the fire for me to start pursuing the game. To me, it felt like I’d just been welcomed in to a club and from that point on, all I focused on was hockey.
There have been questions raised about how Coach Trotz dealt with young prospects and whether it was sufficient enough. Here’s my experience with that: By the end of the Predators first season I was playing in a roller hockey league and spending 4-5 hours a day, everyday, in my parent’s garage learning how to skate and shoot. I thought I’d be ready to hold my own at the Nashville Predators inaugural youth hockey camp. Yeah, I was by far the worst player out there. Like embarrassing bad. The instructors tolerated it, and the kids should have been way meaner to me about it. There was only one person willing to take me aside from time to time and teach me some skating and shooting basics, Barry Trotz. I was a young prospect, not to a particular team, but to the game, and he took the time to make sure I developed. Once my strides were decent, he would skate by and give me a tip or two on how plays develop and how to anticipate. One small gesture at a time, but every word stuck. That’s the most I’ve learned about hockey in one week, but I probably wouldn’t have if it weren’t for him.
The Predators brought a youth hockey boom to Tennessee. Suddenly, there was a high school hockey league. My only goal in life at that time was to make my high school’s squad and win a state championship. Because of that team and because of this game I finally fit in somewhere. I made best friends that I still have to this day. We worked our butts off every single day, and after an undefeated season in 2003, we won our state championship on the Predators’ ice. Coming out to present us with the “Predators Cup” was Coach Trotz. He was there when I first stepped on actual ice as a hockey player, he helped me learn some of the basics, and for a brief but important moment a few years later, he was there while I accomplished one of my big goals in life. Winning the Tennessee High School Hockey Championship with 20 of my best friends.
Obviously, I was never going to be a pro player but I knew I wanted to be involved in hockey. Particularly, broadcast it. During college I was lucky enough to get a job with the Predators Radio Network. A dream job at the time. I missed a lot of classes and drove 3 hours round trip to and from school in Kentucky just to work those games and sometimes even morning skate. At this point I was working with Trotz as media, which is different, but he still recognized that I was a young guy that wanted to learn more about the game and be involved. He took the time to foster that too. During this time the Predators roster was the best it’s been to date. The team had names like Arnott, Kariya, Sullivan, Hartnell, Dumont, Radulov, Weber, Suter, Hamhuis, Vokoun, and some dude named Peter Forsberg. During this season I was able to witness one of my favorite Barry Trotz moments. It was the post-season and I was waiting outside the locker room to put a headset on a player for an intermission interview. It had been a crappy game thus far for the team and Trotz had seen enough. His office is across the hall from the locker room so between each period he’ll address the team and then walk across to his office. On this night he was fired up and angry. He burst the locker room door open with such force that he broke the door’s hydraulic arm clean off the bolts. Amazing. My time around Trotz as a young broadcaster grew my hockey game at that level too. Since leaving Nashville I’ve broadcast a lot of hockey games. Calling play-by-play for junior hockey, international tournaments, an ACHA National Championship, and the USA High School Hockey National Championship. I’ve interviewed a lot of coaches, and Barry Trotz is still among the nicest and most professional I’ve ever encountered. I love the game, I love playing it, and I love calling play-by-play for games. Had Trotz not sent me that “welcome to the club” package back in 1998, there’s no telling if I’d be doing all of this. But I’m glad I am.
So, Nashville is losing a coach that has the ability to personally foster a young player’s love for the game without realizing it. Sure, he’ll go and do that for some other young tike in some other NHL town, but Nashville needed it.
Barry Trotz is a great coach who always got credit but never got the accolades. He was able to turn a bargain bin roster into a competitive squad each year. A small market team needs that type of coach because, as we all know, we can’t just go out and buy great players. So, now that we don’t have a coach that can squeeze a lot out of a little, where do we go from here?