WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Islanders coach Barry Trotz and defenseman Ryan Pulock mingled easily through the mixed-age crowd of their combined friends and family in the stands at Bell MTS Place on Thursday morning.
“Between me and Ryan, we’ll set the record for postgame people,” Trotz said as the two Manitobans returned for a quick visit.
Seeking their first playoff berth since 2016, with five games remaining, the Islanders entered Thursday tied with the Penguins for second place in the Metropolitan Division with 95 points. They were three points behind the first-place Capitals, who played at Carolina on Thursday night.
Both Trotz, who was born in Winnipeg but grew up in Dauphin, where the population is less than 10,000, and Pulock, who was born in a Dauphin hospital but grew up in the much smaller community of Grandview, have played crucial roles in the Islanders’ turnaround this season.
Trotz, 56, a Stanley Cup winner in his 20th NHL season, has taught the Islanders how to play defense. Pulock, 24, the 15th overall pick in 2013, is in his second full NHL season and has been a key part of that defensive improvement while maintaining his offensive production.
“My defensive game has improved in a lot of areas,” said Pulock, who entered Thursday leading the Islanders’ defensemen with 33 points on eight goals and 25 assists. “A lot of it is confidence and the coaching staff putting structure down that’s helped me stabilize that part of my game.”
Trotz was well known to Pulock as he grew up, though he didn’t meet one of Dauphin’s more famous sons until the start of training camp. But Trotz did try to recruit Pulock’s father, Dave, to the University of Manitoba while coaching there.
“When he was hired here, it was pretty exciting for me,” Pulock said. “His track record and his success, you’re excited he knows what he’s doing. Knowing he’s from the same area, it’s pretty cool when you get to be coached by a guy like that.”
After winning the Cup with the Capitals in June, Trotz brought the prized trophy back to Dauphin to celebrate in his hometown.
“You look at his success and then you go back to a small town and people are pretty proud to say he’s from there,” Pulock said. “With him winning the Cup and taking it back there, that meant a lot to the people. They obviously have a lot of praise for him.”
Trotz strongly identifies with Dauphin, especially because his parents still live in the area. But he has lived a nomadic life consistent with the coaching profession. In fact, the 16 years he spent in Nashville while coaching the Predators is the longest he’s lived in one spot.
Trotz grew up rooting for the Jets dating to their WHA roots, when Bobby Hull starred for the original franchise, which relocated to Arizona in 1996. The former Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg in 2011 while Trotz still was coaching the Predators.
“The first time I came back when I was still with Nashville, they used to have a room that was a meeting room,” Trotz said. “I had 80 people postgame. I think I set the record. I think that’s why they’re up in the stands now. It’s probably one of my things.
“This is a good opportunity to meet friends and family,” Trotz added. “You walk the halls and you meet people who are friends or family or are security and work at the rink. There are some random meetings as you walk down the hallways you don’t get to do in other cities.”