Barry Trotz did not use Mount Everest as an analogy. This was a real mountain climbing story.
The Islanders coach has a close friend who failed in multiple attempts to scale the Himalayan peak, at 29,029 feet the world’s tallest. Finally, though, Trotz’s friend succeeded. Then he discovered that doing it once was simply not enough.
“He’s done it multiple times now,” Trotz said. “I’m like, ‘That’s really, really difficult.’ But it’s an addicting thing. There’s a section of that mountain where there’s people frozen, who were never taken off the mountain and you’re walking by those people. You could be one of those people and he just thinks it’s addicting.”
His friend’s experience with Mount Everest mirrors Trotz’s in the NHL.
Because, having led the Capitals to the Stanley Cup last season after many seasons of playoff frustration, Trotz craves to do it again.
His quest with his new team opens on Wednesday night as the Islanders faced the Penguins in Game 1 of their first-round series at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum, the first time since 1988 the Islanders have had home-ice advantage in the postseason.
“One thing I can tell you and I do have the experience now, you want it again,” Trotz said. “It’s sort of addicting. That’s why I think you see people win multiple times. For how long that trophy has been around, there’s not as many names on that trophy as you think. There’s a lot of repeat offenders on there. Because it’s an addicting type of thing. You want to do it again because you know you can.”
Trotz is leading a team into the playoffs for the 12th time in 20 NHL seasons. His first five attempts with the Predators ended with a first-round loss. Then, the Predators were eliminated in the second round the last two times Trotz was behind their bench.
The Capitals also were eliminated in the second round in each of Trotz’s first three seasons in Washington before that franchise won its first Cup in 2018.
Trotz’s challenge with the Islanders is just as steep as it was with the expansion Predators or even with the Capitals, an organization beaten down by repeated playoff failures that pre-dated Trotz’s arrival.
“When we first got him, everyone was pretty excited,” center Brock Nelson said. “The pedigree he has, he won a Cup with Washington and he’s had winning teams all over. We wanted to continue that for him.”
The Islanders have won just one playoff series since 1993 – there were seven first-round eliminations between 1994 and 2015 – beating the Panthers in six games in 2016 before the Lightning ousted them in the second round in five games.
Yet Trotz’s message to his team was simple before Wednesday’s playoff opener: Have fun.
It’s advice he’s learned to follow as well.
“Absolutely,” Trotz said. “I’ve learned to have fun with the playoffs. I understand by being wound up or not wound up, it’s not that you’re not serious about the game. You’re enjoying it. This is a great time of the year to be a part of things. It’s a great time of the year to enjoy it. It’s not easy. It’s one of the tougher things to do is to have fun when it’s really hard. But the rewards are exceptional.”
One of Trotz’s gifts as a coach is his ability to impart his sense of calm on his players.
Captain Anders Lee said that trait is “infectious” throughout the dressing room, adding that a coach “opposite of how Barry is,” could make the players “uneasy.”
“If you look at it from a mentality or psychology point of view, if you’re going out there and just having fun and not worrying about the things you should be worried about and you’re not stressing about the little things, you’re enjoying the game,” Lee said. “When you enjoy the game, you play better. It’s part of that whole mindset and importance of not thinking too much.”
“You dream about winning the Stanley Cup,” Nelson added. “But you have to know you can’t do it in a hurry. It’s going to be a journey with ups and downs.”
Much like climbing a mountain.