Bryan Trottier talked psychology. He marveled at his teammates’ play on the Islanders squad that won the first of four Stanley Cups 40 years ago. He praised Al Arbour’s system and nearly everything else the team’s legendary coach did.
The Hall of Famer did just about everything but answer the immediate question about his performance in that magical run, which was worthy of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.
“He became so dominant in 1980,” fellow Hall of Famer Denis Potvin told Newsday last month. “He just established himself. I’ve often said if I started my own team today, Bryan Trottier would be my No. 1 centerman.”
Trottier had two power-play assists in the Islanders’ 5-4 overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers in the deciding Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on May 24, 1980, at Nassau Coliseum. That capped a four-goal, four-assist performance in that series, with six of the points coming on the power play. And that capped an NHL-leading 12-goal, 17-assist barrage in the Islanders’ 21 playoff games.
Overall, four of Trottier’s goals and seven of his assists came with the man advantage. He also had two shorthanded goals and a shorthanded assist.
“I’d have to say he was the best two-way player in the league, when you really come right down to it,” Bobby Nystrom, who scored the Cup-winning goal in overtime, told Newsday in April. “He really dominated both ends of the ice. Usually, there’s a goal-scorer, and I’ll say Mike [Bossy, Trottier’s linemate] was the goal-scorer. But Bryan was the guy that was in both ends and in all four corners. He dominated in the corners.
“His ability to find the open man was just absolutely amazing. He wasn’t really flashy. He wasn’t the type of guy that’s, you know, Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky. He could take a hit and he could give a hit. You think, OK, he’s got all those points. But he was a mucker in the corner and just incredibly resilient. You just couldn’t knock the guy down. It’s like running into a fire hydrant. Immovable.”
The 5-11, 195-pound Trottier, from Val Marie, Saskatchewan, was drafted in the second round in 1974 and chose the Islanders over the WHA’s Cincinnati Stingers, who also picked him in the second round of that upstart league’s 1974 draft.
Trottier won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year after notching 32 goals and 63 assists in 1975-76.
“Bryan Trottier was a star the first time he skated in the Coliseum,” hockey historian, author and longtime Islanders television broadcaster Stan Fischler said in a recent email. “But he was still a teenager and he had to learn the ropes. His perseverance and grim determination was what lifted him to the higher level he would achieve during the dynastic run.”
Trottier set career highs with 87 assists and 134 points in 1978-79, but the Islanders lost in the semifinals to the Rangers in six games. He followed with 42 goals and 62 assists in 1979-80.
Trottier is well known for centering a dominant top line with Bossy and Clark Gillies, one of the best power forwards in NHL history. The two wings also are in the Hall of Fame.
But Arbour broke up the trio for the rest of the season after second-line center Butch Goring was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings on March 10, 1980, switching Gillies to Goring’s wing and mostly using speedy Bobby Bourne with Trottier and Bossy.
“It was a fun chemistry to have with our team,” Trottier told Newsday last month. “Whether it was Clark, Bobby Bourne, John Tonelli, Anders Kallur, Greg Gilbert. It didn’t matter who was on the left side.”
Gillies was used with Trottier and Bossy on the Islanders’ potent playoff power play, which went 25-for-96 (26.0%).
Trottier opened his Conn Smythe playoff run with a hat trick in an 8-1 win over the Kings in Game 1 of the best-of-five first-round series that the Islanders won in four games. Trottier gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead at 5:46 of the first period and completed his hat trick with two shorthanded goals in the second period.
“And that’s when Al started using me as a penalty-killer,” Trottier said. “That was a flipping point. I never killed penalties from ’75-79. I might have taken a faceoff from here to there, but Al’s like, ‘No, I need you for offense.’ I got those shorthanded goals and all of a sudden, I started killing penalties. He was like, ‘I need you to stay on the ice.’ I’m like, ‘OK, a little more ice time is fine by me.’ ”
It culminated with Trottier being awarded the Conn Smythe — and the Islanders finally lifting the Cup after being eliminated in the semifinals four times since 1975.
“It was just complete, utter joy,” said Trottier, who wound up winning seven Cups, including two with the Pittsburgh Penguins and one as a Colorado Avalanche assistant coach. “It’s the biggest hockey moment I ever had. There’s nothing ever going to be close to that moment of being a champion for the first time.”