Bryan Trottier and the man he considered a "big brother," the late Clark Gillies, not only were linemates, best friends, four-time Stanley Cup winners with the Islanders and fellow Hall of Famers, but they could be a fairly decent musical duo, too.
Trottier learned how to play guitar as a child and Gillies, the natural entertainer that he was, had a strong singing voice.
So several years back, as Gillies battled prostate cancer and then an infection that kept him off his feet and Trottier dealt with a hip issue, the two could entertain each other.
"He and I were both laid up," Trottier told Newsday on Sunday, sharing memories about Gillies, who passed away on Friday at the age of 67. "He couldn’t walk there for about six months. But when I went and visited him, we were laughing like hell. We were singing songs. I was playing guitar. Sang all day and all night. God, we had a blast. Lots of really good memories with that big lug."
Both of the wings most closely associated with Trottier have gone through tough medical times of late. Gillies passed away after his health took a downturn in December and Mike Bossy is fighting his own battle against cancer.
"Rattled but rally," Trottier said of his outlook, adding that he wants to stay true to Gillies’ memory by living to the fullest each day, just as Gillies did.
"I want to make sure that I’m there for them and for their families. For me, I may be, currently, the only one not battling something physically. But I’m proud of Mike swinging as hard as he can and battling as hard as he can. And proud of Clarkie. That’s a battle you don’t win, that kind of aggressive cancer. But he’s been battling like nobody else for the last several years.
"My other best friend is fighting for his life, Mike Bossy. He turned 65 yesterday. I sent him a little note. He sent a nice note back, saying to tell Pam [Gillies’ wife] and everybody condolences."
Trottier, who had previously committed to another event, was unable to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony at UBS Arena on Nov. 19 to see some of his former teammates. Gillies was at that event and at the opening game the next day, smiling broadly and appearing fully fit.
When Trottier remembers Gillies, two things spring immediately to mind: laughter and music.
"Those are the most special memories I have with Clarkie," Trottier said. "He was one of the greatest joke-tellers. I’ve heard his jokes 1,000 times and I laugh hard, still."
"We did quite a few events together where Clarkie was my singer, I was the guitarist," Trottier said. "Probably his most famous song, whenever he sang, was ‘The Gambler’ [by Kenny Rogers]. He always liked ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ [by Johnny Cash]. Those were his two go-tos. He did ‘Friends In Low Places’ [by Garth Brooks] and then he had a repertoire of other ones."
Trottier joked that Gillies always introduced "Blue Suede Shoes" by saying it was a song he wrote with Elvis Presley.
So Trottier is grieving his friend — and trying to honor his memory.
"Not a bigger heart," Trottier said. "A caring heart. The first guy to cry at anything. A softie."