NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Steve Parker has never met Barry Trotz. But as he drove his taxi toward Bridgestone Arena on Saturday morning, the 65-year-old Tennessean spoke so glowingly and with such a familiarity about all that Trotz accomplished on and off the ice during his 15 seasons as the Predators’ first coach, it seemed as if the two were lifelong friends.
In fact, Parker said he was so incensed when Nashville fired Trotz on April 14, 2014, that he questioned whether he would continue rooting for the Predators and attending the handful of games he could afford each season.
Parker still roots for the Predators, still goes to some games. But he also still misses Trotz, who brought his newest team, the Islanders, to town on Saturday night on the 20th anniversary of the Predators’ first-ever win. And Trotz, for his part, misses Nashville, which he considers his “home.”
“We had had minor league hockey,” Parker said. “But he introduced us to being an NHL city.”
Trotz, originally from Dauphin, Manitoba, came to Nashville as a 36-year-old rookie coach leading an expansion team before the generous expansion draft rules that helped the Vegas Golden Knights reach the Stanley Cup Final last season.
He helped teach his adopted home the game of hockey. Literally.
“I’m really proud being part of it, going through some of the tough times,” Trotz said. “Because we had to build it one fan at a time.
“[The fans] were great,” Trotz added of that first season. “They didn’t understand all the rules but they stood the whole game. It’s been more like a college atmosphere. They were not quite sure of what they were cheering for at first. We were trying to build it one fan at a time, in the community, teaching the game. Hockey 101, we did everything. It was a grind, but it has a lasting effect. I’m proud of this franchise. It’s one of the best franchises in the league the way it’s run.”
Trotz’s community involvement in Nashville wasn’t limited to hockey education. His youngest son, Nolan, was born with Down syndrome and, in 2008, Trotz worked to raise funds to establish a state headquarters for Best Buddies, an organization that pairs volunteers with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He also donated memorabilia valued at more than six figures to the organization.
Three years earlier, Trotz won the Community Spirit Award for his charity work.
When Trotz was fired by the Predators, the team made a $25,000 donation to Best Buddies in his honor and he personally thanked the Nashville fans in a full-page ad in the city’s daily newspaper.
“Everybody loves Trotzy,” Parker said. “You could search the streets of Nashville and you’d be hard-pressed to find people who don’t like him. He’s just a top-notch guy.”
Which doesn’t mean Trotz, who won the Stanley Cup as coach of the Capitals last season, wasn’t yearning to beat the Predators on Saturday night.
“Yeah, it means a lot. He’s mentioned it a couple of times,” Islanders right wing Cal Clutterbuck said.
“When you spend a certain amount of time in a place, you grow fond of it,” said right wing Jordan Eberle, in his second season with the Islanders after seven with the Oilers. “When you go back with a different team, there’s a little extra incentive. When Johnny Boychuk goes back to Boston, he likes playing there. Andrew Ladd in Winnipeg. When I go back to Edmonton, there’s added incentive. It’s no different with coaches.”
Twenty years later, Trotz still has strong memories of the Predators’ 3-2 win over the visiting Hurricanes on Oct. 13, 1998, in their second-ever game. It was the Predators’ lone victory in the franchise’s first seven games. They finished last in the Central Division with a 28-47-7 mark.
“Expansion was a little bit different back then, so you didn’t know when you’d get that first win,” Trotz said. “We were trying to get that out of the way and get the win at home. I remember a sense of relief and the coaches hugging each other.
“You just want to be on the bench for a game, maybe win a game,” Trotz added. “Lo and behold, 20 years later, I’m still hanging around. Still standing on the bench trying to win games.”
And still beloved in Nashville, his adopted home.