(April 29, 2002) -- Drafted by the Islanders in 1974, Bryan Trottier took his team to the semi-finals just three years later where they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup-winning Montreal Canadiens. It was a year that bode well for the team, but in the next two seasons the Isles lost two crushing series, one to Toronto in the quarter-finals in '78 and the other to the Rangers in the semis in '79. "We really searched for our identity at that point," Trottier acknowledged in an exclusive interview with hhof.com. "We had this sense that the team was doing extremely well in the regular season but not in the playoffs. Were our expectations unrealistic? Maybe, but we didn't feel we were putting the necessary pressure on ourselves. We were a young team and we were a team that hadn't yet learned how to win in the playoffs. And the same goes for the management. They were also young and learning the same kinds of things we were, and they had to evaluate themselves also."
Nonetheless, the Islanders did learn and grow, and in 1980 they beat the Philadelphia Flyers to win the first Stanley Cup for a franchise that had entered the NHL only eight years earlier. "When we lost to Montreal," Trottier explained, "we felt it was okay because they went on to win the Cup, so we felt we lost to the best. When Toronto and the Rangers beat us, it was a real maturation process for us. We realized that the regular season is a time of growing, gaining confidence. In '79-'80, a bunch of things happened. They were just things--it didn't mean those were the reasons we won, but they were part of the season. We got Kenny Morrow and Duane Sutter. We got Butch Goring at the trade deadline. We learned how to win."
Trottier led the league in goals (12) and points (29) that year in the post-season, but although it was the highlight of his career, even as he was playing he was becoming a coach. "If you don't learn," he said, "you're not a good student of the game. We knew as a team that every player deserves blame in some way for every goal allowed, and every player deserves praise for every goal scored. Once we learned that, our performance improved."
Trottier was learning every day of his playing career, and that is one of the reasons he won four Cups with the Islanders and then two more with Pittsburgh near the end of his career. "I remember Mario telling me about when he came back from the Canada Cup and being with all the Oilers and learning how to win. He brought that knowledge back to Pittsburgh and that's how he won the Cups there." Just as Trottier had in 1980.
- Andrew Podnieks is the author of numerous books on hockey including the current The Essential Blue & White Book. He is also a regular contributor to Leafs.com and managing editor of A Day In The Life of the Leafs to be published in the fall of 2002.