LAS VEGAS — Barry Trotz waited a long time — 26 years behind professional hockey benches, to be exact — before getting his first crack at competing for a Stanley Cup.
The head coach of the Washington Capitals is soaking up every second of the experience, mostly with a smile on his face.
“This is a time to enjoy,” Trotz said this week. ”I don’t know (if) you’re ever going to get to this moment again.
“Why make it tense?”
Trotz and the Capitals led the Vegas Golden Knights 3-1 in the best-of-seven final heading into Thursday’s Game 5 — just one win from hoisting the Cup for the first time in both his career and the franchise’s 43-year history.
“Some of my best friends, they haven’t had this moment,” the native of Dauphin, Man., continued. ”They’re still waiting for it. Some of them have had it and have won Cups. They all have different stories. Mine is, ‘I’m going to enjoy this process.’
“Because you know, it’s taken a long time to get here.”
It most certainly has.
Trotz’s path to this final that could culminate just off the sweltering Las Vegas strip started in junior hockey and continued in the AHL with the Baltimore Skipjacks and the Portland Pirates, where he won a Calder Cup in 1994.
After a seven-year-stint in the minors, he was eventually hired in 1998 to be the first head coach of the Nashville Predators, where spent 15 seasons but was never able to get out of the second round of the playoffs.
Let go by Nashville in April 2014, Trotz wasn’t out of work long, catching on with the Capitals just over a month later. Washington won the Presidents’ Trophy in both 2015-16 and 2016-17, but lost out to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round both times.
Expectations were much lower to start this season after Washington waved goodbye to a number of veterans.
But the Capitals, who still managed to grab 105 points to top the Metropolitan Division, came back from an 0-2 hole in the first round of the playoffs to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets, finally got past Pittsburgh, and then downed the Tampa Bay Lightning for the club’s first appearance in a final since 1998.
Through it all, Trotz didn’t have a contract for next fall — and still doesn’t.
“Maybe that’s why he’s so relaxed,” Capitals centre Nicklas Backstrom surmised. ”He doesn’t know what’s going to happen, and I don’t think anyone knows.
“He’s just enjoying this like everyone else in here and trying to take advantage of the situation that we’re very fortunate to be in.”
Trotz, however, conceded his perspective and outlook have changed in the last 12 months.
“(I went) through a few things last summer that gave me some really good clarity on how I define myself or how I define people,” Trotz said. ”It’s just given me real clarity.”
With his team so close to touching the Cup, it’s also clear that while Trotz is making sure he takes in the experience, the ultimate goal remains in sharp focus.
“You have to respect the process, but enjoy it. Enjoy the process of competing against the best teams night in, night out. Going against the best coaches. Living the moment,” Trotz said. ”Once you get here, you might as well enjoy it.
“You won’t see me gambling, you won’t see me at any shows or anything, but I’m going to enjoy the process of all this.”