When the Oldtimers Hockey Challenge returns to Courtenay Jan. 25, one of the Legendary Hockey Heroes scheduled to appear is Hockey Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier.
Trotter was a modern-day player with old-fashioned attributes. At a time when specialists were beginning to take over from the all-round player, Trottier was a throwback. He was a defensively sound centreman with the vision and instincts of a pure scorer.
Over an 18-year National Hockey League career, he led his teams to the Stanley Cup six times, including four consecutive titles with the New York Islanders in the early 1980s. And his achievements went beyond team success. He won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie, the Art Ross Trophy as top scorer and the Hart Trophy as the most valuable player. Trottier, at his retirement, was the league’s sixth-highest all-time scorer.
In 1974, however, the NHL was reacting to the threat of the World Hockey Association. The elder league held a semi-secret draft with an emphasis on underaged players – teenagers who were 17 and 18 years old. Trottier was chosen 22nd overall in the second round, and he was the ninth underaged player taken that year. He was a promising forward, but hardly anyone pegged him as a dominating player.
The New York Islanders, the team that selected him, even suggested he spend another year in junior, making him the only secret underaged player to wait to turn pro following that draft.
The Islanders offered to pay Trottier all the salary and bonuses he would have earned in the pro league – a strange arrangement for a young team in a rebuilding stage, but surely a vote of confidence that he appreciated and remembered. Still, that strategy would pay dividends for Trottier and the Islanders, not to mention Lethbridge, the WHL team he starred for in 1974-75. Trottier led that league with 98 assists and 144 points, earning MVP honours and confirming the wisdom of the decision to keep him in junior that extra year.
When the 1975-76 season began, Trottier was in the NHL, centering a line between Clark Gillies and Billy Harris. In his second game, he had a hat trick and five points. After 11 games, he had 20 points and word began to spread, especially after his rugged defensive work shut down opposing stars. Trottier finished the year with league records for a rookie in assists and points, breaking Marcel Dionne’s totals, and was an easy choice for the Calder Trophy as the top newcomer.
The rebuilding years for the Islanders were over in 1977-78, when Trottier and the team began to dominate the league. Trottier played most of the time with Mike Bossy on the right wing, a pure shooter who converted many of Trottier’s pinpoint passes, and Gillies on the left wing, a grinder who provided the brawn and much of the corner work necessary for success.
The line was the most dominant in the league since Phil Esposito had teamed with Ken Hodge and Wayne Cashman for the Bruins earlier in the decade – a troika that was successful for many of the same reasons as the Islanders’ top guns.
Trottier was second to Guy Lafleur in the scoring race in 1978 and led the NHL with 77 assists. The next year he was unstoppable, using his playmaking skills to collect 87 assists and his tenaciousness around the net to record 47 goals. He was the league’s top scorer and took home the Hart Trophy as MVP.
In 1980 the Islanders won the Stanley Cup and Trottier was the star of the show, leading all playoff scorers with 29 points and earning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most outstanding post-season performer. With Wayne Gretzky’s era still on the horizon, Trottier, the quiet guy from the Prairies, was considered the best centre in pro hockey.
Trottier played for Team Canada in the 1981 Canada Cup and led his Islanders to three more Stanley Cup wins to begin the new decade.
He scored 50 goals in 1981-82 and was again the top playoff scorer that season.
In 1984, with another Canada Cup on the schedule, Trottier stunned the hockey world by declaring that he would play for the United States instead of Canada.
Trottier was booed relentlessly yet Canadian fans cheered another recent citizen, Peter Stastny, the Czechoslovakian-born star who had quickly been made a Canadian prior to the tournament.
Trottier spent six more seasons in New York following the Canada Cup and saw his numbers steadily fall. He was still a dedicated and effective defensive player, however, and in 1990 the Pittsburgh Penguins signed the veteran to bolster their playoff chances.
Trottier was an important part of the Penguin team that won two straight titles after he joined the squad. Stars such as Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr attributed much of the team’s success to the aging star’s leadership, his drive and desire.
Trottier retired following the Penguins’ second Cup victory and spent one year in the Islanders’ front office.
But he was soon bored with his desk job and returned to the league as a player in 1993-94 at the age of 37.
He played 41 games with the Penguins while acting as an assistant coach, a job he continued after finally hanging up his skates at the end of that season.
Trottier remained with the Pens until 1997, at which time he took the coaching reins of the Portland Pirates of the AHL.
He returned to the NHL within a year, this time as an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche.
Trottier helped the Avs claim their second Stanley Cup championship in 2001, adding yet another ring to his already impressive haul. Trottier was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997.
The Oldtimers Hockey Challenge goes 7 p.m. at Comox Valley Sports Centre.
Tickets are at Happy’s Source for Sports.
– Oldtimers Hockey Challenge