By Carter Brooks
Photo by Bruce Bennett
The Washington Capitals are finally Stanley Cup champions. For a team awaiting its first cup in 46 years of existence, the reward couldn’t be any sweeter.
Following years and years of playoff failure, 13-season NHL veteran Alexander Ovechkin provided the hockey world with some of the most touching scenes of raw emotion as he first laid eyes on the Cup. Incredibly, Ovechkin became the very first Russian captain to ever win a sip from Lord Stanley’s mug - or in Ovie’s case, a full keg… and then some.
There were also a multitude of other ‘feel-good’ stories from the Capitals’ Cup run, including the first Stanley Cup victory by a Dane (Lars Eller) an Australian (Nathan Walker) and a German netminder (Philipp Grubauer). Saskatchewan-born rookie forward Chandler Stephenson also announced that he would bring the Stanley Cup to Humboldt as a part of his allotted 24-hours with the Cup.
However, for Manitobans, the big story out of Washington is that of Capitals’ Head Coach Barry Trotz.
Trotz – a product of Dauphin, MB. – spent his junior hockey days with the WHL’s Regina Pats and Brandon Wheat Kings, as well as the MJHL’s Dauphin Kings. Upon completing his junior hockey, Trotz transitioned over to coaching, and accepted the call as bench boss of the University of Manitoba Bisons.
After graduating to the American Hockey League, the now 56-year-old was hand-selected by General Manager David Poile to become the first Head Coach in Nashville Predators history. Trotz played a key role for the Preds in the 1998 expansion draft, staying with the team through the highs and lows of 15 NHL seasons.
It didn’t take much time for Trotz to find work after his long-lasting legacy behind the bench in Nashville came to a close in 2014. Washington scooped up the then 557-game winner, and the big man from Dauphin helped coach Ovechkin and Co. to a 205-89-34 record through four seasons at the helm.
Trotz saw exceptional levels of success with the Capitals, twice leading Washington to the Presidents’ Trophy (2015-16, 2016-17), while collecting the NHL’s Jack Adams Award as coach of the year following the 2015-16 season. However, quality coaching and on-ice success do not always go hand-in-hand, as both Trotz and Ovechkin were never quite able to find their way out of the second round of the postseason. That is, until 2018.
After falling behind in each of their four playoff series in the 2018 postseason, Trotz’s Capitals found a way to claw back after an 0-2 start against Columbus. Washington then slayed their dragon – Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins – in the second round, before sending the Tampa Bay Lighting to the golf course in seven games.
The Stanley Cup Finals were an emotional experience for all involved. Winnipeggers (and current Vegas Golden Knights) Ryan Reaves and Cody Eakin fell three games short of their first Cup, while 23-year-old Madison Bowey – also from Winnipeg – picked up his first Stanley Cup alongside the most-deserving Manitoban, coach Trotz.
“I’ve been chasing this for a long time,” Trotz said following his Cup victory. “You need a great group, and you need to be playing well. I knew we were going to go deep and get to the final; I knew we were going to kill some demons. I’m just so happy for Alex and that group… Getting to lift the Cup with him was so special.”
Although Thursday, June 7th, 2018 will go down as one of the most memorable days for Ovechkin, Bowey and Trotz, it will also be thought of as one of the most monumental days for the city of Dauphin, Manitoba.
“We were down in every series and came back in every one,” Trotz added. “It was probably fitting that we were down in this game and had to come back to win. I’m going to enjoy this because it’s taken a long time to get here. And it’s not only that, it’s the fact that your legacy is going to go on that Cup. My kids’ kids can go to the Hockey Hall of Fame and say, “There’s grandpa’s name on the Cup.” That, to me, means everything.”