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Islanders enjoying success in Nassau Coliseum return

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EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — This season has played out beyond the dreams of New York Islanders fans through 49 games. The team sits in first place seven months to the day that John Tavares announced he would be leaving to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and they’ve added their old home, Nassau Coliseum, to 21 dates on the schedule, which has resulted in plenty of nostalgia and wins.

As the Islanders prepare to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning Friday night on Long Island, they look to build off their 5-1-1 record at the renovated Coliseum, the place they left for Brooklyn’s Barclays Center after the 2014-15 season. 

The atmosphere that made the Coliseum a beloved place to play for the franchise from 1972-2005 didn’t miss a beat when they played their first game of the season there in December, a 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“The Coliseum is a big part of the identity of this team,” said forward Matt Martin. “A lot of history there. You can feel it when you’re in there.”

As the Islanders await the ceremony where they’ll break ground on a new rink near Belmont race track which is expected to be ready for the 2021-22 season, they’ll play 14 of their final 17 home games this season at the Coliseum. Where will they play should the Stanley Cup Playoffs become a reality in the spring? That’s still up in the air, but no one is getting ahead of themselves yet.

“I’d like to get in it before I worry about that,” said general manager Lou Lamoriello. “That’s not on anybody’s mind right now. That’ll come at the appropriate time. The NHL will be involved in that.”

The switch to the Coliseum has made life for players much easier. Their practice facility is less than a mile away and with most of the players living on Long Island, their gameday commute is cut down dramatically, allowing them extra time with their families or an extended pre-game nap.

The atmosphere is the trait of the Coliseum that is known league-wide. With a capacity of 13,917, which is cut down from its original 16,297 before the renovation, the volume is noticeable, and according to Martin, who played the first six seasons of his NHL career in the building, it still exists.

“It feels similar. That building’s always been really loud,” he said. “I don’t think you really notice that there’s less seats. It’s got a little bit of a makeover on it. It always felt like the fans were right on top of you. That’s the great thing about old buildings. 

“Everything’s being built bigger and wide and deeper and more expensive and for multi-purpose. To me, those old buildings, just that on-top-of-you feeling, you’ve got people right in your face all game and you hear the crowd and you feed off the crowd. It’s just a great environment for us to play.”

Barry Trotz knows all about the fans being on top of the opposition. The Islanders head coach was with the Washington Capitals when the two teams met in the first-round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Capitals would win the series in seven games, closing the door on the Coliseum the first time around.

He’s happy to be on the other side of things this time around.

“You have a great tradition there. The fans are on top of you,” he said. “Trust me, you can hear them. They can hit you with the odd beer or two as you’re going off, get in your face, all those things. It’s a quaint building in a sense that it’s not overly big. The new buildings everybody’s so far away. They don’t feel like they’re on top of you. Some of the smaller buildings, like Winnipeg’s building, is designed where they’re on top of you a little bit. 

“Trust me, you feel it. You feel the energy from the other team and we get energy off our crowd. It’s a fun place to play.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Trotz beginning to change culture for New York Islanders

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By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

Barry Trotz didn’t scan the rafters for the banner.

Back in Washington, he never once looked up for the championship flag hanging high above the home ice of the Capitals. Yet when he turned around for the national anthem, Trotz said he saw the big white letters standing out on the red banner: ”STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS 2018” around the Capitals logo.

When the anthem was over, he turned back to the visitors’ bench and got back to work on trying to earn some more banners to hang – in New York.

After delivering the Capitals’ first championship in franchise history, Trotz is well on his way to changing the culture in his first season as Islanders coach and bringing that proud organization back to prominence. By implementing the same discipline off the ice and structure on the ice he did in Washington, Trotz has the Islanders in first place in their division past the halfway mark of the NHL season for just the second time in the past 28 years.

”It feels very similar to the first year (in Washington),” Trotz said. ”We were building something. We started with the structure and trying to make every moment count, the accountability, how we play, professionalism – all those things that make a pro athlete on and off the ice. We try to involve that with our organization as we did here. They’ve carried it on to the Stanley Cup, and we’re in the infancy stages.”

Modest to a fault and not eager to accept praise, Trotz considers the Islanders a ”work in progress.” But a lot of things are working:

They have won five in a row and 12 of 14. Their goalies lead the league with a .920 save percentage after ranking 28th last season. They have allowed the fewest goals a game in the league after being the worst in that category last season.

All this after point-a-game center John Tavares left in free agency to sign with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs. The Islanders were expected to struggle, to say the least.

Instead, they’ve thrived.

”I think a lot of guys took it as a little bit of an insult when we were starting to get ranked to be the worst team in the league after he left,” fourth-line winger Matt Martin said. ”(Trotz) gets the best out of everybody. … He gives everybody the role and responsibilities, everyone’s playing similar minutes every night, getting a real good opportunity to play. As a player, when you’re getting those opportunities and you feel emotionally invested, you feel involved.”

It could take a while for the Islanders to become a perennial Cup contender like they were four decades ago. But the building blocks are being put in place under first-year general manager Lou Lamoriello and Trotz’s staff that includes longtime goaltending guru Mitch Korn.

Trotz’s former players aren’t the least bit surprised at the early success.

”If you ask him, I’m sure he’s not surprised either,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. ”I actually think they’ve got really good players there. But he’s got that tendency to bring in a good system and to make sure you focus on the right things and he’s always pushing guys to get better.”

Reigning Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal is on almost a point-a-game pace in his second season, captain Anders Lee is on the way to a 30-goal season, and Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss are stopping the puck at some of the best rates of their careers. Lee said he believes one of the Islanders’ strengths is how someone different seems to step up every night, a result of Trotz balancing ice time and making them feel like a cohesive unit.

”He does a wonderful job of rolling with guys that are feeling it or lines that are doing well that night and giving them matchups and getting everyone involved,” Lee said. ”He has a really good sense of how the game is going, the flow of it, and he can make those quick decisions in-game that makes him so effective.”

Lamoriello knew what he was getting in Trotz, who’s fourth all-time in NHL coaching wins and had an impressive resume from Nashville and Washington even before winning the Cup. The Islanders lucked out in getting Trotz, who left the Capitals in a contract dispute in June days after the championship.

”There’s no question that Barry Trotz is one of the elite coaches over the past X number of years in the National Hockey League,” Lamoriello said. ”He came with a group that had a very sort of down year for a lot of different reasons last year. We added some unique people as far as what they bring as far as character as well as abilities. I think that everybody just has made a total commitment from ownership through management that we were going to do everything that was necessary to have success, and either people were going to be on board or they weren’t going to be.”

Defenseman Brooks Orpik said it took some time a few years ago for the Capitals to understand why Trotz wanted some things, including the same set of rules for every player. The respect Trotz earned from Alex Ovechkin on down is growing with the Islanders.

”He’s been awesome,” winger Josh Bailey said. ”As a group, you’ve got to be able to trust your leadership, which is our staff and Barry’s the head of that for sure.”

After Trotz got his Cup ring earlier this season and before he coached his first game back in Washington, he told Islanders players he wants to have the same championship experience with them.

”It’s a day-to-day process,” Trotz said. ”You hear coaches use that, stay with the process. Just stay and keep growing as a team. And we don’t know where we’re going to end up.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Caps give Trotz, coaching staff classy tribute in return to Washington

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They helped build a team that would eventually win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup last June, so when Barry Trotz, Lane Lambert and Mitch Korn returned to Washington to face their former team on Friday, it was only fitting that the Capitals made sure to give the trio a classy salute.

And classy it was.

A 1:35-long video played on the jumbotron at Capital One Arena, while a packed house stood and showed their admiration for the coaching staff that led the Capitals to four consecutive 100-point seasons, 205 wins, a .677 points percentage and back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies.

Trotz was named the winner of the Jack Adams Award for the best coach in 2016 and, of course, led the Capitals past the Vegas Golden Knights in five games last season to capture hockey’s greatest prize.

Here’s the video tribute:

Trotz is now the head coach with the New York Islanders, with Korn and Lambert also by his side once again, and they have already put their stamp on that team, helping them get past the loss of John Tavares over the summer and still be a playoff contender in the Eastern Conference.

That’s just the Trotz way.

You can read more about Trotz, his return, why he left and what he’s done on Long Island in this story from PHT’s Sean Leahy.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

PHT Stanley Cup Tracker: From Europe to the land of 10,000 lakes

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The PHT Stanley Cup tracker will keep tabs on how the Washington Capitals spend their summer celebrating

The Stanley Cup got a bit of a break last week after working its way through the World Cup, sampling a mug full of caviar and then taking a nice tour around the Czech Republic.

One would hope that the Cup got a chance to have a nice bath and maybe a massage.

The few days it did have off allowed it to travel back to North America, specifically The North Star State where it was given a hero’s welcome.

Lord Stanley’s first visit fresh off its European Tour was to Virginia, Minn., home of Matt Niskanen.

Niskanen was promptly handed the key to the city.

The Cup doesn’t make it around those parts too often, so it wasn’t a surprise to see the long lines waiting to get a glimpse of hockey’s holy grail.

From its day with Niskanen, the Cup then made its way north to the town of Warroad, which straddles the U.S.-Canadian border and is the hometown of T.J. Oshie.

Oshie isn’t the first NHLer from the minute town of 1,800 people. Warroad has produced quite a few stars across the sporting world over the years.

But Oshie is the first to bring the Cup to the northern Minnesota locale, and he did so in style on Tuesday.

Speaking of famous people from Warroad, 14 years ago Oshie and Olympic gold medalist Gigi Marvin in women’s hockey were crowned the king and queen at the 2005 Warroad Frost Festival.

They each showed off some different hardware 14 years later on Tuesday.

No Cup homecoming would be complete without a Cup stand, ie. someone drinking a large amount of alcohol out of it from an awkward position.

Oshie kept the tradition going, helping a couple fellow rookie teammates get in on the action.

Todd Reirden, the team’s newly minted head coach following the departure of Barry Trotz, will have his day with the Cup on Thursday before the mug heads north of the 49th parallel into Canada.

Trotz will still get his day with the Cup, of course, bringing it to Dauphin, Manitoba on Aug. 22. But first, the Cup will head to Winnipeg and the home of Madison Bowey this Saturday. From there it will make stops in Ontario for Todd Wilson and Devante Smith-Pelly before heading back out to Europe for a couple weeks, including stops in Sweden, Russia and Germany.

A full list of dates and where the Cup will be on them can be found here.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Contract request led to breakup between Barry Trotz, Capitals

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Barry Trotz’s desire for a big salary raise and five-year extension was the beginning of the end of his tenure with the Washington Capitals.

Trotz, who resigned on Monday after earning a two-year extension that was triggered by the Capitals’ Stanley Cup victory, wanted to be paid as one of the NHL’s top coaches, but the team was hesitant to make that kind of commitment. It was reported that Trotz was earning $1.5 million per season and the new deal would have only increased his salary by $300,000 a year.

The money and the term requested was a little too much for the Capitals.

“There are probably three, four guys that are making that money, so it’s the upper echelon. It’s the big-revenue teams,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said, referring to the salaries of coaches like Mike Babcock, Claude Julien and Joel Quenneville.

“I don’t think all teams pay that type of money and years. Certain teams are open to it and the rest of the league isn’t,” he added.

MacLellan described the five-year contract ask as a “sticking point.”

“You have a coach that’s been here four years, you do another five, that nine years,” he said. “There’s not many coaches that have that lasting ability. It’s a long time and it’s a lot of money to be committing to a coach.”

[Barry Trotz steps down as Capitals head coach]

If you look at the Capitals’ head coaching history over the last 16 years, they haven’t gone out of their way to open up the checkbook to pay for a big-name, high-priced coach. Before Trotz arrived in 2014, you had Adam Oates, Dale Hunter, Bruce Boudreau, Glen Hanlon and Bruce Cassidy all getting their first NHL head coaching gigs in D.C.

MacLellan said he was hopeful that both sides could work out a short-term deal, but Trotz clearly wanted security and to rightly use the leverage of a Cup victory to cash in. The GM did note that he accepted Trotz’s resignation so he’s free to pursue offers from other teams to coach next season.

As for where the Capitals go next, Todd Reirden is the front-runner to replace Trotz. Bumped up to “associate coach” in 2016, the organization values him and has been grooming him to become a head coach, either with the franchise or elsewhere. MacLellan said Reirden will get a formal interview.

“We’ll see how the talk goes with him and then we’ll make a decision based on that,” he said. “If it goes well, we’ll pursue Todd. If it doesn’t, then we’ll open it up a little bit.”

MORE:Where does NHL’s coaching carousel stop after Trotz resignation?

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Sean Leahy is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.