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Trotz returns for Kings Ukrainian Night

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When the Dauphin Kings hosted Ukrainian Night, Saturday at Credit Union Place, there was a special visitor in attendance.
New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz, who won the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals, last June, was in Dauphin visiting his parents with his son.
After delivering a pregame speech to the Kings players, Trotz took part in the opening ceremonies, dropping a pair of kubassas instead of pucks for the ceremonial faceoff.
Trotz guessed it has probably been more than 30 years since he last attended a Dauphin Kings game. He was impressed by what he saw surrounding the festivities of the night.
“I think it’s a very unique event. It’s something that should be a tradition and something that should be embraced. They do a wonderful job. Ryan (Rauliuk) does a wonderful job organizing it. And what a great brainchild for other junior teams to follow,” he said.
Trotz is in his first season behind the Islanders’ bench. The biggest challenge he faced was reducing the team’s goals against after New York allowed the most goals in 2017-18.
The Islanders entered the NHL’s all-star break having allowed the fewest goals, 122, six less than the next lowest team.
That has the Islanders in first place in the Metropolitan Division and second in the Eastern Conference.
The key to the team’s success, Trotz said, is the players’ commitment and belief in what they do.
“We’ve got some good goaltending. Some guys that have had to re-establish themselves in the league in Robin (Lehner) and Thomas (Greiss) just because of the seasons they had last year,” he added.
“And I think you have a group that’s committed to restoring some pride on the island. They recognize the last couple of years haven’t gone the way they wanted. They lost John Tavares. It wasn’t a great summer for people on the team. But they’re a fantastically-run organization with Lou Lamoriello and the commitment of the ownership.”
It could be said the all-star break came at a bad time for the Islanders, which are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games.
“I think the guys put in a lot to put us in the position that we are that it was time for a break,” Trotz said.
“At the same time, coming out of the break, we get Tampa Bay. It’s going to be their second game before we even play one. So they’re going to probably be ahead of us. So getting back on track again may take some time. But we have a lot of commitment from our players and that’s the number one thing. I feel good about what we’ve put in place from a foundational standpoint in terms of our system. We’ve got good leadership and we’ve got some good hockey people running the show.”
Trotz did not know what his expectations for the team were at the start of the year, because he did not know the players well enough.
“I knew there was still good talent there. But when you finish last in goals against, your goaltending is in flux a little bit. I knew a lot of stuff with Robin’s past that you didn’t know where that was going to go,” he said.
“I didn’t know enough about the defence corps. There’s a reason they gave up a lot of goals. To me, defence is not just goaltending and defencemen. It’s the five guys on the ice plus the goaltender.”
Trotz knew he could improve the team’s defence. His first thought, he said, was to get to the middle of the pack.
When they got to the middle of the pack and started moving up, they realized there was a certain way and a certain identity that they created.
“We believed in what we’re doing. We found that we were real hard to play against. We were having success winning games. And we did it as a team,” Trotz said.
“We have good accountability within our organization and in our room. And we have good commitment. We’ve got the three elements that give you a chance to have a real strong foundation. The structure the accountability and the commitment has allowed us to have team success.”
As well as the Islanders are playing, there is always room for improvement. Trotz pointed to both aspects of New York’s special teams as areas where the team can improve.
“I think our five-on-five play has been pretty good. It shows in our plus-minus five-on-five and our chances for and against five-on-five. I think some of our offensive stuff in terms of stuff that we do off the rush can get a little better,” he said.
“Our defence are getting a little more active. It’s good. It will help the offence a little bit, but it may pull back on the defence a little bit. But we have to start with the base of, let’s just correct the defence. And now we’re trying to grow our game.”
Trotz believes the Islanders now have the 200-foot game teams have to have to be successful. Now it is refining what they can do better in the defensive zone or neutral zone.
“We’ve been able to do that. And the guys have been really receptive. It doesn’t happen without guys buying in,” he said.
The focus after the break will be to get back to playing Islander hockey. Surviving the first couple of games after 10 days off will be the first focus.
“Once we get back into the grind of it, it’s just managing our game. There’s not a lot of practice time,” he said.
The Islanders have 33 games in 65 days after the break, pretty much playing every second day. Trotz estimated they only have six or seven practices scheduled the rest of the season.
Trotz said Grandview product Ryan Pulock is growing as a young defenceman.
“For me, I have a lot of time for Ryan. I think he’s going to be a top four defenceman. I think I tried to give him too much early. He’s a guy that takes baby steps, but he’s always moving forward. He’s always trying to get better and he’s a great young man. He’s got some talent,” he said.
“He’s got a fantastic shot, which we’ve got to get it off a little bit more, find ways that we can utilize it a little bit better. And utilize him a little bit better, as well.”
Pulock leads the Islanders in time on ice (22:24), as well as shifts per game (28.4).
It is rare for a coach or player in the NHL to be able to visit his hometown in the middle of the season. But with Trotz’s son being home from his job in Russia coinciding with the all-star break, they decided at the last minute to come to Dauphin to visit his parents.
“And it happened to be the Ukrainian Night, which is perfect,” he said.

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Doug Zywina
REPORTER
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