As coach of the Predators from their inception, Barry Trotz knew all about the Nashville area.
He had to make adjustments when he moved to Washington. Early in his tenure with the Capitals, just getting to Dulles Airport from Verizon Center was an adventure.
"I actually followed one of our players and I didn't realize that he had his wife with him and he was dropping her off at his house before he was going to the airport," Trotz recalled.
One detour on the roads and a few roadblocks on the ice notwithstanding, Trotz's transition is just about complete. With the Predators and Capitals each in playoff position halfway through the season, Trotz returns to Bridgestone Arena on Friday for the first time as a visiting coach.
It's his chance to stand behind the visiting bench and get a different perspective on how everything has changed.
"When I first got here, I'd fumble and say Nashville instead of Washington in a few of my interviews and stuff, and I think I'm past that," Trotz said on a conference call this week. "But it'll be good to get home and get a little bit of closure. It's a bit of a full circle for me."
Nashville is home because Trotz spent 17 years there and his grown-up children still live and work in the area. But the Winnipeg native never could have imagined that, or the impact he'd have on the Predators, when general manager David Poile hired him with just minor-league experience to coach an NHL expansion team.
Trotz was coach of the Predators not long after the city was awarded a franchise.
"When I look back at it now, I think, 'That was crazy,' you know?" Trotz said. "When I went there, I was just trying to survive that first year. I never thought in a million years that I would be there that long. I just wanted to coach for a year, and I found a home in Nashville, Tennessee."
Trotz also found success, as the Predators were never a last-place team before making the playoffs in their sixth season. That began a string of seven post-season appearances in eight years.
Looking back, Trotz is most proud of giving hockey a stable foothold in Music City. He considers the actual wins and losses "really minor" in the context of history.
"I can go to maybe a hockey game with my grandkids maybe 10 years from now in Nashville in a nontraditional market and (know) we had good success," he said. "The great game of hockey's going to be in Nashville for hopefully another hundred years. I look at myself as part of a building process."
Trotz built, but in a league where wins and losses matter two straight years out of the playoffs led to his firing last spring. He had been the longest-tenured coach with one team in the league.
"To me, it was time, and I'm glad David made the move," Trotz said. "Not necessarily because you're leaving your family and all that, but it was time. It was time for a new face in Nashville and something of a new challenge for myself, as well."
Peter Laviolette became the new face in Nashville, and with goaltender Pekka Rinne back after missing much of last year with a hip injury and infection, the Predators are atop the league as one of the biggest surprises around. Rinne will miss the next three to five weeks with a knee injury, pushing Carter Hutton to the forefront for Friday's game.
Earlier this season, Predators players said a fresh voice helped, even though they loved Trotz as their coach.
Of course Trotz knew that. He's proud that some of what he put in place in Nashville is still there, including the system that has helped produce 29 victories in 42 games.
"Everybody thought that I might be a little jealous, but I must have matured," Trotz said. "I'm not jealous at all. I'm actually cheering for them."
It doesn't hurt that the Capitals have gotten through some of the growing pains of a new coach and are one of the hottest teams in the NHL. They go into Trotz's return with at least a point in 18 of their past 19 games (14-1-4).
"It's a fresh start for me," Trotz said. "It's good for me, I'm re-vigorated, if you will."
Adjusting to life in the Washington suburb of Arlington was more difficult for Trotz's teenage son Nolan, who was born with Down syndrome. Nolan had what his father called a "great situation" at school in the Nashville suburb of Brentwood, and it helped to have his siblings around to pay visits.
Trotz said his son was lonely when the family first moved.
"We didn't have a lot of friends here, and being special needs it was quite a little bit difficult," Trotz said. "We found it was probably heart-wrenching for mom and dad because we'd find him up in his room and looking through his yearbook and circling his friends and stuff. You could tell there's a sadness in his heart."
A few months into this new, East Coast life, Trotz said Nolan is doing better. Naturally, hockey is playing a role in that.
"We got him some hockey equipment, told him he's Iron Man, he loves the super heroes, so we put a pair of skates on him and we got him skating," Trotz said. "He's now starting to be part of a special-needs hockey program that they have here. They have four teams in the area and they travel and they do a bunch of stuff."
Back at the office, Trotz has the Capitals on the right track and can see the Predators are back on it, too. Barring something extraordinary, he won't spend the next 16-plus years of his life in Washington, but that's OK.
Trotz has accepted his move from "the best job in the world" to the next job.
"I've actually embraced it, it's been fun," Trotz said. "I've got some great people that work for us, and a team that I think is embracing what we're trying to do here."
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