Trottier's a Penguin now, but his heart is with the Islanders

October 14, 1990|By Pat Calabria | Pat Calabria,Newsday

NEW YORK -- It can't be easy picking up and moving after 15 years, no matter what Bryan Trottier says.

He earned four championship rings with the New York Islanders, married a Long Island woman, had three children. But to listen to him, leaving the Islanders and joining the Pittsburgh Penguins had all the raw emotion of checking out of a hotel. "That's the business," he said.

Trottier has always been like that, shrugging his shoulders and looking forward to the next day, ever since he arrived as a peach-fuzzed rookie from Val Marie, Saskatchewan, just off the farm. That was in 1975, when the Islanders were climbing the ladder and Trottier was there standing below, giving them a shove. Even then, everyone had an idea of what was ahead.

That first year, the Islanders were leaving Toronto, rumpled and bleary-eyed as they boarded the team bus at dawn after a big win the night before. One by one, the players collapsed in their seats, but there was no Trottier. Coach Al Arbour kept glancing at his watch and tapping his shoe, and still there was no Trottier.

Finally, Arbour ordered the driver to head for the airport. And as the bus dodged into traffic, left wing Garry Howatt chirped from the back seat, "Oops. There goes the Stanley Cup."

Trottier, naturally, caught up at the airport ticket counter and the dynasty was saved. But now it's 1990, Trottier is 34 and a brand-new member of the Penguins, one opponent the Islanders love to hate.

"It's funny," Trottier said. "I used to laugh at the Pittsburgh uniforms, the way they looked and all. I thought they were ugly. Black and gold. Penguin on the front. And then the first day I put it on, that all changed. I thought it looked great."

He is sitting in a booth at a restaurant called Piacquadio's, a hangout for the Penguins on the outskirts of the city, beyond the dreary skyline. A few of his new teammates stop by the table, and the owner stops by, and pretty soon Trottier polite to a fault is shaking hands all around.

You shake hands with Trottier and get your knuckles squeezed in that vise, and you understand why the Penguins thought he still had some mileage left. He did score two goals Sunday night as the Penguins beat the New Jersey Devils, and with Mario Lemieux out indefinitely with a back injury, Pittsburgh will need more than just his veteran leadership.

Trottier scored 500 goals for the Islanders. He recorded 853 assists. He was a fierce and relentless checker; he once slammed New York Rangers' defenseman Barry Beck, a player much bigger than him, into the boards with such force a reporter in the press box at Madison Square Garden gasped, "I think the building just moved two feet."

But last night, when the Islanders played their home opener, Trottier was centering for the other side, for the Penguins. Talk to Trottier and he'll tell you how the Penguins players are so much fun, how he loves the city, how he's never seen so much young talent in one place. Give him the chance and he'll praise everyone right down to the stick boy.

He will tell you how the Islanders' decision to buy out the remaining two years of his contract on July 3 may work out for the best after all, that he feels like a kid again. But ask him about this one game and Trottier's guard drops, like a boot hitting the floor.

This is not the way Trottier planned it, naturally: His wife, Nickie, .. and the children staying home in Manhasset, N.Y., while he plays out the string in Pittsburgh. He expected to retire as an Islander. Nickie used to tease him that if he ever needed a transfusion, they'd have to find orange-and-blue blood.

This is not to suggest that Trottier was an angel. He could be stubborn. He exasperated management more than once in his appeals for more ice time. But as long as Trottier was around, no one was allowed to criticize the other players. If you took on any one of the Islanders, you took on Trottier.

Even when the team instigated a brawl with the Rangers in last season's playoff series, Trottier firmly defended the club's actions. "I backed the team up. I said how we didn't mean to start anything, that it just sort of happened."

"Inside, I was thinking, 'Bryan, you lyin' bastard.' "

He will go to his grave saying he wasn't hurt by the Islanders' decision to let him go business, and all that but the fact is that Trottier spent 15 years with the club, became a hero and enjoyed immense popularity. All Trottier will say is that he didn't understand it.

"All of a sudden, I got a shift here, a shift there," he said. "I was sitting on the bench and I felt like I wasn't contributing a hell of a lot, and it was tormenting me. I think, in hindsight, I'd have been better off saying, 'Trade me, trade me.' But I just couldn't do that."

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