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Hall of Famer Trottier reminisces on his illustrious life in new memoir

Bryan Trottier Bryan Trottier - Getty Images

“You can always come home.”

Those were the words Bryan Trottier’s father said to him as a teenager during a bout of homesickness over Christmas as he struggled with the idea of returning to play junior hockey in Swift Current.

After some convincing from his parents and junior teammate and future NHLer Dave “Tiger” Williams, Trottier would return to Swift Current and go on to have one of the most illustrious careers in National Hockey League history. As a player, Trottier was a key figure in the New York Islanders dynasty that won four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83. He would add two more championships as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

He took home the Hart, Calder, Art Ross, Conn Smythe and King Clancy trophies during his time in New York. His 1,425 career points has him 17th all-time in NHL history and he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997. 

Those words from his father still resonate with Trottier to this day and helped inspire the title of his memoir, All Roads Home: A Life On and Off the Ice.

“The biggest reason was I'm not afraid to share what I'm thinking anymore,” Trottier told TSN on his decision to write a memoir along with writer Stephen Brunt.

“I think it's where I am in life in general, it's wonderful to reflect and reminisce.”

Born and raised on a ranch in Val Marie, Sask., Trottier is half Indigenous and half Irish. Early on, his parents taught him and his four siblings to be proud of their mixed heritage and that discrimination was a form of jealousy.

“We had the joys of all the culture and foods [like] bannock and venison, pheasant and all those wonderful meals Grandma and Grandpa used to make and Mum was heavy into her Irish toddies and crossword puzzles, and I just loved all of it,” Trottier said of his childhood growing up with both cultures.

A big moment in Trottier’s adult life came in September 1994. Feeling like he had a bad flu with no energy, he went to the doctor and was diagnosed with clinical depression. With the support of the Penguins, he went for a 10-day stay at a facility that helped him deal with self-esteem issues.

“The wonderful thing about mental wellness and finding support, the tools, is recognizing that along the way there's some forgiveness and you're carrying luggage when you don't forgive yourself or other people and that really helped,” said Trottier.

“The biggest thing I found was with my kids because they were my greatest joy, just having them, I'm just concentrating on that, I think it was probably my greatest help that I got, and they didn't even realize it.”

Another pivotal person in Trottier’s life was former teammate and close friend Mike Bossy. Bossy, who died on April 15 at age 65, played alongside Trottier in New York for 10 seasons, winning four Stanley Cups and scoring 573 goals in 752 career NHL games. 

“Mike was a best friend, roommate, linemate,” said Trottier. “Ten years every day, we were together and we couldn't wait to be together. And that’s the kind of friend you need.

“It's wonderful to have that kind of relationship with somebody that you're playing with and create magic with them on a nightly basis. Mike is a special human being, he always will be. I miss him every day. He was a big important factor in my life and my career.”

Playing on the star-studded Islanders dynasty amongst the likes of Bossy, Denis Potvin, Billy Smith and Clark Gillies, Trottier’s legacy in New York is well cemented. His No. 19 is retired by the team and he holds the franchise records in points (1,353), assists (853) and plus-minus (+470).

Stanley Cups aside, what Trottier enjoyed the most in his NHL career was competing against the best players in the world.

“When I played against Darryl Sittler for example, he was my ultimate competitor,” said Trottier. “He was the guy that when I played him, I learned that's a 60-minute game. That's how you play hockey, every faceoff is a battle, both ends of the [ice], 60 minutes. I was exhausted and going head to head with him was special.

“I think that's kind of what I missed the most, what I enjoyed the most on a daily basis, the journey to the Stanley Cup was pretty fun. Those journeys were especially fun. But the annual night to night battles and the exhaustion afterwards feeling wow, win, lose or draw I gave it my all.”

After hanging up his skates following the 1993-94 season, Trottier delved into coaching full-time after serving as a player-coach in his last NHL season with the Penguins. With assistant coaching stints in Pittsburgh, Colorado and Buffalo as well as a brief stint as head coach of the New York Rangers and the AHL’s Portland Pirates, Trottier says the things he enjoyed the most about coaching was with the communication, teaching, skill development, the conditioning aspect of it and making sure that the players were prepared.

Trottier looks back to his time in Colorado in particular with fondness, where he won a Stanley Cup in 2001 as an assistant coach. While he says the veteran core of Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote and Rob Blake were all a joy to coach, it was a trio of youngsters at the time that hold a special place in Trottier’s memory. 

“We had three kids in Colorado – Alex Tanguay, Milan Hejduk and Chris Drury,” said Trottier. “I call them my three favourite players I've ever coached because they were young, they were eager and when they took off, my god, we won a Stanley Cup and I thanked them afterwards because they were good students and they made me feel like I contributed to their success a great deal.”

Now 66 and a grandfather, Trottier has spent time visiting First Nations communities and is grateful for the people sharing their culture with him, whether it be music, drum dancing, food as well as invites to go hunting and fishing.

“We go in there with the message of follow a dream if you have a dream,” said Trottier of sharing his experiences with Indigenous youth. “You can leave home, you can be shy, you can be homesick, but you can always come home and bring what you learned, back to your community and that experience of chasing a dream whether it's in music or art or sport or whatever.

“It's been very rewarding in one sense and then in another sense, it's been just an experience I wouldn't trade an education for.”