Barry Trotz appreciated being back on the ice with the New York Islanders for practice Saturday after the coach was away to attend the funeral of his mother in Dauphin, Manitoba.
Iris Trotz died Jan. 1. She was 78 years old.
“It is very meaningful for a couple reasons,” Trotz said of rejoining the Islanders. “The way the organization reacted, allowing me to go home and take the necessary time, the players reaching out. And then just watching them today, the effort and the work ethic that they’ve each put in. It’s not easy, obviously, with the 10-day sort-of break. They’ve done a really good job.”
Trotz missed the Islanders’ 3-2 overtime victory against the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 1, and they haven’t played since then because of postponements related to COVID-19. By the Islanders’ next game, against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, they will have played two games since Dec. 19 because of the holiday break and eight postponed games during a 24-day span.
The silver lining is that the break allowed Trotz to take the time he needed with his family to mourn the loss of his mother.
“I loved my mom, and some of the things that I looked back on that she did over the years molded me and my sister, just as my dad did,” Trotz said. “So any success that we’ve had as a family, I’ve had personally or my sister has, it’s from our parents. … This is the first time I’ve lost a parent, so it’s very difficult. I have a better understanding when it happens to someone else.
“I just want to thank everybody who has reached out, not only with the Islander organization. The fans and what have you reached out. It’s very heartwarming to me and comforting that we’re one big family.”
Trotz’s hockey family equally was happy to have him back.
“It’s always tough losing a loved one,” forward Brock Nelson said. “So seeing him back, he quickly addressed the team and it was nice to see him. I think it just shows he enjoys being here every day and to be a leader and win for us.”
Associate Lane Lambert filled in as coach in Trotz’s absence, running the bench against the Oilers and practices with help from assistants Jim Hiller and John Gruden.
New York (10-12-6) is eighth in the Metropolitan Division but has played an NHL-low 28 games.
Despite the stops and starts, the Islanders have shown signs of improvement, going 3-0-1 in their past four games, and they are 5-2-1 following an 0-8-3 slide.
Eager to play, the Islanders are trying to avoid looking too much at the standings while awaiting their next game.
“Watching the games, you kind of wish we were out there playing and get our legs going,” forward Anthony Beauvillier said. “Definitely the last couple games we were obviously building confidence in our game as well. So definitely a little bit frustrating, the break there, but we’re working hard in practices and stuff.”
Trotz said it will be important to focus on the next game and not worry about the gap the Islanders will have to overcome to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He recalled facing a similar situation when coaching Portland in the American Hockey League in 1995-96. After snowstorms caused multiple postponements, Portland had to play six games during a nine-day span in February and won the last five to jump-start a run to the Calder Cup Final.
“So I think just worry about the first game and then go from there,” Trotz said. “There’s going to be a lot of games, a lot of opportunities to get points and move up in the standings. You just take it day by day, but just keep playing.”
The Islanders have 54 regular-season games left, so there is time to make up ground, but they also know they must play with urgency and build off the success they were starting to have before this latest break.
“It’s just been a little bit of a different start to the season for us and we’re in a little bit of a hole, but we can’t look at the standings every day right now on break,” Nelson said. “You [can’t] get too worked up about it, but also you have to realize that once we get back into it, it’s going to be a sprint with a lot of games in a short span. So we’re going to need to get on a roll right away and bank some points.”