The jerseys were loaded onto the bus, each one draped across a seat in preparation for this field trip. Barry Trotz told his new players they had to make just one stop en route to the Naval Academy, and after a short drive from the team’s practice facility, he asked players to slip on those jerseys. They exited the bus at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, inspired by the iconic photo of six Marines raising a U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.
“We haven’t raised a flag yet — meaning the Stanley Cup banner,” Trotz said. “I said that I want to take a team picture in front of this statue because, if we get the opportunity to raise our flag, we’re going to take another picture — the same picture, but with the Cup. And that’s what we want to do. We took the picture with the understanding that we want to raise our flag, and that would be the goal. That’s what I thought was really important: Let’s start with a vision.”
The rest of the day was spent at the Naval Academy, with every segment similarly infused with symbolism and meaning. At lunch, Trotz wanted the Capitals to see the cadets’ order and discipline as a lesson about how the team should conduct itself. He wanted the excursion to serve as a bonding experience, forcing players of different backgrounds together in certain drills to break whatever cliques he had observed. On his first team-wide excursion as Washington’s coach, Trotz wanted to set the tone for his tenure.
Four years later, the Capitals are going back to Annapolis, where this chapter under Trotz began. This time it’s for a Stadium Series game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Navy’s football home, Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. That Stanley Cup banner Trotz wanted the team to envision before that first trip still hasn’t been hauled to the rafters, and after the team’s middling February, this outdoor game starts another march to the playoffs, now less than two months away.
When Trotz was coaching the Nashville Predators, he took two of his teams to the Naval Academy before games against the Capitals. As he inherited a Washington team that had been in disarray under former coach Adam Oates, Trotz wanted to change the culture in the locker room and insert some structure. He remembered how meaningful those Annapolis outings had been, so once the roster got whittled down in training camp, he carefully planned each part of the Capitals’ trip there. After the team practiced, it watched the noon formation, when the entire brigade of midshipmen assembles each weekday and then marches into lunch before crowds of tourists.
“It was sort of a reminder of what can be done when you have order, structure, discipline and accountability,” Trotz said.
Trotz paired each player with a midshipman, and each duo ate at their own table in the dining hall. Conversations ranged from hockey to the cadets’ upcoming exams. Just as the Capitals are a diverse team, Navy’s student body is similarly varied but unified, something Trotz emphasized throughout the afternoon.
“Military academies have a lot of camaraderie between each other,” defenseman John Carlson said. “It seems like a real close-knit, family-style atmosphere there, and we get that a lot with us coming to work every day and sitting in this rectangular [dressing] room. So, I can only imagine the things that they do together to build trust and friendship. It just gave you a taste of what real order is. There’s nothing stricter in certain ways than that. I think that kind of rubs off on you.”
After a tour around campus, a speaker told the team about the Battle of Iwo Jima. Trotz jotted down four points: know your why, fulfill your role, fight with confidence, overcome the uncertainty. The team picture in front of the Marine Corps War Memorial is now in Trotz’s office, right behind his computer, and those four bullets are printed in the top left corner. He then related each one to the start of that first season.
“Know your why: Why are you doing this?” Trotz said. “Fulfill your role: Are you [first-line center] Nick Backstrom, or are you [fourth-line center] Jay Beagle? Fight with confidence: Do you have confidence in the guy next to you, and do you have a good plan? Are we prepared? Once you have all that, you overcome the uncertainty — uncertainty that you can win.”
Said Beagle: “When Trotzy came in, there was a big team aspect. Pull together, everyone is one, dedication, accountability — all of these things that I think the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and all of these groups have. To go there and just experience that, it was pretty cool and, yeah, I think it set a tone just about how he wants us to be as a team and as a group.”
On the bus ride home, Trotz pulled out coolers of beer with some varieties from every country represented on the team. He asked that every player drink a beer from a country other than his own “because after today, we become a team and a family, and it doesn’t matter where you come from,” Trotz told the players as they opened a few cold ones and rode home together.