After telling me about Barry Trotz’s long-missing fireplace tools this week, Joe Beninati — who has known Trotz for 25 years — started talking about the man himself.
“More than anything, I think he’s the kind of person that can really sit and have good conversations with players and get his point across to them,” Beninati said of the Caps’ new coach. “It’s not just him speaking to them; he listens back. A lot of times it’s just a one-way conversation; not with Barry.”
That quote led Jamie Evans to endorse Beninati’s impression, from personal experience. A very brief personal experience, but still.
Evans, a 40-year old Caps fan who lives in Northwest D.C., was in Nashville last weekend, belatedly celebrating his birthday with his wife and friends. When they arrived at the Nashville airport Monday morning for a return flight to Washington, whom should he see in an airport gift shop but Trotz, the man he was hoping would become Washington’s next coach.
The announcement of his hiring wouldn’t come for several more hours, but Evans went up to Trotz, identified himself as a huge Caps supporter, and said he was hoping the coach was bound for Washington. The two men made small talk for a while, with Trotz asking Evans what he had done in Nashville, how he had enjoyed the city and so on. Evans didn’t want to be a pest, so he excused himself and went to his gate.
Then Trotz appeared again, since he was indeed on the same flight to Reagan National. This time, the coach approached Evans, asking for his impressions of the Caps as a diehard fan, for the things he likes about this team and the things he dislikes. While Evans has many opinions on such matters, he wasn’t exactly expecting an audience with the team’s new head coach, and he wasn’t carrying a crib sheet.
“I probably didn’t quite articulate everything I’ve thought,” he later told me. “I tried to provide some insight.”
So the fan told Trotz his concerns about how the team plays at 5-on-5. He talked about his love for Alex Ovechkin, and his frustration over some of the national criticism Ovechkin attracts. He said the team’s defense has seemed lacking in recent years, and that he remains concerned about getting over the hump in big playoff games. And he said he was unhappy with the trend of hiring first-time, inexperienced coaches.
Trotz listened to the stranger in the airport, engaging Evans in a brief but earnest discussion of hockey principles.
“He was actually pretty candid; he talked about defensive philosophy, about being responsible,” Evans said. “He said you don’t know what you have until you get there….You’ve heard about him being such a stand-up guy; I couldn’t imagine John Tortorella coming up to me and engaging me in conversation.”
Now, for all I know, Tortorella canvassed the entire Vancouver airport when he first arrived in British Columbia. For all I know, Jay Gruden is even now in the lobby of a local Papa John’s, asking for opinions about Tanard Jackson. In any case, Trotz joked with Evans that he still had one more interview to clear before getting the job. Evans tweeted that he saw Trotz en route to Washington, but then thought better of it and deleted the message. He had previously hoped the team would hire Trotz, and his airport experience didn’t convince him otherwise.
“He seemed totally genuine,” Evans said. “He didn’t have to come over and talk to me at all… It just reinforced to me everything you hear about him.”