Twenty years ago, Joe Beninati left Providence and hockey’s minor leagues for a television and radio broadcast job with the Washington Capitals. He moved into a group house with two Caps employees in Gambrills, about two miles from the team’s then-practice facility in Piney Orchard.
“It was perfect,” Beninati told me this week. “Piney Orchard was maybe two miles away; you were going to be there a lot. The team flew in and out of BWI at the time, so being in Gambrills was not terribly bad when you got home at 2 in the morning off the plane. And it just so happened that it was Barry’s house.”
“Barry” being Barry Trotz, the new head coach of the Caps, and Beninati’s first Washington landlord.
Trotz, of course, had lived in the area when he coached the AHL’s Baltimore Skipjacks. When that team relocated to Portland in 1993, Trotz moved with them, and rented out his Anne Arundel County home. So for about a year, Beninati was stroking monthly checks made out to “Barry Trotz.”
“It was great; it was perfect for what we needed, and we didn’t mess the carpets up,” Beninati said. “He was happy with us. And I think I got my security deposit back.”
That wasn’t all he left with. The three renters decided to leave Trotz’s home after a year; Beninati wound up living with two co-workers in Bethesda, which was a more lively destination than Gambrills. As they packed up to depart, there was a conversation about the house’s fireplace tools. No one claimed ownership of them, and no one knew exactly where they came from.
“Joe, just hang on to them,” somebody finally said.
Which is why, two decades later, Beninati still has Trotz’s fireplace tools.
“They’re like 20 years old, and they’re hidden in a box downstairs in my garage now,” Beninati said. “And I’ve hung on to them, and it’s been a running gag. I never put them on eBay — these once belonged to the runner-up for the NHL’s coach of the year!”
Beninati, whose current fireplace is electric, ran into Trotz at Tuesday’s news conference, and offered to finally return the fireplace tools.
“You keep them,” the coach said.
As it turns out, Beninati actually knew the coach for five years before the landlord bit, when both men were working in the AHL. He agrees with much of what you’ve heard in recent days: that Trotz can maximize a roster and get players to commit to him.
“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. “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. Everybody I’ve ever spoken to about Barry — his current players, former players, scouts — they all say the same thing: he manages somehow to get the most out of his players. You give him X, Y and Z, and he’ll figure out how to get the most out of X, Y and Z, whatever they do. And I think we could use that very much here.”
Meantime, if any young broadcasters in Nashville need a place to rest their heads, Trotz’s place might be available.
“Barry’s home was terrific for us at the time,” Beninati said. “But every time since — literally, every time we bump into Barry in Nashville — we’d always make snide comments about the landlord/tenant thing.”