(Ed. note: The following article was originally written by George Owens, a Pittsburgh-area TV sports anchor and former columnist for the Pittsburgh Bulletin. It is posted here with the author's permission)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992 with, essentially, a traveling All Star team. Led by low-key superstar Mario Lemieux, the Penguins' glittering roadshow also showcased luminaries like Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Rick Tocchet, Mark Recchi, Paul Coffey and Tom Barrasso, each worthy of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.
But it was one unheralded player, often overlooked and forgotten by modern hockey fans, who provided the hidden foundation for Pittsburgh's hockey dynasty.
Bryan Trottier was plucked from obscurity in 1991 when he was signed as a free agent by Penguins general manager Craig Patrick. Even though Trottier's career hadn't quite taken off by that time, Patrick had to talk the then 34-year-old into joining the Penguins.
Patrick said his "lengthy conversation" with Trottier erased any doubts about Trottier's motives for trying to extend his career.
"He's got some things he wants to achieve," Patrick said. "When the conversation was over, I felt real confident that he could come in and do a job for us."
Trottier's first season in Pittsburgh did not initially appear to be a smooth one. He only played 59 games during the regular season due to injuries, and finished with an underwhelming nine goals and 19 assists.
But the Penguins charged to the top of the Patrick Division and began the playoffs looking to capture their first Stanley Cup. To accomplish this, they would need everyone, even faceless pluggers like Trottier, to contribute, something even the championship veterans on the team understood.
"Bryan brings a lot of confidence to a team," said Jiri Hrdina, a member of the 1988-89 Calgary Flames Stanley Cup champions. "It's an important thing to have players that know what to do this time of year."
Once fully healthy, Trottier was a key cog for the Penguins that spring, chipping in three goals and four assists in 23 playoff games. His checking, face-off work and vocal on-ice leadership from the fourth line took the pressure off of the scoring stars, and the high-flying Penguins marched to the Stanley Cup finals where they defeated the Minnesota North Stars in six games.
After ultimately reaching the mountain top, Trottier celebrated his coveted championship with the vigor of a man that was finally tasting victory after years of aimless wandering.
Trottier acted precisely the way you would expect an 18-year-old to when his team won the Stanley Cup. Never mind that he will turn 35 July 17.
"He's more like a kid than anybody I've ever seen," left winger Troy Loney said yesterday. "He was more excited about this team than almost anybody."
Trottier re-signed with Pittsburgh following that first title and he brought the same solid, responsible play to the Penguins as they repeated as champions the next season. Another three goals and four assists in 21 playoff games in 1992 earned Trottier another ring after the Penguins' sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks. Not bad for an anonymous role-player.
How does this one compare with the one last season, Trottier was asked?
"This one is extremely, extremely exciting," he replied. "The first one was actually chilling. This one is damn close."
Would he sign again for another season in Pittsburgh? "Absolutely," he said. "I feel great. I'd like to play another year or two."
Despite his enthusiasm, Trottier decided to retire after the 1992 season. But in September 1993, after a season-long absence, Trottier returned to the city that had given him his greatest glory.
But Trottier told Penguins general manager Craig Patrick that he missed playing and, after being offered a coaching job, convinced Patrick to let him report to training camp. He will also retain the title of assistant coach.
He played 41 games for the Penguins and scored four goals and 11 assists in the 1993-94 season, his last in the NHL. After three seasons in black and gold, Trottier finally hung up his skates for good.
Others may hold records and have their names on individual awards, but Bryan Trottier is without a doubt one of the greatest Pittsburgh Penguins of all time. His name is synonymous with the team and his surprising rise from a humble, unrecognized workman to a building block of hockey's most gilded franchise is an allegory for the city itself.
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