Trottergate: The Fallout of Trotter's Departure from Denver
by Dane DeKrey/Staff Writer
It's business as usual in the WCHA — North Dakota is streaking, referees are stinking, and players are leaving.
And from the players leaving department, the latest program to be afflicted by the 'go-pro' bug, the University of Denver, and particularly its head coach, George Gwozdecky, have come away looking silly. And that's really too bad considering the kind of guy Gwozdecky is.
Arguably one of college hockey's most candid — and honest — coaches, Gwozdecky has been uncharacteristically mum regarding Brock Trotter's departure from the team, maybe because he has to be. What he wasn't mum about during a phone interview on January 18 — just 13 days before Trotter left the team — was the importance of what he called the one constant of recruiting — character.
See, I had initially planned on writing this piece about the recruiting philosophies of WCHA teams that don't perennially get the lot of blue-chip recruits, your Denvers and Colorado Colleges, versus teams that do, your North Dakotas and Minnesotas; and how the teams of the WCHA are dealing with the exodus of its players, specifically if they are changing their recruiting philosophies as a result of it. But post-Trottergate, what emerged from the interview with Gwozdecky was a sad contradiction between what Gwozdecky preached and what Trotter practiced.
"I don't know if there's any guaranteed 100 percent sure recipe for recruiting," Gwozdecky said. "You do work as hard as you possibly can researching the young man's talent in relation to what you need for your program, but you probably have to work even harder researching what kind of character that young man has and how he can benefit the program and the culture of the program."
Whatever the reason was for Trotter being dismissed from the team, it turns Gwozdecky's character talk on its head. And I'm not throwing Gwozdecky under the bus for knowingly recruiting high-skill, low-character players, because I don't think he is doing that, I am just saying that Trotter leaving makes him look bad, and shows that any coach can get caught by a bad seed.
"I think the only thing that remains constant in our recruiting is the idea that character is paramount," Gwozdecky goes on to say. "If you can continue to recruit high character young men — and it's not an easy thing to judge, it's difficult because there's no proven formula for that, sometimes it's gut instinct — more times than not, you're going to consistently be successful and competitive. The character of the remaining players will allow you to overcome the challenges of players leaving. They determine if it's going to be a road bump rather than a falling into the Grand Canyon."
Unfortunately for Gwozdecky, what has happened to his team minus Trotter is just the opposite. In short, it has stunk. It's been swept in two of their last three conference series at the hands of Minnesota State and North Dakota, and its meltdown against the Fighting Sioux on Friday night, in which it blew a 4-1 second period lead by basically forgetting to play common-sense hockey, spoke volumes about the effect Trotter leaving has had on the Pioneers.
The numbers don't lie. Trotter was their leading scorer, and save for perhaps goalie Peter Mannino, their best player. It would have been one thing to lose him at year's end like North Dakota did with Jonathan Toews last season, but at the forefront of the WCHA chase for the McNaughton Cup is a slap in Gwozdecky's face.
For Gwozdecky's sake, I hope Denver turns it around and makes a run. Because if they don't, it gives Trotter the satisfaction of thinking he was the linchpin of that team, and, worse, emboldens other like-minded individuals to think me-first.
"We want to recruit the best players, but sometimes the best players aren't necessarily the right players," Gwozdecky concluded, echoing the now infamous words of Herb Brooks explaining his selection of the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team. "We want to recruit the right players."
So, with everything that has happened to Denver and Gwozdecky, where exactly does Brock Trotter fit?