Caught in the middle

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

They are neither owners nor players. They work for management, but spend a good bit of their time in the dressing room.

And when it comes down to the last shift of the third period, down by a goal with the net empty, they need every player believing in what they're doing.

So, if you're a head coach in the locked-out NHL, exactly whose side are you on?

In talking to a couple of Manitoba-born bench bosses, it seems they're kind of stuck in the middle.

"We have to deal with these players when they come back, so we can't afford to alienate them," Souris product Andy Murray, head coach of the Los Angeles Kings, was saying from his home in Faribault, Minn., yesterday. "But we recognize the hardships that the owners are under."

Down in Music City, USA, Dauphin's Barry Trotz, six-year head coach of the Nashville Predators, was singing a similar tune.

"I always say I'm like Switzerland," Trotz began. "I am management, from one standpoint. But I deal with the players. I see both sides. The owners agreed to this system 10 years ago. (But) the system is not working ... so it has to change."

Trotz's take is interesting, in that he's with a team some say might not survive a long lockout.

The former U of M Bisons coach scoffs at any talk of contraction.

"You Canadians up there just think we're a bunch of rednecks down here and don't know anything," he said, chuckling. "We have as passionate fans, and maybe more passionate, than people in Canada. They are rabid fans here. We just don't have 19,000 a game. We average probably around 13,000 to 14,000. The Detroit Red Wings come to town, there's almost 20,000 people in our building."

At the same time, Trotz acknowledges a general lack of interest in the game across the U.S.

While the Nashville papers are covering the lockout fairly well, the TV sports channels aren't devoting hours of coverage to it, the way we're bombarded here.

"You don't hear anything on ESPN," Trotz said. "It's like it doesn't exist. That's one thing that's a little bit frightening. In Canada, that's our national passion. That would be like in the United States saying we're not going to have NFL football."

One of the few head coaches actually based in his team's city these days, Trotz is doing his best to keep hockey alive, if not front-and-centre, in Nashville, taking part in promotions with season-ticket holders and corporate sponsors.

By contrast, Murray isn't needed in L.A., so he's catching up with family, who live in Minnesota.

Both will be taking a financial hit -- Trotz's salary has already been cut by some 60%, while Murray's paycheque will be sliced in half beginning Dec. 1.

But they're feeling the lockout's effects in places other than their wallets.

"You kind of miss that churning in your gut before a game," Murray said. "Where you know your job is on the line ... where you get wound up and everything's at stake. You kind of learn to thrive on that."

"We're wired, as players are," added Trotz. "Wired to be playing and in the heat of the battle at this time of year. When you're not, it does feel strange."


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