TARRYTOWN, N.Y. — When it looked like Will Cuylle wasn’t just going to stay with the New York Rangers for a quick cup of coffee to start this season, Vincent Trocheck pulled the 22-year-old forward aside.
“I just didn’t want him living at the hotel for a long time, that’s not a fun thing to do,” Trocheck said. “I just said, ‘If you need a place to stay, you’re welcome at our place.’
“He was over within the hour.”
It’s a time-honored tradition in the NHL: Rookies bunking in the spare bedroom or guest house of a veteran. Sidney Crosby may be the most famous rookie houseguest, invited to stay with Mario Lemieux during Crosby’s first season with the Penguins. It happens often enough that there are guys who have been the guest and the host, like Matt Moulson.
Moulson was already 25 and no longer a rookie when he and his kid brother’s youth hockey friend, John Tavares, were invited to stay in the guest house at Doug Weight’s place in 2009 with the New York Islanders. But it was still an eye-opener for Moulson, who was engaged to his wife, Alicia, at the time but not yet putting down roots since he’d bounced around the Los Angeles Kings organization for the previous three years.
“When you’re young you come home from doing all the stuff you do at the rink and you play video games, watch TV, hang out,” Moulson said. “When you’re with a family you see that there’s guys in the league that put in the same day you did at the rink and then they’re driving kids around, their wives are doing literally everything else and it’s really busy. It’s something that definitely stays with you. You go in as a young guy thinking hockey’s my life and then you see that you need to have a life outside of hockey, too.”
Cuylle lived on his own last season in Hartford and, like most Canadian players, he was away from home for all his junior hockey years, living with billet families. So being on his own isn’t much of an issue. There is something that boosts the morale around the team when the lone rookie, as Cuylle is, on a team with guys who are either league veterans or Rangers veterans has a ride to the rink every day and a home-cooked meal every so often.
Asked what dinner Hillary Trocheck makes that’s his favorite, Cuylle gives another slightly clichéd hockey answer. “Probably chicken parm.” Whatever works. Trocheck said Cuylle came to his five-year-old son Leo’s hockey game recently and two-year-old daughter Lennon calls Cuylle “her cousin.”
“They like having him there,” Trocheck said. “He’s a good houseguest.”
Cuylle’s on-ice comfort level hasn’t wavered since he made the team out of camp. He’s chipped in with three goals and five points while playing 12:46 a night plus he’s added a physical component that Rangers forwards simply don’t have — he leads the team with 39 hits, most among all NHL rookies and top 20 in the league so far this season.
“He’s established an identity on how he’s going to play the game,” Peter Laviolette said. “He’s just been consistent with his game and how he approaches it.”
Moulson ended up as the host in Buffalo in 2015 for 18-year-old Jack Eichel, whose tenure with the Sabres ended poorly. That didn’t damage the relationship, though. “When my son (George) had a hockey tournament in Boston this summer, Jack came by,” Moulson said. “He’s family now. That’s a bond that can’t be broken.”
Moulson knows Trocheck and said Cuylle will have the same feeling about his host as the years go by.
“When you’re young in the league, you literally have no clue,” Moulson said. “I know everyone’s played hockey their whole lives but the NHL is a different beast. Having someone there to ask questions, especially away from the rink where the coaches and the front office people are, is huge. For someone like Trocheck who’s played the game at a high level, done it the right way, it’s going to be good for Cuylle to see kind of how it’s done.
“Troch is a great person to be looking at for that.”
(Photo of Will Cuylle: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)