Some hockey players can excuse temporary moments of insanity because of instinct.
Earlier this week Quintin Laing saw the puck drifting toward the top of the offensive zone, and he had enough time to know what was coming. It was a three-on-five situation during a training camp scrimmage, and Laing knew Alex Ovechkin was waiting between the circles, ready to shoot.
Laing even thought before the previous faceoff to tell scrimmage teammate Mike Green not to worry about covering that portion of the ice in case of an Ovechkin blast.
Still, Laing moved himself into Ovechkin’s radar and dived face-first to the ice.
“I was just hoping it would hit me on some padding, and thankfully it did,” Laing said. “My whole knee just went numb, and it was just tingling. Thank God it came back in about five seconds.”
“We all love Quintin,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He’s a favorite with the fans, he’s a favorite in the locker room and he’s a favorite with the coaches. In this organization we strive for character, and he’s got oodles of that.”
Laing played 508 games in eight seasons between the ECHL and American Hockey League and three NHL contests before the 2007-08 campaign. But a rash of injuries and Boudreau’s promotion from Hershey to Washington earned him an improbable opportunity. Laing was an instant hit with the Caps for his willingness to sacrifice his body to block shots.
He played 39 games for the Caps and remained on the roster for 127 days.
“A lot more people were calling me [this summer] and just saying what a great season I had, they were watching me on TV and how they became Caps fans because I was playing up,” Laing said. “It was a lot more fun telling stories about Ovechkin and playing against guys like [Zdeno] Chara.”
For most NHL players, finances are not an issue. But for Laing, who spent eight years in the minor leagues, those four-plus months were an incredible boon.
If Laing spends this entire season with the Caps, he would make $500,000 - seven or eight times what he would earn in a full AHL campaign.
“To play a half a year up in the NHL makes a big difference,” Laing said. “Especially since I have a family now - I have a 2-year-old and one due in about [a week], so you’re playing for them.”
Despite his efforts last season, Laing is back in the same position he was in a season ago. It likely would take others’ misfortunes for Laing to find a spot among the team’s 12 to 14 forwards that open the season with the Caps.
If there isn’t room, Laing will have to pass through waivers to play for Hershey. It is possible another NHL team will take notice of his work from last season and poach him for their roster.