- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2011

At 19 years old, Brooks Laich had to choose a path. Playing in juniors for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League, Laich’s coach, Dean Chynoweth, told him to make a decision.

“I could either be a 100-point American League hockey player, or a 50-to-60-point NHL hockey player,” Laich recalled. “He said, ‘You make the choice.’ “

When Laich saw Chynoweth last year, he gave him a signed jersey with a simple message: “This jersey wouldn’t have been possible without you.”

It’s hard to put a number on how valuable that moment was — maybe $27 million, the amount on the six-year contract the Washington Capitals signed Laich to last offseason.

Laich has said that he doesn’t play for the money, and his story about misplacing checks in his trunk and line going into free agency that “Saskatchewan is a pretty cheap place to live,” makes the talk easy to believe.

And even though Laich’s mind isn’t on his money, that doesn’t mean he didn’t warrant the deal.

Laich won’t score 30 goals or pile up 100 points; he has never put up more than 59 points in NHL career. But he’ll earn $6 million this season, his seventh, largely for his ability to do so many things so well.

“I take a great deal of pride in being able to be on the ice in every situation,” Laich said. “I never want the coach to look down the bench and say, ‘OK, in this situation, I can’t put him on.’ So it’s something I work hard at.”

Making of Laich

Laich, 28, learned the value of work ethic as part of a humble upbringing in Wawota, Saskatchewan, from parents Harold and Jane. But he became Brooks Laich the hockey player thanks to Chynoweth.

Laich knew how to score, putting up 103 points in 57 games in midget AAA hockey a few years earlier. But he stepped back and thought about it what his coach was saying, and it all clicked.

“I had to learn how to kill penalties, I had to learn how to pick up assignments, chip pucks out, do little things — learn the game more than just the offensive side of it,” Laich said. “It’s advice that I’ve never forgot, that I’m very thankful for, and it actually amazes me how spot-on he was.”

Laich always jokes with Chynoweth that he’s going to run the New York Islanders’ defense, the unit his old coach is in charge of now. But he remains eternally grateful for the priceless words.

“That was a major point in my life that determined my career path,” Laich said.

All-around hockey player

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