- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2013

When Brooks Laich was a healthy scratch for six straight games in his second NHL season with the Washington Capitals, he almost did something foolish.

“I talked to my dad on the phone, and I was thinking about going and playing in a men’s night just in Arlington just to be able to play the game again,” Laich said. “And he said: ‘No, no. You can’t do that.’”

Laich’s father was right. And the same applies now, as the 29-year-old forward struggles with time off for a groin injury that he calls “the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through.”

Laich skated Tuesday with his teammates for the first time since Feb. 16, and though that’s not an indication he’s ready to make his season debut anytime soon, it’s a welcome sign of progress.

“I was almost to the breaking point,” Laich said. “It was a lot of tough days, a lot of long, hard days mentally for myself. I really enjoy playing the game and I really miss being part of the team. And to be able to get this sort of mind vitamin today gives me some more energy and a better attitude and hopefully get me back in the lineup soon.”

Laich knew that when he got off the ice, he’d either be all smiles or a “tornado.” As he chirped at Joel Ward for moving to a stall across the locker room to avoid the media crush, it was obviously not the latter.

Laich has never been through anything like this in his hockey-playing career, unable to help his team on the ice or even take part in practices. He suffered the groin injury while playing in Switzerland during the lockout and has been trying to get back ever since.

Laich began skating with teammates Jan. 31 in Toronto and kept that pattern up before disappearing behind the scenes again after the Feb. 16 practice.

“There comes a point where you can’t kid yourself. You know if you’re close or you’re not,” he said. “And at that point, I knew I was so far away from being able to play and to help the team win that the best thing for me to do was get away from the ice and start to feel better because I’m not going to feel better on the ice if I’m feeling bad off the ice.”

Laich couldn’t stop thinking about what else to do, even sitting at home. He wondered what other treatments and strategies might work.

That tunnel vision isn’t surprising for Laich, whose stubbornness is well-documented. But real life provided the reality check.

“I need to be out of pain and be functional getting out of a chair, rolling over in bed, walking, getting in and out of a car. I need to be functional in that aspect before I’m going to be any good on the ice,” Laich said. “It was myself early on that said: ‘Get me on the ice. If I’m not on the ice, I’m not close to playing.’ But it was a learning experience for me to have to take a step back to go forward.”

When Laich took the step back, it was to find ways off the ice to improve strength in his groin.

“Physically it’s a lot of work, but mentally probably even more draining,” Laich said. “But hopefully it’s all for good. We have a great medical staff that’s really helped me and pushed me in the right direction.”

Typically, Laich has needed trainers to protect him from himself. This time, he realized the need to get off the ice.

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