Brooks Laich didn’t waste any time coming up with a word, and then a few more, to describe his 2013 hockey season that was trimmed to nine games by a troubling groin injury.
“Miserable,” Laich said. “Completely miserable. Terrible.
“Physical pain, and off the ice, daily living, rolling over in bed, getting out of my chair, getting in and out of your vehicle, were nightmares. So that takes a huge toll on you. The other part about it is the mentality. I love to play hockey. It is the most fun thing I have in my life. It was a tough, tough year all around, no doubt about it.”
With that backdrop, it was particularly disappointing for Laich to have his first session on ice during the Capitals’ preseason workouts Thursday cut short by another injury. Laich is dealing with a problem in his left hip that first flared up a week ago when he skated at Kettler Iceplex after returning from his offseason home in Saskatchewan.
He calls himself day-to-day, which essentially means no one really knows how long the problem will last. He seems confident it is nowhere near as serious as his injury last season.
“It is extremely frustrating,” Laich said, quickly adding, “This isn’t anywhere near what I went through last year.”
Said Capitals coach Adam Oates, “Obviously you feel for him. He wants to be out here flying. Hopefully it is just minor. He’s very frustrated as you can imagine. It’s the first day, he wants to get going.”
Laich, 30, is one of those “beyond the numbers” guys whose value to the team goes well beyond the 20-some goals and 30-some assists he’ll generally throw onto the stat sheet. He can play center or wing. He can handle special teams. He might be the most respected player among his teammates.
The Caps were 6-3 in the nine games he was able play in the middle of last season.
“He’s our leader,” said Alex Ovechkin, the team captain and reigning NHL most valuable player. “Off the ice. On the ice. We need him badly. He just loves hockey. He practices 100 percent. He plays 100 percent. For all the guys, when they see that, it is a good example.”
“He’s kind of our utility man,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “He’s incredibly important to our team. You saw a big difference in our team when he was able to be out there last year. He puts us over that hump, puts us closer to being an elite team when we have him.”
Laich played all 82 games four of the five seasons before last year and 78 in the other. He had more than 20 goals in three of those seasons, and 30 or more assists in three. He’s consistent and reliable.
“His skill in hockey speaks for itself,” said winger Aaron Volpatti. “What you guys don’t see is in the locker room. He’s a great guy to around. It’s an X factor, I guess, something you can’t teach. They bring good vibes, they make guys smile, they’re some of the hardest workers around. It’s a great combination.”
It’s just tough to contribute as much, if at all, when injured.
Laich said his previous injury is “100 percent. I have no inhibition, no fear. I have full power, full flexibility, full stride, everything.”