- The Washington Times - Monday, April 22, 2013

Out of action and unable to even skate because of groin injuries and a fractured pelvis, Tom Poti didn’t want to give up on his NHL career. Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee wondered if the defenseman would ever play again after missing more than a full season, but Poti couldn’t accept that.

“I wanted to do everything I could to get back,” Poti said. “I wanted to have no regrets. That was one of the biggest things. I didn’t want to say maybe if I tried a little bit harder or more, if I didn’t give up at that point. What if? I didn’t want to have any what ifs.”

Poti missed more than two years before returning Jan. 19, and despite playing only 16 games this season, the 35-year-old is the Caps’ Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy nominee, as selected by the Washington chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. The Masterton Trophy is awarded to the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.”

Poti is healthy after neck and back injuries cost him more games, but he’s taking a reduced role as well as could be expected for a respected veteran.

“It’s been tough, kind of in and out of the lineup a lot and not playing too many minutes,” Poti said. “A bad day in the NHL is a good day anywhere else. Just keep working hard and maybe I’ll get a chance.”

That’s all coach Adam Oates can ask, given that he’s not changing his blue line unless an injury forces him to. The Caps are 13-3-1 since Poti took a cross-check to the back from the Buffalo Sabres’ Steve Ott.

“You know what, he’s been very professional about the fact that he’s not playing,” Oates said. “He’s had a tough go, obviously, coming off injuries and then coming back, try to see where he’s at and keep getting a little injury and setting himself back. And he’s been great about it.”

Poti hopes to still make a difference by helping younger defensemen, but the fact that he’s even skating with the Caps and available to play is a testament to his work over the past two-plus years.

Injured Jan 12, 2011, he tried to return for the Caps’ playoff run but only made his groin problem worse. Soon after, he began to question the future.

“Toward Christmas time last year, when I got on the ice and didn’t feel good at all and I kind of felt the same pains and problems, and at that point I didn’t know if I would be able to play,” Poti said. “Just made a decision that I wanted to keep trying and keep working at it and I’m lucky I did.”

McPhee expressed doubt that Poti would play again, but the Caps supported Poti’s rehab along the way. During the NHL lockout, he was able to remain in contact with trainer Greg Smith and eventually felt good enough to skate consistently without pain.

When training camp opened, the team welcomed him back and gave him the opportunity to continue his career.

“George said if I can make it back and play, then that would be great for the team and for myself,” Poti said. “They just said, ‘Go out and see what happens.’ I did, and it’s worked out.”

Laich, Ward still sidelined

Neither Brooks Laich nor Joel Ward skated Monday, and it stands to reason that the Caps will likely have to go at least the rest of the regular season without either injured forward.

Laich (groin) has not skated since re-injuring himself April 4; Ward (bruised left knee) has skated gingerly only twice since blocking a slap shot from Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Sami Salo on April 7.

Asked for an update, Oates didn’t have much to provide. “They made the team picture,” he said.

Oates said he hoped Ward would be able to skate Tuesday, but that’s not enough to ensure the 32-year-old right wing will be ready for game action.

“He’s got to be able to practice a couple of days and get his conditioning now. Obviously it’s been too long a time,” Oates said. “Feel pain-free and be able to skate.”

Laich has to be pain-free before he returns to the ice, Oates said last week. There is no time frame for the 29-year-old forward to return.

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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