Brooks Laich bounded off the ice and into the Capitals dressing room like a Tigger on ice skates. Sidelined all season with a groin injury, the 29-year-old veteran greeted reporters with a smile and through the course of his interview it never left his face.
And since Laich enjoys talking about hockey almost as much as he does playing it, we thought we’d give you the full transcript from today’s post-practice scrum with the media:
How did it feel today?
Really good actually. I was either gonna come off and be in a good mood or it was gonna be a tornado. But I felt really good, I wasn’t hesitant. The strength felt pretty good. First time in a little while. I’ve skated the last couple of days just by myself, but to get back out with the team felt pretty good.
Is it safe to say some of that off-ice treatment actually worked?
It’s been a lot of work. You guys don’t see it. But it’s been a lot, a lot of work. It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. Physically it’s a lot of work, but mentally probably even more draining. 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. Hopefully I’ll be back out soon.
Where would you put your conditioning compared to how you are normally this time of year?
Well, usually at this time we’ve played, I don’t know, about 60 games. But I haven’t been able to do a whole lot of dynamic conditioning stuff. Just with the nature of the injury, the rehab that was set forth for me. But when I’m back in I’m gonna come in prepared. You can’t take some time to get ready. You got to hop in and sort of baptism by fire. So there’s gonna be no excuses. When I’m in I’m gonna be ready to play and hopefully that’s soon.
Can you put a timeframe on yourself yet?
We wanted to see how today went and then figure it out from here. But today was a huge step in the right direction. Something I’m really excited about. I think I feel like I’m getting close now. It’s just up to the training staff and the coaching staff when they feel that I can contribute and help the team win.
What’s this mean for you mentally, just to be on the ice with the guys again?
Oh – I was almost to the breaking point. 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.”
You’ve never been through this in your career.
Do you have an appreciation for guys who have gone through it and know how hard it is mentally?
Well, I never understood what it was like to miss games. I had played through a lot. But the things that I had played through were in my control. This one – I was so limited I wasn’t going to be able to do anything. And the injury really makes you get an appreciation for how much you enjoy the game, for myself. I remember my second year I was healthy scratched 6 games in a row and I talked to my dad on the phone and I was thinking about going and playing in a men’s night [league] just in Arlington just to be able to play the game again. And he said ‘No no – you can’t do that.’ It’s the same feeling now. I really enjoy playing the game and to not be able to do it, it takes a big toll on me. It’s a big part of my life and being a part of a team is a big part of my life. It’s a passion of mine to play hockey and when you can’t do it it’s really frustrating and causes you a lot of anguish, I guess.
Is it tough to gauge your progress when you’re not doing dynamic things on ice and taking contact?
Yeah, Mike [Green] and I have talked and I've talked to the guys that have had groin issues but they're all a little bit different. They don't follow the same path. But for myself, I needed to get off the ice. I was making such great strides off the ice that it was me that was saying, 'No, it's more beneficial.' I feel better doing my exercises off the ice, and that's gonna help me in the long run on the ice rather than being on the ice and being so tentative that I'm not getting anywhere and then just kind of plateauing. There's been, with the training staff and the coaching, so much talk and everything was planned. Everything was for a reason. This is my life is to play hockey, so everything – when I was at home I was thinking: 'Can I do something better? Is there a different way we can do it?' There was so much effort put in by other people, too, that I need to start playing so that I'm not taxing those guys so much. But it was a long, long recovery. It's still not over; we still have a ways to go. But it's been a long, long process: something I never, ever wanna go through again. Ever.
What changed after you were on the ice back on Feb. 16?
There comes a point where you can't kid yourself. You know if you're close or you're not. 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 gonna feel better on the ice if I'm feeling bad off the ice. 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 gonna be any good on the ice. But 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.
Was surgery an option for you?
I want to avoid [surgery]. If there was a surgery that could've helped and I could've been back in the end of January or early February we would've done it. But there wasn't. It was an option that ultimately was looked at later on. But there was nothing that could've been done that could've sped up the process. It's unfortunate that the process took this long, but that was the nature of the injury, and sort of knew that from Day One. I was hopeful that I could work through it a little quicker. But I've said it before: My own enemy was time. It's been a lot of work, though. I wouldn't wish this upon anyone. I wouldn't. I really wouldn't.
How do you look at this team’s chances in the second half?
I think Boston is the only team in the conference that's played less games than us, so I think we're starting to find our game. I think the first 15 games we were sort of trying to find it, and I think it's come a long way now. I thought we've played some great hockey; we had a little blip in the radar this weekend, but I think this team is very capable, if we can get a little more healthy, if we can get Mike back, if I can get back in the lineup and try and help, I really think we're gonna be a dangerous team. It seems weird to say it, but the second half of the season right now. But it's on us in here. It's not what other teams do. We have to take care of business in here, and no better way than to start with a win tonight.