As he stood in front of his locker on Thursday, Brooks Laich sounded like a man who honestly believes he will play again this regular season.
Or, in his words …
“I feel like I had chains around my body and now somebody just came and cut them off,” he said. “Now I’m free to move about in any direction at any time I want.”
Laich didn’t just say those words, he acted them out with sound effects. He hopped around reporters like a leprechaun and re-enacted how he can get out of bed without pain.
“It’s completely liberating,” he said. “That’s honestly how I feel -- mentally and physically liberated and free to get on with my hockey career and excel in the sport – not just participate.”
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For most, if not all of this season, groin pain limited just about everything Laich could do on the ice for the Capitals. In 51 games he managed just eight goals and seven assists and was a minus-7.
When Laich realized he could not make it back up the ice for a Vancouver Canucks goal against the Capitals on March 14, coach Adam Oates decided it was time to shut down his 30-year-old winger. Three days later, saying he needed something “nuclear” to remedy the problem, Laich underwent surgery in St. Louis by groin specialist Michael Brunt.
“To be honest, there was nothing else I could do,” Laich said. “I was actually going to try to play that game against Toronto [on March 16] but I couldn’t even get into the lineup I was in such a bad way. I was physically unable to help the hockey team, so that made my decision very easy.”
Laich said the procedure he had done to his right adductor was more invasive than the one he had last year. It was also more effective.
“I’m not a doctor,” he said. “I took Grade 9 health, but the poor man’s version of it is last year they made a couple little slits in some tendons to try to help it lengthen and to ease some tension off another [tendon].
“This year they did a full release on it. It’s a little more intrusive than the last one. This time I have immediate relief. At midnight, around nine hours after it was done, I was walking fine. Last year it took a couple months. I still haven’t had any of the pain I had before.”
Laich said he did not have the surgery earlier in the season because he was trying every means necessary to remain in the lineup. When Brunt told him no amount of rest or rehab would fix his problem, he elected to have the surgery.
Laich said he ran on the treadmill at 7 miles-per-hour on Wednesday, faster than the day before and faster than he’s run since first injuring his groin during the 2012 NHL lockout. He said he’ll skate on his own before Friday’s practice and methodically work his way back into game shape.
“I realize the gravity of the situation we're in [in the standings], but my goal is ultimately the longevity of my career,” Laich said. “This is something that's really hampered me the last two seasons, and not only my hockey career, but my life outside of the rink.
“I need to get back to being healthy and have this completely behind me, which I feel I'm on the track and then my body will tell me, 'OK, I'm very comfortable' and I can really push it and let's get back into the lineup. We take it day-by-day. I have my eye on the season, I'm still in hockey mode, but I can't guarantee anything today.”
Oates said he’ll need to se Laich participate in some practices before considering putting him back into the lineup.
“We have to be cautious about pushing him,” Oates said.