Brooks Laich always played through whatever bumps, bruises and even the more severe ailments that popped up. He simply refused to be sidelined or miss any significant amount of time.
But for the first time in his eight-year NHL career, Laich can’t will himself back into the Washington Capitals’ lineup. The groin injury he suffered in November while playing in Switzerland during the lockout lingered, leading to an arduous recovery process that is testing his resolve.
“It’s been the hardest thing I think I’ve ever gone through in my hockey career,” Laich said Saturday. “There’s a lot of injuries you can play through and I’ve played through a lot in my career. But a lot of those are just about handling the pain, but you are still able to be effective if you can control the pain. The injury that I currently have is a little different than that. If I was on the ice, I wouldn’t be effective for our team; I wouldn’t be able to help our team win.”
No matter how badly he wants to play, being a liability for the Capitals on the ice is not an option for Laich.
“I would never go out on the ice if I was going to be detrimental to our team. I would never try and play through an injury when I would be subtracting from our team. That is too selfish,” Laich said. “Right now I would love to play, but I can’t physically help our team win. I’m doing a disservice actually by playing. So that’s why it’s really difficult….It’s not an injury that questions how tough you are. It’s very limiting, and it’s been very frustrating.”
Laich began skating with his teammates regularly on Jan. 31 and just this past week the utility forward was cleared to take contact in practice. Despite the progress, it’s clear Laich still has a way to go in his recovery. In recent practices when he tries to make a hard stop, he grimaces and immediately begins loosening up his legs.
Coach Adam Oates suffered two groin injuries as a player and knows how frustrating they can be. There’s no way for a player to gauge how they will feel from one day to the next or how far they can push themselves when trying to ramp up physical contact without risking additional injury.
“That’s a huge, huge moment for any player when he’s coming off an injury is ‘When can I go to that next gear?’” Oates said. “We’ve told him to be precautious on it.”
Laich said he hasn’t considered surgery, that “we’ve never explored that route”. At this stage, Laich is trying to remain positive as he inches forward in his recovery process. After trying to put a timeline on his rehab earlier this season and missing the mark, Laich isn’t setting a target date for when he would like to return.
“I’ve already done that numerous times and it hasn’t happened. So now I think if you do that and you don’t hit it, you go through unnecessary frustration,” Laich said. “So I’m trying to just be positive every day and make each day a good day rather than circling something and hoping to get there, or forcing something to try and get there when it’s not right. It’s been a learning experience. This is something that I haven’t had a lot of control of, and it’s been really, really taxing and frustrating to me.”