Ten months to the day since Brooks Laich last suited up for an NHL game, the Capitals forward took an important step in his recovery from the lingering groin injury that has sidelined him since November.
Tuesday morning, Laich took part in a full skate with his Capitals teammates for the first time since Feb. 16. He had been skating by himself for a few days but rejoining his teammates on the ice couldn’t have come at a better time for him mentally.
“I was almost to the breaking point. It was a lot of tough days, a lot of long, hard days mentally for myself,” Laich said. “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.”
Laich, 29, said he felt good after the workout and was hopeful that he would be able to continue skating with the team moving forward. As for when he might be ready to return to the Capitals’ lineup, Laich said that he and the athletic training staff wanted to see how he fared Tuesday before setting any target dates.
“Today was a huge step in the right direction. Something I’m really excited about,” Laich said. “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.”
Even with his renewed sprits and optimism, Laich made it clear his recovery is not yet complete.
“It’s still not over; we still have a ways to go,” he said. “But it’s been a long, long process: something I never, ever wanna go through again. Ever.”
Laich has missed the entire first half of the abbreviated NHL season with a groin injury that he originally suffered while playing in Switzerland during the NHL lockout.
He skated with the team regularly for roughly two weeks from late January to mid-February and was even cleared to take contact. At that point he appeared to be on the path to a return. But after skating on Feb. 16 in Arlington, Laich realized he wasn’t as close as he wanted to believe and decided to focus on strengthening the muscle with off-ice workouts.
“There comes a point where you can’t kid yourself. You know if you’re close or you’re not,” Laich said. “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,” Laich continued. “It was a learning experience for me to have to take a step back to go forward.”
Laich said he was able to see significant improvement with the off-ice workouts than he was when he was skating daily, and praised the efforts of Washington’s medical staff and athletic trainers. The toughest part of groin injuries is that how they respond to various treatments is different for every player, but Laich believes he found the correct formula for his own recovery.
“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.”