There were times as he worked to recover from a fractured pelvis and chronic groin problems that Capitals defenseman Tom Poti wondered if he would ever play in the NHL again.
He wasn’t the only one. Back in January 2012, Washington General Manager George McPhee suggested that Poti might never be able to recover from his injuries to the point where he could return to professional hockey. But Poti didn’t want to give up.
“I wanted to play, I still had the passion inside me,” Poti, 36, said. “I wanted to do everything I could to get back. 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.”
That is why the Washington chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association has nominated Poti for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”
This has been far from an easy season for Poti, even after making his unexpected and dramatic return to the Capitals. He’s played in just 16 games this year and dealt with neck and back injuries, but even as he’s been healthy for more than two weeks, Poti still hasn’t cracked the lineup because of Washington’s recent run of success.
“He’s been very professional about the fact that he’s not playing,” Coach Adam Oates said. “He’s had a tough go of it obviously coming off injuries and coming back trying to see where he’s at and he’s been great about it. We’ve won a lot of games and we’re not changing our lineup. He’s just been a true pro every day.”
Poti acknowledged that while it hasn’t been a fairytale return to the NHL, there’s still no better place to be. And he’s well aware that teams often need defensive depth in the postseason.
“A bad day in the NHL is a good day anywhere else. Just keep working hard and maybe I’ll get a chance,” Poti said. “Anything can happen. There’s obviously a lot of injuries and you need a lot of guys come playoff time, so if you’re going to go for a deep run, you’re going to need a lot of guys. I’ve just got to try to stay ready, as ready as I can.”