Caps' Quintin Laing Overcomes Spleen Injury, Is Eager to Earn Roster Spot

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 18, 2009

Quintin Laing is tough, like most hockey players. He's missing most of his front teeth and he routinely sacrifices his body by throwing himself in front of 90-plus mph slap shots.

So when the checking-line winger began feeling lightheaded last March in his first game back from a knee injury, he stayed on the ice. A dull pain spread across his abdomen and his shoulder went completely numb, but he finished the game, skating 15 shifts in the Washington Capitals' 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Laing was hurting, but he didn't know he had suffered a potentially life-threatening injury until he was whisked to Tampa General Hospital later that night.

His spleen was torn in three places.

"I didn't say anything because it was my first game getting called up," Laing recalled this week at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, where he's battling to earn a spot on Washington's opening night roster. "I didn't want to whine or anything like that."

Chances to play in the NHL don't come around every day for players like Laing -- in fact, it was his first time wearing a Capitals uniform since the end of the 2007-08 season -- so this latest injury hurt twice as much.

"It was so hard when I got hurt, to swallow that I missed out on a chance by being hurt for the [playoff] run," said Laing, who was drafted in 1997 but has only 43 NHL games on his résumé. "I knew they had a great team and a chance to win the Stanley Cup. Missing out on that was tough to take."

After spending four days in the intensive care unit, Laing returned to the Capitals' American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey, Pa., facing three to four months of recovery. Doctors told him not to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk and to not even think about returning to the rink until July.

Three to four months, however, ended up being eight weeks. Laing rejoined the Bears' lineup in late May and helped Hershey secure a berth in the Calder Cup final, which the Bears captured in six games over Manitoba.

"It was the best feeling of my hockey career," he said of winning his first AHL title. "It made my decision to come back worth it."

Laing hopes to achieve another milestone later this month in Washington. With Eric Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann ailing, Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau has said there could be at least one opening for a player such as Laing to seize a spot on the team's opening night roster.

"If we end up needing a fourth-line, third-line type guy, it probably does" go to Laing, Boudreau said. "We've got six games to shake it all out."

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