Brooks Laich and the face that launched a thousand quips

By Dan Steinberg
Friday, March 26, 2010

While the newspaper industry remains in trouble, one of its enduring charms is the relative lack of facial injuries requiring multiple stitches suffered by its employees. Unless and until they write something about Urban Meyer's quarterbacks, I suppose.

Not every industry can make such a claim. The hockey-playing industry, for example. Hence, Brooks Laich sitting out two consecutive games, as his face healed from an unexpected collision with a hockey puck during Tuesday's practice.

"He's a young buck; he isn't cut up too much yet," the asymmetrically-faced Mike Knuble said while discussing Laich's new facial geometry. "You don't have a career in the NHL until you break your face once."

Neither Laich nor the Caps are confirming this as a broken face, "a lot of bruises and sutures," said Coach Bruce Boudreau.

"I expected worse," Eric Fehr said. "He's starting to look like a hockey player. He looks good."

"It looks better than it is, I think," John Carlson said. "I don't know, I'm not a doctor."

"There goes my modeling career," Laich cracked.

"It's not a pretty face," Boudreau said. "And it was a pretty face."

Carlson's shot actually hit the crossbar first before pinging Laich's cheek, and several players noted that this isn't an unprecedented sort of injury. Pucks that hit crossbars seem magically drawn to nearby foreheads, in the same way that dirtied presidential hands seem magically drawn to nearby shirts.

Two years ago, Sabres winger Ales Kotalik needed about 20 stitches in his forehead after teammate Paul Gaustad's shot during warm-ups blasted off the crossbar and into his face.

"The cut was almost down to my skull," Kotalik told the Buffalo News.

Pavel Brendl once took a practice puck off the crossbar and into his noggin, requiring 11 stitches above his left eye. A minor leaguer named Ken Boone ate a puck off a crossbar during warm-ups, earning six stitches on his lip. Mark Messier scored eight stitches on his forehead after getting beaned off the crossbar during a game. A quarter-century ago, a winger named Kevin Maguire was called up by the Maple Leafs, promptly took a shot off the crossbar into his brow, needed 20 stitches and missed the game he had been called up to play in.

"Definitely not the first time I've seen it," Carlson said. "Actually, my first day wearing a visor I got high sticked, got 10 stitches in my face, just in practice. Little things like that happen, and it's no harm no foul really."

Ten stitches isn't harm? If LeBron James were ever touched hard enough to require 10 stitches in his face, the official's whistle would stop traffic in Bishkek.

"It's unfortunate, but it's what happens," agreed Knuble, who pointed to at least two spots in his head that had required plates. "That's why you don't go near the net too much in warm-ups. . . . Guys are skating around the net, close to the net, and they're ripping it, trying to put it right up in the joint. That's a sorry way to go down, by friendly fire."

Boudreau said if this were the playoffs, "we'd probably find a way to play" his second-line winger. The coach originally joked that he was going to send Carlson down to the minors, but the rookie seemed to feel enough remorse as is.

"I talked to [Laich] after it happened," Carlson said. "It's just unfortunate, but it happens in hockey. There's numerous times that everyone's like, 'Whoa, that just rang right by my face.' It happens. And obviously I feel bad about it, but it's part of the game."

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