Four scores and 33 hours ago, the Washington Capitals returned to their locker room inside TD Garden and turned Brooks Laich into Abraham Lincoln. He was given a black stovepipe hat and a fake black beard. He smiled for a photo. Thanks to his sacrifice that night, absorbing a missile of a slap shot to the knee during a 4-0 triumph, Laich had become the year’s first “Honest Abe Players’ Player of the Game.”
“I thought he looked pretty good,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “He actually looked like him.”
Post-victory honors are nothing new in the National Hockey League. The New York Rangers famously award a Broadway fedora. In Nashville, during the lockout-shortened 2013 season, Trotz’s Predators had a padlock and chain, and another year featured a workman’s saw. Former Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau offered a construction hard hat, a favorite among several teams for the down-and-dirty play it recognizes, and Troy Brouwer’s teams in Chicago bought a Wrestlemania belt inscribed with “Player of the Game.”
“Not necessarily the first star on the game sheet,” Brouwer said, “but the first star in our dressing room.”
And so, in their first season under Trotz, the Capitals’ leadership council decided upon the presidential garb, given for true “honest” work. In those precious, quiet moments before reporters barge into the dressing room, microphones out and cameras aglow, the players share their thoughts on the game, then choose the honor.
For Laich, his efforts killing a Bruins penalty became a teleport back to the 19th century, bought by defenseman Karl Alzner and gifted by captain Alex Ovechkin.
“I think it was Karl that got it all set up,” Brouwer said. “Probably [got it from] the dollar store, I’d say. I don’t know. The hat’s pretty nice, though. Hopefully we’ve got a case to keep that thing nice and shiny for the season.”
They wanted to relate the new tradition to Washington D.C., so what more appropriate ritual than dressing up like the nation’s 16th president, whose memorial can be seen on the drive from Kettler Capitals Iceplex to Verizon Center?
The hirsute honor, Trotz said, might seem silly to outside observers, likening it to handing a typewriter and press hat to whoever wrote the day’s best article. (For the record, this would be awesome.)
“It signifies players recognize achievements or things that happen,” Trotz said. “It’s not always the stat sheet. It’s the things the casual observer would say, this guy got a couple goals, four points or three points — a lot of times it’s given to something that happened in a game, sticking up for a teammate. Brooks Laich saw the commitment in blocking shots.
“You can have all the three-star selections and that. That’s great. But when you get it from your peers, that’s the most important thing. It’s one of those team things that everyone might think is silly if you’re not in the business.”
Laich notwithstanding, one could reasonably argue for goaltender Braden Holtby, who Saturday night became the first goaltender in more than a year to blank Boston in Beantown. But Holtby already sports a bushy beard, playoff-worthy in October. Not quite the iconic chinstrap of Lincoln, but close enough, right?
“He’s still got to put it on,” Brouwer said. “Maybe he could put it on for a moustache. Or eyebrows. I like that. Put it across the forehead for eyebrows.”
Given the timing of the award, handed out before the locker room opens and everyone undresses, imagine the prop beard’s evolving state in, say, late March.
“That’s gonna get gross, all the sweat in that towards the end of the year,” forward Michael Latta said. “I don’t want to get it.”