Brooks is Here

I made my first trip from my home in Baltimore to Ashburn, Va. today, and managed to make the 75-mile trek in just under two and a half hours. Washington Capitals center Brooks Laich also made his first trip to Ashburn this morning. It took him about two days to make the journey from his home in Wawota, Saskatchewan.

A handful of Capitals have already started informal skating sessions at Ashburn, playing pick-up hockey among themselves. Laich pulled into town early this morning, and joined a handful of his teammates on the Ashburn ice surface.

“I drove the last two days,” he says. “I was about an hour away this morning, and I got up early and made the hike in here so I could make the skate.”

Laich and Kris Beech centered the top two lines for the Hershey Bears during their run to the Calder Cup championship last spring. When the Capitals officially convene training camp in Ashburn next week, Beech and Laich will be vying for the No. 2 center spot left vacant when Jeff Halpern signed with Dallas in July.

“I don’t know if it puts pressure on me, but I look at it more as an opportunity,” he says. “With Jeff leaving, that leaves a big hole there for the No. 2 spot. I worked hard all summer and had that in mind. I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t have that in my [sights]. Hopefully I’ll have a good camp and get the opportunity to expand my role.”

Laich did not look road weary. He showed some jump and some speed in the Thursday morning pick-up session, and was one of the last to leave the ice. At one point in the proceedings, he unleashed a sharp wrister from the faceoff circle that beat Olie Kolzig up high.

Last September, Laich didn’t get much of a sniff during camp. He was among the earlier cuts, but was determined that he would not linger long in AHL Hershey. After a swift start with the Bears, Laich was summoned to Washington on Oct. 25.

Although he returned to Hershey to briefly fortify the Bears’ roster on a couple of occasions afterwards, Laich played in all 73 of Washington’s games after his initial recall. That he was never a healthy scratch in his rookie NHL season speaks well of his work ethic and the coaching staff’s opinion of his performance.

He averaged 11:13 a night with the Caps, totaling seven goals and 21 points. As soon as the Caps’ season ended, he rejoined the Bears and was a key cog in Hershey’s march to its ninth Calder Cup title. He scored eight goals – including several key markers – and totaled 15 points in 21 postseason tilts. Laich finished tied for 15th in the AHL in playoff scoring.

This fall, Laich is taking nothing for granted. He’d love to settle in and get a place of his own, but first things first.

“I’m staying with [teammate] Dainius [Zubrus] for the next week until training camp,” says Laich. “Then we’ll see how training camp goes. Hopefully I’ll get told by coach to get a place a little earlier than December like it was last year. But for now, I just want to get the legs under me and I’m excited to be back at it.”

After playing in 104 games last season, more than any other player in the Caps’ organization, Laich enjoyed a brief summer. The Bears clinched the Cup in Milwaukee on June 15, and Laich is back at it less than three months later.

“Yeah, this is definitely the shortest [summer], by a month or three weeks,” he says. “But shortest equals the best. It means we did well last year. We had a great finish there in Hershey after the NHL season was done. It was a great finish in Hershey going all the way, an unbelievable experience. I’m not going to complain about the length of the summer one bit.”

The 23-year-old pivot has youth on his side, plus that work ethic I mentioned earlier. Last June, with the battered Bears just one win away from the title, Laich summed things up perfectly as the Bears prepared for the Cup-clinching game in Milwaukee.

“We have two months, two and a half months after that to rest,” he declared on that day in mid-June. “Everyone is tired; everyone is banged up a little bit. I think we’re running on fumes, but we’ve got a maximum of two games left in the season. I think we can suck it up here.”

The two and a half months has done him good, and now he’s ready to prove that he not only belongs in the NHL, but he is capable of assuming a larger role with more responsibility.

“I feel good,” he says. “After the season was over, I went back and took a week or so off to recharge the batteries. Then I got back in the gym. I’m here a week early so it means I’m excited to be here, excited to be back down and see the guys, get skating and get this year underway.”

He’s not the only one.

DC Nuggets: Richard Zednik also made his first appearance at the Caps’ informal skate/scrimmage sessions on Thursday. Three or four more Caps were expected to arrive in town later in the day on Thursday, and could be on the ice Friday.

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3 Comments on “Brooks is Here”

  1. Marcin Zawacki Says:

    Hey Mr. Vogel. I just read your blog.. Good stuff. im glad to see i will get some regular coverage about the caps training camp.. Lord knows i cant rely on the papers around her.

    Also.. Take 70 from Baltimore to Leesburg and then from Leesburg to Ashburn.. You will get there in WAY under 2 and a half hours. But dont take it when all of Maryland is driving to work in VA. it will take WAY OVER 2 hours.

  2. dumpnchase Says:

    Thanks for writing, Marcin. I should have noted that it was a fluke that made the trip take two hours that day; an accident in the middle of Baltimore city. The commute has been better since, and I love driving anyway. That said, I have consulted with Rand McNally for alternate routes, just in case.

  3. Kolson Says:

    Laich’s family hails from Wawota, Saskatchewan, not Manitoba.


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