By Nicholas Carafa
A paintbrush to an artist is like hands to a hockey player. While a paintbrush is pretty one-dimensional, NHL hands are capable of crafting different forms of beauty – some score goals, others pound faces and some can discover completely new uses. For Brooks Laich, the longest-serving Washington Capital, it was the combination of AC/DC’s Money Talks and his inept ability to play air guitar at Ottawa Senators training camp that made him realize his hands could do more than just play with pucks.
“I was walking through the dressing room strumming away and one of the guys says, ‘Why don’t you buy a guitar? You’re always playing air guitar,’ ” Laich said. “That was the first time it popped in my mind, ‘Geez, I should buy a guitar.’ ”
It just worked out that one trainer’s father had arthritis and was looking to sell his father’s nine guitars. Just like that, an 18-year-old Laich bought his first guitar and taught himself how to play.
“I had a lot of time on my hands playing junior hockey,” Laich said. “I was out of school, so you had a couple hours before practice and then time after practice. I just had to learn the tablature and after that, you suck for about a month or two, but you pick it up pretty quick.”
The Ottawa Senators took Laich 193rd overall in the 2001 draft and traded him to Washington in 2004 for the Capitals’ all-time points leader, Peter Bondra. Four years later in 2008, the Caps introduced their “Rock the Red” slogan, which gave Laich the chance to live out one of his dreams: playing in a rock band. A promotional video had Alex Ovechkin as the lead singer, Mike Green on drums and Laich on lead guitar.
Those strumming hands have helped Laich register 291 points in 610 career games, 609 of them with the Caps. A Presidents’ Trophy in 2010 raised expectations, but the team faltered to Jaroslav Halak and the Montreal Canadiens in the first round. Laich and his teammates have never advanced past the Eastern Conference semifinal, but a lot has changed in The Federal City since he’s been there and the Capitals have evolved into a perennially competitive squad.
“When I was traded to Washington, it was more of a rebuilding process and we were kind of a doormat for a little bit, but we knew we’d wake up one day and be a good hockey team with the accumulation of young, good hockey players,” said Laich, a Wawota, Sask,. native. “We’ve went through a couple coaches and some tough times, but we’re starting to see maturity in some of our players. Nicklas Backstrom (just turned) 26 and he still has a great career ahead of him and ‘Ovi’ is starting to be a force on both ends.
“Hockey wasn’t really the main sport when I got here – it was football nation. The minor hockey in Washington has grown a lot due in large part to what our players like ‘Ovi’ and Mike Green do, but we still have a lot to accomplish. There’s definitely a feeling of unfinished business right now.”
Using his hands to hoist the Stanley Cup would settle that business. In terms of his musical resume, the 30-year-old center has more growing to do. Laich has now taught himself to play drums – but don’t expect him to be pick up a microphone anytime soon.
“I couldn’t sing to save my life.”