Brooks Laich was standing near the Maple Leafs bench and hardly paying attention when his video tribute began. One of the officials noticed and tapped him on the shoulder, alerting him that he was on the big screen above the ice.
The longest-tenured Capital, at least before he was dealt to the Leafs late Sunday night, glanced up at the screen a few times, but it was the reaction from the Capitals bench that caught his eye. Every Capitals player was on his feet, whacking their sticks against the boards in applause of their 32-year-old former teammate.
“I wished the guys good luck,” Laich said. “I looked some of the guys in the eye and looked down the bench and wished them all good luck.”
Laich then turned toward the crowd and applauded the fans who meant so much to him during his 12 years in Washington.
And then he went back to playing hockey.
Laich logged 14:17 of ice time in the Leafs’ 3-2 loss to the Caps. More than four minutes of that ice time came on the power play, something he has not experienced in several seasons in D.C.
“It’s nice to get the offensive mind going again instead of being on the penalty kill where you’re always in that defensive mindset,” Laich said.
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Laich was impressed with the way the Leafs, who have eight players 23 years old or younger, hung in there with the NHL’s top team, fighting back from a 2-0 deficit before falling 3-2.
“This can be a very intimidating building and in the first period we didn’t shy away from it,” Laich said. “We held them down in shots. In the second period we started to build and you could see some frustration on their faces. It’s a big tribute to the way our kids played.”
Laich said there was not a lot of conversation on the ice with his former teammates.
“Some of the guys said hi. I kind of wanted to park that and focus on the game. We played a heck of a game and I didn’t want to get distracted.”
And with that, Laich’s first game back in Washington just three nights after he was traded was over. And instead of returning to his home just a short drive away, he boarded a plane for Toronto, where the Leafs will face the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night.