WASHINGTON — Brooks Laich returns to Verizon Center Wednesday night as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was traded late Sunday night after 12 years in a Washington Capitals uniform and was on the ice Wednesday morning for morning skate.
Walking into the visiting locker room at Verizon Center is one thing, but when takes the ice Wednesday evening, he knows there’s potential for a range of emotions.
“I don’t think it’s something you can really prepare for,” he said. “I have to focus that it’s a red jersey and not the other names. I know there’s going to be maybe a few emotions. I can’t let that get to me. I can’t run around. I can’t get too hyped up. I need to conserve some energy and just play the game.”
Laich had never expressed the desire to be traded, in fact he says he talked with Head Coach Barry Trotz and General Manager Brian MacLellan and explained that he wanted to be part of this Stanley Cup run that the Capitals are making.
So, needless to say when he found out, his emotions were all over the place, he says.
“First one is taken back a little bit,” he said. “You’re surprised, you’re shocked. It was definitely surprising to me.”
He still hasn’t spoken with MacLellan, who left Laich a voice mail about the trade. Laich actually found out another way — a notification on the phone of his fiancée, Julianne Hough.
“My fiancée was amazing through it,” Laich said. “She was by my side when I found out. The notification actually came on her phone, because mine was off. She gets the Caps updates on her phone so she’s the one who actually broke it to me.”
It has been a whirlwind for Laich as he played in his first game with the Leafs the very next day after the trade.
Laich says it hasn’t really sunk in yet that he is no longer a member of the Capitals, especially because of how he felt about this year’s club.
“Really the sense that we had with this year’s team was that there was something very special in the works,” he said. “I had conversations with management and told them I wanted to be part of it. Unfortunately it didn’t work out. I can’t sit here and dwell on it, can’t let it hang over my head. It’s tough to close that chapter, it really is, hopefully [Wednesday night] will help me do that.”
He will take with him the fact that he never got a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup in D.C.
Laich came here in 2004 in a trade for Peter Bondra, who had been with the Capitals for 14 years. A couple months later, the team drafted Alex Ovechkin and along with Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom, they had hoped to reach the pinnacle of the NHL.
“I have such an empty feeling that we never got the ultimate goal,” he said. “I really, before my time ended in D.C., really wanted to do it with Alex, really wanted to do it with Nicky, and really wanted to do it with Mike Green, who unfortunately wasn’t back this year. Those guys meant a lot to me. They really did. Very special people. Very special players… just tough to not be able to do it with them.”
Even though they didn’t accomplish their goals, the friendships will be there regardless of what city they call home, he says.
“Aside from [Wednesday night], I wish them the best. I really do,” he said. “They’ve had such a huge impact on my life and I’m so grateful and thankful for them. Not only as friends but as teammates, colleagues and I’ll always wish them the best.”
On Wednesday night, Laich returns in a different sweater, but will always have a special place in his heart for the people of D.C.
“Very thankful for the people of D.C.,” he said. “My teammates, the organization, the staff, the fans, my friends in the community and my neighbors. A huge, huge impact on my life, and I can’t thank everybody enough. The media, you guys have been great to work with. I hold the people in the city in the highest regard, I really do.”
The Caps fans will return the favor Wednesday night and show their appreciation of him as well.
Laich ranks eighth on the Capitals franchise games played list at 742.
Listen to the full interview with Laich: