In November 2006, Capitals forward Brooks Laich, then in his second full NHL season, found himself a healthy scratch for six consecutive games. It drove him crazy, so much so that he considered playing in a men's league game in Arlington, Va., just to scratch his itch to play.
"I talked to my dad on the phone," Laich recalled Tuesday. "And he said, 'No no, you can’t do that.’ It’s the same feeling now."
And that was after missing two weeks.
More than six years later, Laich has missed the entire 2013 season to this point -- which, for the Capitals, enters its second half Tuesday against the Carolina Hurricanes -- with a groin injury and "was almost to the breaking point."
The 29-year-old, however, skated with his teammates prior to Tuesday's game for the first time in a month.
"It’s been a lot of work," Laich said. "You guys don’t see it. But it’s been a lot, a lot of work. It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. Physically it’s a lot of work, but mentally probably even more draining. I wouldn't wish this upon anyone. I wouldn't. I really wouldn't."
After stepping off the ice Feb. 16, Laich knew that he was "so far away from being able to play and to help the team win that the best thing for me to do was get away from the ice."
He understood that he needed to be functional doing mundane, everyday tasks such as rolling over in bed, getting out of a chair, and in and out of a car before he could even consider putting on skates again.
"I needed to get off the ice," he said, adding that surgery was an option that was considered, but ultimately decided against.
"I was making such great strides off the ice that it was me that was saying, 'No, it's more beneficial.' I feel better doing my exercises off the ice, and that's gonna help me in the long run on the ice rather than being on the ice and being so tentative that I'm not getting anywhere and then just kind of plateauing," he said. "It was a learning experience for me to have to take a step back to go forward."
Laich said Tuesday that he "still [has] a ways to go" and the plan moving forward is to continue skating. In the meantime, his teammates await his return.
"You miss his versatility out there," forward Troy Brouwer said. "He takes a lot of D-zone draws, a lot of PK time. He's able to put points up as well. He's one of those guys that every team likes to have and when's he not in the lineup, you miss 'em."
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.