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Courageous Laich makes the net his own bank, bakery

by Dan Rosen /
The quote is legendary in Washington D.C. media circles.

"If you want money, go to the bank," Capitals forward Brooks Laich said two seasons ago. "If you want bread, go to the bakery. If you want goals, go to the net."

Laich quietly is carving out a career as a solid scorer in the NHL by doing exactly that, but it's hardly an easy place to do your business.

"If it was an easy thing to do there would be an awful lot of 30-goal scorers in the NHL," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said, "and there isn't."

There isn't because it takes special will and incredible courage to go to the net, especially when you're standing there trying to screen the goalie when its Alex Ovechkin or Mike Green firing hard and heavy one-timers from the point.

Pucks slam into your feet, your shins, your inner thighs. Sometimes you have to duck out of the way so the puck doesn't crash into your face. All the while defensemen and the goalie, are taking liberties on your body with their sticks and gloves.

Some would say you're crazy to play there, basically right in front of the firing line, but Laich, who seems incredibly sane and down to earth, actually finds it -- gasp! -- fun.

He's scored most of his 68 career NHL goals within 10 feet of the goalie, including 25 on the power play. He's on pace for a career-year this season since he already has 9 goals, 5 of which have come on the power play.

"Quite frankly, I don't understand why more guys don't do it," Laich told of getting to the net. "For me, it's a fun battle and a fun place to play and usually you get rewarded when you do it. Sure you take a hack and a whack, but that motivates you and gets you angry so you want to be more successful in front there. I've had luck doing it so I'm not going to change."

Laich said he doesn't pattern his game after anyone in particular, but as a youngster in tiny Wawota, Sask., he marveled at the play of Dino Ciccarelli and Dave Andreychuk.

Those two did a lot of damage in front of the net during their careers, but also had soft hands and enough skill to use them. Andreychuk finished with 640 goals and Ciccarelli capped his career with 608.

"You don't think of a Dino Ciccarelli as a real talented guy, but the guy scored 600 goals, and Dave Andreychuk, too," Laich said. "It's an underrated skill to be good in front of the net and have good hands in front of the net."

Laich said he's not like Detroit's Tomas Holmstrom, one of the game's greatest net-front players, because he's not stationary. He goes into the corners to get the puck and moves around in front of the net to make sure he's in proper screening position.

Laich tries to read the shot just as a goalie would so he knows where to position himself for the proper screen and perhaps even deflection if the shot is just right.

"Most of my goals are kind of from craftiness around the net, finding pucks," Laich said. "A lot of people say it's just net crashing, but I think it's a skill, an ability. Sidney Crosby scores his goals around the net. You need feistiness but also need to be able to read a play. Guys position themselves well to get an opportunity."

Positioning becomes a challenge when defensemen engage you. Laich, though, said he thrives on battles with blueliners. Even in practice he enjoys the pushing and shoving with his own teammates.

"I smile when I get into battles," Laich said. "I like playing against good D-men because it's a good challenge. It's fun when they box you out and you can't get to the net because you get frustrated and you want to beat them so bad and it gives you more drive."

Laich's style also makes it easy for him to self-evaluate.

"If you look at the game of hockey, for the puck to go into the net it has got to come to the net. So everything at one point or another is going to come to the net. To give yourself the best chance to score, go there."
-- Brooks Laich

"Sometimes I find that I'm standing too far out and then I get frustrated with my game and then I feel I'm not being effective, I'm not being a tough person to play against," he said. "Having been on the other side of it (in the defensive zone), I know what is frustrating to play against and I think that helps me in the offensive zone."

Laich has been this way for as long as he can remember. He wasn't blessed with an Ovechkin-like slap shot or one-timer, so he had to find other ways to score.

He had to have guts.

"It takes a lot of courage and it takes a different kind of guy," Boudreau said. "Brooks is one of those guys that love to score and he knows for him to score he's got to get those goals there. And he does. He's very good at it."

And, yes, he takes a beating.

One time in Boston he needed stitches after a Chris Clark wrist shot caught him in the face. Laich laughs it off now as part of his job description.

"Off the legs is fine," Laich said. "Off the ear, that's another question."

Laich gets most of his bruises in the area between his legs, near his groin. Hockey pants only provide so much padding there, and it's not nearly enough when you take a hard slapper in the area as you leap to either screen the goalie or deflect the shot.

For Laich, the pain is at least bearable because the results usually are rewarding.

"If you look at the game of hockey, for the puck to go into the net it has got to come to the net," Laich said. "So everything at one point or another is going to come to the net. To give yourself the best chance to score, go there."

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