– Brooks Laich
used to be like so many young hockey players growing up in the 1990s.
A poster of Sergei Fedorov
adorned his bedroom wall. When he played NHL '96 on his Sega Genesis, he always would be the Detroit Red Wings
, so he could make believe he was Fedorov.
So it's pretty justified Laich and the rest of the relatively young Capitals were walking on egg shells around Fedorov when he first stepped into the team's locker room after being acquired at the trade deadline for a defensive prospect.
"I wasn't sure how to handle it," Laich told NHL.com. "Here comes a legitimate superstar in the NHL for a long time who brings a huge persona with him. When he got traded and before he got here, I was talking to a couple of guys and we were like, 'Sergei Fedorov
is coming?' We weren't exactly sure how to handle it. Then he comes, you meet him, and he's just the nicest guy."
Fedorov, goalie Cristobal Huet
and winger Matt Cooke
were acquired by Washington General Manager George McPhee
on trade-deadline day, and they've all made huge impacts for this playoff hopeful. Just look at Tuesday night's 4-1 victory against Carolina.
Huet stopped 21 of 22 shots, Fedorov had two assists and Cooke scored the first goal. In that order, they were voted the three stars of the game.
"I was traveling (at the trade deadline) and actually called in and asked, 'How did we do?' " Caps owner Ted Leonsis recalled Wednesday morning. "George said, 'Oh, you haven't heard?' It wasn't lost on me that last night the three stars of the game were the three guys we got in trades at the deadline."
While Huet clearly has had the biggest impact on the ice with his 9-2 record and 1.75 goals-against average in a Washington uniform, nobody milling around the locker room at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex after practice Wednesday disagreed that Fedorov has been the most influential.
Fedorov is, after all, a superstar who nearly has won every trophy he's capable of winning, including three Stanley Cups with the Red Wings, a Hart Trophy, Selke Trophy, and the Lester B. Pearson Award.
"We just didn't have anybody of his ilk," said Caps coach Bruce Boudreau
, who thought it was a great idea when a reporter suggested Fedorov should bring his hardware and lay it out on the locker room floor for all the Caps to see and admire. "You can't measure how important he is at this time of the year to this group."
In this locker room, nobody can.
"That's the thing – he has won everything you can win in hockey, so when he says something guys really absorb it," Laich said. "Sometimes guys in the locker room will yell and say you have to do this and this and this, but when it comes from a guy that has done as much as Feds has, you really take it to heart and absorb it."
When the 38-year-old Fedorov left Columbus for Washington, the Capitals knew they were getting a veteran who still could have a major impact. However, they weren't quite sure what kind of personality he'd bring with him.
The one thing the Caps really lacked in the dressing room was an experienced voice on the ice. Fedorov has been every bit of that.
"You know, he does," defenseman Mike Green
said when asked if Fedorov talks a lot. "Even if he's just coming up to you one on one and giving tips, he is always talking to you. Any time he starts speaking up in the dressing room, everybody's ears perk up. He's been a big part of our success."
Boudreau also suggested that maybe Fedorov "has his enthusiasm back to play."
Said Fedorov: "Mentally, it's refreshing."
Laich, an up-and-coming center, especially has taken notice.
"I have been fortunate to play with some good players, but he is one of the players who has most impressed me," Laich said. "First and foremost with how humble he is, how down to earth he is, and how open he is to a young guy like me who wants to approach him and ask him about the game. He likes that relationship, where as some older guys sometimes aren't so suitable to that."
And on the ice?
| "He has won everything in hockey, so for us, a young team, to have that kind of player is important." - Alex Ovechkin on Sergei Fedorov
"He is a calming presence," Laich said. "He never loses his temper, never flies off the handle. If somebody has a bad shift he just talks to them and says, 'You know we can do this better, that better.' Coming from a veteran guy, it's something that this team really needed."
It's obvious just by hearing him praise Fedorov that Alex Ovechkin
also has been affected by the older Russian's presence.
When Ovechkin was growing up in Russia, Fedorov was dominating the NHL in Detroit. Ovechkin doesn't claim Fedorov was his idol, or even one of his favorite players, but they have great respect for one another and have fast become friends.
Ovechkin took Fedorov out for a sushi dinner as soon as he got to Washington. They discussed the Capitals' systems while eating raw fish.
"He has won everything in hockey, so for us, a young team, to have that kind of player is important," Ovechkin said. "He makes good assists. He can score goals. He's great. He's just great."
Fedorov has a goal and nine assists in the 16 games he's played as the Capitals' second-line center on a line with Alexander Semin
and Cooke, but his personality transcends. That is what matters most to this team as it continues an uphill push toward a surprising appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I mean, he's an older guy that has been in the League for so long and he still plays harder than anyone out there," Green said. "A guy that is working his (tail) off and he's the oldest guy on the team, you follow him. He's been outstanding."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.