Not a day goes by where Washington Capitals
defenseman Brian Pothier
doesn't fight the urge to pinch himself.
It's a reminder to him how far he has come despite all the obstacles in his path -- from going undrafted and unsigned through college to overcoming his fourth concussion and earning a roster spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau
"There are times I'm walking down the street and I'll say to myself, 'Man, I'm going to practice in an NHL rink' " Pothier told NHL.com.
It wasn't long ago Pothier's dream became a little cloudy -- literally. He had just suffered the fourth concussion of his career in a January 2008 game against the Boston Bruins
and didn't even realize it.
"I had some issues with concussions in the past, so I knew what to expect and I knew right away that something wasn't quite right but I still went out and played another shift," he said. "When I got to the locker room, that's when it hit. I honestly didn't recognize anything, and that wasn't good."
Pothier knew he was experiencing post-concussion symptoms but what he didn't realize was that there were other health-related issues that needed attention.
"I had dizziness and thought it subsided after two or three months, but as soon as I started doing any activity, it would fire up again and, in retrospect, it wasn't the concussion that was the problem but my eyes," Pothier said. "It was like my eyes and my brain weren't communicating and what would normally happen in a millisecond, took me one-and-half to two seconds to process."
But the 32-year-old defenseman would persevere and work his way back into game shape before returning to the ice on Dec. 17, 2008, in full practice gear.
"The biggest obstacle for me was that first game with Hershey," he said. "We were up in Toronto and I was nervous the night before and didn't sleep well because I hadn't played in a while. But after those 60 minutes, I can honestly say I haven't thought about it since."
On March 16, he was recalled by the Capitals to face the Atlanta Thrashers
-- the team that signed him as a free agent nine seasons earlier right out of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He scored his first goal of the season three games later against the Tampa Bay Lightning
, prompting a huge ovation by the D.C. faithful.
In nine regular-season games, Pothier was credited with 9 hits and blocked 9 shots, a sign he wasn't coy about contact. He played 13 games in the playoffs and averaged 16:48 of ice time while notching 2 assists and a plus-1 rating.
"After going down last year with the concussion and then to come back the way he did was just amazing for all of us to watch," fellow defenseman John Erskine
said. "It brought everybody up and everyone has been happy for him. He never missed a beat."
Pothier, a key cog on the penalty-killing unit in Boudreau's system, would have it no other way.
"If I played with hesitation in my game, I'd end up worse, so I go out there and play with reckless abandon," he said. "I just kind of go and dive in there and whatever happens, happens."
Pothier was a workout fiend during the offseason and has admitted to feeling in the best shape of his career. He'll be out to prove it at the start of training camp.