Ben Raby, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - If Tom Poti's first professional hockey game in more than two years is any indication, the 35-year-old's attempt at an NHL comeback could be the Capitals' early season feel good story.
Poti, who last played with the Caps on Jan.12, 2011, was loaned to the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League Sunday morning for a conditioning assignment. By Sunday night, Poti had not only suited up in the Bears' 5-0 win over the Connecticut Whale, but the veteran defenseman had a power play goal and three shots on goal to boot.
"He was a consummate professional in how he managed his game," Bears head coach Mark French told reporters in Hershey.
"I thought he was very efficient, he avoided contact and you can see his overall skill level, so I thought it was a very successful comeback for him."
Poti has missed the Capitals' last 143 games due to a groin injury and a broken pelvis, but the veteran of more than 800 NHL games returned to the Kettler Capitals Iceplex last week and declared himself healthy. His passing the team's mandated physical on Saturday was all the proof he needed.
"The last week-and-a-half to two weeks, I've had no pain at all and I've kind of been able to do everything out there that I've wanted to do on the ice," Poti said Thursday at KCI.
"It's just a matter of me getting comfortable out there on the ice again kind of getting the rust off.
Under the new collective bargaining agreement, Poti can spend up to 14 days in the minor leagues on a rehab assignment. The Bears play four games from Jan. 13-20, including the AHL's Outdoor Classic on Sunday, Jan. 20 against the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins at Hershey Park.
"I think I'd be alright just kind of jumping in," said Poti.
"Sometimes it's better, as I've experienced in the past, to just throw yourself into the fire- you learn quicker that way and you kind of get used to things better… This will be a big test for me and I'll be up to the challenge."
Based on his play in his first game with Hershey it's safe to say that Poti's comeback is off to an impressive start. The Bears next play Wednesday night in Poti's hometown of Worcester, MASS. The feel good story might just be getting started.
While Poti saw game action in Hershey, 24 of his Capitals teammates took to the ice in Northern Virginia for day one of training camp.
Brooks Laich was the only player from the Caps' active roster that did not take part in the first on-ice session under new head coach Adam Oates. Laich is sidelined with a groin injury he suffered while playing in Switzerland during the lockout. He was not prepared to give a time frame for his return.
"I'm waking up each day very hopeful," Laich said.
"I can't expand any on that. It's disappointing not to be out there. Obviously, there's a lot of excitement here [on day one of training camp]. It's disappointing not to be on the ice, but I wake up each morning hopeful and we'll take it from there."
Laich had 16 goals and 41 points while playing all 82 games last season. The versatile forward has made a habit throughout his career of playing through pain and has missed just four games total since the start of the 2007-08 season.
"For me, it's great personal pride to play and practice every day," he said.
"That's something that I learned from my parents and it's something I really take to heart. That is a disappointment, and obviously, there's a new system and new faces. I want to get to know them and they want to get to know me, and that plays into it too, but for me, I feel it's my duty to play and practice every day."
More mojo on top line:
Marcus Johansson was in an enviable position on day one of training camp skating alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the team's top line. Not bad for the 22-year-old Swede who was a healthy scratch on opening night last season.
"I've known for a while that I was going to play with them," said Johansson.
"I played with both Nicky and Ovi last year too, so it's nothing new. We just have to go out and play our game and hopefully we can get some results…Those are fun guys to play with and play some offensive hockey- just keep your stick on the ice and get the puck."