Ben Raby, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - Much has changed in the two years since Tom Poti last played for the Washington Capitals, but the veteran's passion for the game has never wavered.
Poti last played for the Capitals on Jan.12, 2011, when a nagging groin injury and broken pelvis forced him from the Capital's lineup.
The defenseman has since missed 143 games, but on Thursday at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Poti took part in an informal skate with 19 of his teammates as he attempts an improbable NHL comeback.
"I never wanted to give up," Poti told reporters Thursday. "Hockey is my passion and I still love it. I said to myself that I'm going to do everything possible to try to get back and try to get back on the ice and try to play and that's what I did the last two years."
Poti must still pass a physical before he can participate in next week's training camp, but the 35-year-old is confident that he has fully recovered.
"All I'm asking for is a chance," he says. "I don't want anything special, no handouts, no nothing. I just want to go out and play. And if they think I can play and think I can help the team then I'm willing to do whatever it takes."
While Poti was limited to just 21 games in 2010-11, he admits that he may have worsened his condition in trying to return to the lineup later that same season.
"I thought we had the team to do it all that year, so I kind of kept skating, kept myself in shape just in case we made a long run or something and they needed me," Poti says.
"I did more damage to myself by trying to come back that year than I should have. And my stubbornness kind of kept me from maybe playing last year. But you don't have many chances at the Stanley Cup, so it was kind of something I wanted to do and I don't have any regrets from doing it. But that definitely did set me back."
Poti failed his physical ahead of training camp in 2011, and remained at his home in Boston for the entire 2011-12 campaign. His rehab included everything from complete rest (four months without strenuous activity), to physical therapy and even acupuncture.
"It's good news and it's good for him that he's put all the work in," says General Manager George McPhee, who rewarded Poti two seasons ago with a two-year $5.75 million deal.
"I don't know if he's going to be able to play. If he can, that'd be great. I think it's a bit of a long shot, but if he can play, that'd be terrific. We wouldn't have any [salary] cap issues or anything like that, so that would be fine if he could do it."
"George has said all along that ‘if you could come back and play it would be great for us, it would be great for you' and they've never really closed the book on me and I appreciate that a lot," Poti added.
"It definitely helped to know that I had their backing and that they said that if you could get ready and play we'll make room for you. It was huge. I never closed the book on myself either. I could have stayed at home and collected a paycheck and been happy but hockey is what I love to do, it's in my blood and I want to play for as long as I can."
Elsewhere in the health ward
In addition to Tom Poti, Capitals forward Joel Ward is also coming back from offseason surgery. Ward underwent sports hernia surgery in July, but told reporters Thursday that he feels good and is anxious for the season to begin. "You can't worry too much," says Ward on playing in what should be an intense, lockout-shortened season fresh off surgery.
"I think you'll be a step behind if you worry too much. It's going to be very interesting to see how it goes the first couple of days. I think my adrenaline will be going and will take over for a fair bit and I'm just looking forward to getting back and playing. The only thing I never had really (since the surgery) was body contact and that's what I'm kind of looking forward to trying to get involved in, but everything else is good."
Ward had six goals and 18 points in 72 games last season and tied with Karl Alzner for the team lead with a plus-12 rating. He then netted the overtime game-winning goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Boston Bruins.
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