“It was just a tire, it was no big deal.”
Brooks Laich of the Washington Capitals, NHL, April 29, 2010
Call this a news rehash if you like, or a commentary, or a “slice of life” piece, but this is a story that has to be told and re-told and savored. It is a small story, but one that must put a smile on the face of the most hardened, cynical, and disillusioned citizens of the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan statistical area. You don’t even have to be a Washingtonian or a hockey fan to appreciate this.
Laich Stops to Help
The story begins with Capitals forward Brooks Laich driving home after the Washington Capitals’ crushing and season-ending loss to the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 in the 7th game of their first playoff round April 28th. Laich (pronounced “like”) saw a woman and daughter stranded on the side of the Roosevelt Bridge. The mom and 14-year-old daughter had attended the Caps game together at the Verizon Center and were on their way home to Ashburn, Virginia when their car hit a pothole hard and wrecked a tire. (Washingtonians will find this a very plausible scenario; some of our local potholes are like craters…) Laich, a 26-year-old forward from rural Saskatchewan finishing his fifth season in the NHL, scored the single goal earned by the Capitals in their losing effort. However tired or dispirited he must have been, he stopped his SUV on the side of the bridge to offer assistance to the stranded motorists.
Although the tall Canadian with close-cropped blond hair was wearing a full business suit, he was immediately recognized by Mary Ann Wangemann and her daughter Lorraine. Both ladies were still wearing their Capitals jerseys. Laich removed his suit jacket, asked if there was a spare tire, and spent about 40 minutes there on the side of the busy urban bridge late at night conducting a complex tire change for the grateful ladies. They had called the auto club, but had been told that call volume was heavy and no one might be available for quite a while. So even though the most they had hoped for was someone to stay with them for a bit until the auto club came, they were treated to an extended interaction with one of the Washington Capitals and a tire change.
Laich Apologizes for Caps’ Performance!
During this interaction, Laich apologized to the ladies for the Capitals’ losing performance! This is hysterical, considering that he actually scored the team’s only goal while the league hotshots Alex Ovechkin and Niklas Bakstrom were unable to get a single puck into the net despite 42 shots on goal. Ladies and gentlemen, I watched this game on television and it was the most amazing display of goaltending prowess imaginable by Jaroslav Halak. Laich’s goal was the one shot of the 42 that actually hit its mark; the other 41 were blocked.
Presently the tire change was complete and Laich sent the ladies on their way, cautioning them to drive slowly and listen for rattling noises. In response to their profuse thanks and offers of compensation, he simply suggested that they do something helpful for another person along the way.
Mary Ann Wangemann contacted the Washington Post with the story so that Brooks Laich could get public credit for his good deed. The Post reporter confirmed the story with the Capitals staff (who presumably checked with Laich). Needless to say, Lorraine Wangemann updated her facebook page instantly to inform all her pals that Brooks Laich had changed their tire on the Roosevelt Bridge.
In an interview the next day, Laich seemed mildly annoyed that the reporters were asking questions about his good deed, which he dismissed as “not a big deal.” However, he did grin when relating that the teenaged Lorraine was wearing a Semyon Varlamov jersey, although she told Laich repeatedly that he (Laich) was her favorite player. Varlamov is a talented young goaltender for the Capitals. This was a much needed light moment in the unremitting gloom of the post-season Capitals interviews.
Why it Was a Big Deal (or at Least a Medium-Sized Deal)
To state the obvious, Brooks Laich is a highly paid major league hockey player who does not need to change his own tires, much less those of random strangers by the side of the road. He had just experienced one of the most grueling and wrenching games of his career, survived the post-game media interviews, gotten himself showered and dressed in street clothes and onto the road home when he decided to stop to help. He could so easily have kept going and figured that someone else would stop, the AAA would come, or maybe the whole thing was a scam of some sort. (This is quite possible in the big city.)
Laich made a split second decision to do the right thing and help someone. No one believes he did this for any ulterior motive-publicity for himself or the Capitals, ego gratification, or compensation of any kind. Based on his demeanor in the interview the next day, he clearly viewed it as just routine. He said “We are all just people.”
So true, but after the amazing hubris and bad behavior of so many professional athletes of late, this simple act of kindness resonates. If I ever decide to buy a Capitals jersey, it will definitely have “LAICH” on the back.
“Brooks Laich Changes a Tire After Game 7,” in DC Sports Bog by Dan Steinberg in the Washington Post, April 29, 2010
Video of April 29 interview with Brooks Laich on washingtonpost.com
“ReCAPSule: Brooks Laich” by Mike Vogel on washingtoncaps.com