Quintin Laing and the broken jaw
As soon as that Michal Rozsival shot slammed into his face last month, Quintin Laing knew something was wrong. The momentum of the contact sort of spun him around, and Laing tried to bite down to make sure everything was ok inside his mouth. And what did he find?
"My teeth were all moved over," he said. "I bit down, and it was like. 'Your teeth aren't supposed to be like that.' The bottom teeth were moved over."
Yeah. You know how, when you bite down, your teeth sort of fit together in that little groove? For Laing, the high points of his teeth were hitting each other.
Now, bear in mind that Laing also called the impact of puck-on-jaw "shocking" and "just unbelievable," and then read what was going through his mind when I asked about the pain.
"Actually, I was more angry because I knew it was broken, I knew I was gonna have to miss some games, and the thought of that hurt more than the jaw," he told me on Thursday. "Just the fact that I knew something was bad, I knew it was probably broken, I knew I'd have to miss some time--that makes me upset more than anything. That's the first thought that came into my mind."
Did it actually hurt? Well, yes, it actually hurt, too.
"He's willing to put himself on the line, his body on the line, and willing to take extreme pain for the betterment of the team," teammate Matt Bradley said. "There's not too many guys who are willing to do that. I mean, how about we go out there, I'll take a slapshot at your face and see if that's extreme pain or not."
Offer declined, thanks. Still, this utter disregard for his body--which also left Laing with a torn spleen a year ago--seems nuts to us, right?
"To most people, what he does is crazy, but crazy in a good way," Bradley said. "I mean, crazy in a way that everyone wishes they were that brave, you know?"
This beating Laing has taken has been sort of a way of life. He never had any serious injuries growing up with the game, but during his second exhibition game in juniors, when the masks went away, he took a hit from behind, slammed his face into the top of the ledge of the players box, and was knocked unconscious. He broke his nose and his orbital bone, and missed five weeks.
Several years later, when he had started his pro career with the Norfolk Admirals, he leaped over another player, tripped and fell, landed on the back of this other player's skate, and had six teeth knocked out. During some of ensuing months of the dental work, there was an exposed nerve that couldn't be frozen, and so at one point a dentist was drilling directly onto the nerve.
"It was a white, cringing pain," Laing recalled. "Just shoots of pain through my whole body. The teeth was definitely the worst."
This latest incident was actually the second time Laing had his jaw broken, but the first time he needed it to be wired shut, which he called "a whole new depressing experience." He could only eat blended up foods through a straw, but he's a pro athlete, so he was trying to ingest 3,500 liquid calories a day so he could keep training to return.
"When you're not allowed to eat during the day, the days seem a lot longer," he said. "It's just kind of the same thing every day, the same shakes. It gets old really fast. Actually my wife just made shakes and she just stuck them in front of my face and said drink this. She kept track of the calories. Most mornings it was oatmeal with some banana, yogurt, protein and milk. For lunch it was soup, then another protein shake. Dinner was more soups, maybe mixed in some Alphagetti, like ABCs in a can."
Just to be clear, this was blended Algphagettis, pureed into a liquid state and ingested through a straw jammed underneath his front teeth, sucked down to keep his calorie count up. Still, Laing started skating almost immediately and was losing too much weight, so he had to take some days off from skating and just work out so would be able to preserve his playing weight. The wires came off a few days ago, but he still has to wear rubber bands when he's not eating or skating.
Laing has watched the clip a few times, breaking it down frame-by-frame, trying to figure out what he did wrong. He said Rozsival was trying to shoot the puck wide of the net, which he didn't realize at the time, which is why his face wound up in the wrong place. Which still brings us back to the question of why. Why is he doing this to his body?
"I mean, the chances of you getting hit [in the jaw] are pretty slim," he said. "There's that chance, but I don't think about that at all. I've done it long enough where I've kind of learned to turn my head and time it, but every now and then the D-man will hesitate and shoot wide or something and I think that's what happened. You can't control that. You just hope it doesn't happen again."
Not everyone, though, would take such a cavalier attitude.
"There's guys that wouldn't want to pay that price," Coach Bruce Boudreau told me. "See, Quint is never gonna score 50 goals. He's never gonna lead the league in majors. He's never gonna be the best in everything. But he's the consummate team player. He'll do whatever it takes to win. Now, if he's out on the ice and it's a situation where he has to block a shot, he'll have no fear to block that shot. And he thinks of the consequences later. He doesn't think of them at time. There are certain individuals in sports that think, 'Whoooo, hoooo, that's gonna hurt, I'm not gonna do that.' "
Boudreau said he grimaces "every time [Laing's] out there," and Bradley said the same.
"All the time, for sure," Bradley said. "The way he dives in front of pucks? He jumps in front of them with disregard for his own body in order to save a goal or block a shot. There aren't too many guys who do that."
Bradley said he's also told Laing he's crazy, and Laing said when he takes pucks high, he hears the same thing from his "aunties and uncles" and his mom, who asks him to please be careful. "What are you thinking?" is the most common question, but he said he isn't.
"I don't know, it's just more reaction: Stopping the puck," Laing explained. "I don't really think how to do it. Just whatever has to be done, you've got to do it."
I also tried to figure out whether Laing has a different pain threshold than your average athlete, but it's sort of an impossible question.
"If something hurts me like that, and it's going through the same veins and everything in you, it probably would hurt the same, but who's willing to mentally block that pain out more?" Boudreau asked. "I think Quint's will is better than most, and his desire is better than most."
"The way I play, I kind of get a lot of bumps and bruises and you learn to deal with that," Laing said. "And throughout the years your body kind of maybe gets numb to the pain a little bit more than other guys. Maybe, I guess."
I told him that the way he plays has endeared him to fans, which other reporters have also mentioned. He seemed to think that was amusing.
"I just wish I wouldn't have to miss games because of it," he said.
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