PROVIDENCE, R.I. — On the surface, Abbotsford Heat forward Quintin Laing‘s numbers probably didn’t warrant a selection to the 2013 American Hockey League All-Star Game. Then again, anyone who judges Laing solely on his numbers is missing the bigger picture.
The 33-year-old was named as the captain of the Western Conference team by AHL President Dave Andrews, marking the first time the veteran of 653 AHL games has appeared in the event at all. But, even having posted only 12 points in 37 games this season, the honor was long overdue for someone whose contributions often don’t show up in the box score.
"I think the hockey minds you really want to impress don’t worry about the numbers," Laing said.
"They look at your intangibles and things you do off the ice and how hard you work in practice and how consistent you are every day…how many blocked shots you have and how many hits and how well you play defensively. There’s room for players to have good stats and there’s room for players like me that maybe don’t put up numbers that some guys do, but do a lot of other things to help the team win."
And no one will ever question Laing’s commitment on that end. The Harris, Saskatchewan native has been through a torn spleen, broken jaw and even the swine flu during his 13-year pro career. A legacy of blocked shots, strong defensive play and even strong leadership skills began in the ECHL all the way back in the 2000-01 season, when he began his pro career with the Jackson Bandits.
"I remember just the pro life, being on your own and being really far away from home down in Mississippi," Laing told ECHL.com.
"It was a new culture and a new country, and it took some getting used to. Just learning how to buy groceries and buy laundry and pay bills, basically be an adult. Then I got called up to Norfolk that year and got a taste of the AHL, so I knew what I had to work on and what I do up there. It was good to figure that out."
Laing tallied 37 points during his 60-game stay with the Bandits in 2000-01, compared to just one point in 10 games while with the Admirals. But the following season, the split ended up working in the opposite direction; Laing played in just 16 ECHL games while skating in 71 AHL contests, marking the last season he’d be any lower than just one step away from the National Hockey League until 2010-11.
"(Sticking in the AHL) was my goal," Laing said. "Our coach was really good about wanting me to move up and move on, and I wanted to do the same. I knew that I didn’t want to play in the (ECHL), I wanted to play in the AHL, that’s where the better competition was, so that’s where I wanted to play. Sixteen games into the year, I got called up to Norfolk and there was no going down in my mind."
After nearly two full seasons in the AHL with Norfolk, Laing finally got to live out his dream of suiting up for an Original Six team. It just wasn’t the Detroit Red Wings, who drafted him in the fourth round back in 1997. Instead, it was the Chicago Blackhawks, and Laing first put on their storied sweater on Feb. 29, 2004 at the United Center in a 2-2 tie against the Florida Panthers. For a player who took the long road to get to the game’s highest level, getting his first opportunity became all the more gratifying.
"It kind of does (become more gratifying), it makes you reflect maybe after the game or after you’re done. Like, ‘Holy cow, I just played my first National Hockey League game,’" he said.
"It was pretty exciting to put on a ‘Hawks uniform. Just to know where I’d come from, it was pretty satisfying."
Laing only skated in three NHL games with the Blackhawks that season, and ultimately wouldn’t get back to the NHL until 2007-08. He’d remained with the Admirals through the 2005-06 season, and was in his second campaign with the Hershey Bears when he caught a good break.
Until then, the thought had set in that perhaps he wouldn’t get back at all.
"I think it does cross your mind after a few years," he said. "As you get older, you need somebody on your side to help you along the way. Bruce Boudreau, when he got the coaching job in Washington after he got the call-up from Hershey, about a week later he called me up. That’s the kind of good fortune you need, you need somebody on your side to believe in you. He was the guy for me. When I went up, I did a good enough job where I could stay for a while."
Laing got into 76 more NHL games between the 2007-08 and 2009-10 seasons, but found himself without a contract the following year.
That’s when an ECHL return became necessary, albeit a brief one.
"I just needed to start playing, so Victoria offered me a spot and I went there," said Laing of his four-game stint with the Salmon Kings.
"Luckily, Abbotsford needed somebody right away. It was short-lived, but it was just a time where I needed to be playing games, and Victoria was there for me. It was (a weird feeling being back), but I just wanted to put my time and move on up as soon as possible."
Ever since then, Laing has become a stalwart for the Heat, and now finds himself in his third season with the Calgary Flames affiliate.
Although he’s still holding out hope for another return to the NHL, Laing was beaming with pride when talking about having the "C" stitched to his sweater during the All-Star festivities in Providence.
"It’s just a cool feeling out there to be a captain of a team, especially a captain of an All-Star team. I want to thank Dave Andrews for that honor; he picked me, and he called me and gave me the good news. I felt like it was a really neat experience for me, and I’m glad he picked me, because I’m having a great time with it on."