Defenseman Brian Lashoff is making noise this season by playing to his strengths.
Story and photo by Mark Newman
Brian Lashoff enjoys playing the blues, but he has no interest in singing them.
When the young defenseman reported for training camp this past fall, he was anxious to put last year behind him. He had no desire to turn a frustrating season of shoulder and ankle injuries into a refrain.
“I don’t think I’ve ever gone through a year like that,” Lashoff said. “I can look back at it now because I came out of it in a good way. I got physically stronger and mentally tougher.”
Not being able to skate might have made him a better guitar player – he’s been plugging in an electric guitar since he was 11 – but it put him no closer to his dream of playing on the NHL stage.
Limited to 37 games a year ago due to injuries, Lashoff added a few pounds and trained with his older brother Matt, a defenseman in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ system, in an effort to get bigger and stronger.
At age 21, he is still a raw talent, but he’s no less motivated to prove all those scouts wrong.
Passed over by every team in the annual NHL draft, Lashoff was signed by the Red Wings in 2008 after he impressed the organization with a strong performance as a free agent invitee to the team’s camp.
It was an unforgettable opportunity – he sat between Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski in the Red Wings’ dressing room – and he became determined to show that all those other teams had made a mistake.
His brother, a first-round pick of the Boston Bruins in 2005, helped keep him focused when he wasn’t playing.
“I talked a lot with Matt,” Lashoff said of his brother, who is nearly four years older. “He’s young, but he’s played a long time and he’s been hurt and had his ups and downs, so he was someone I could talk to when I was injured or not in the lineup.
“As brothers, we’re close, and he made me feel better about things. He let me know it wasn’t the end of the world, and he encouraged me to use it as a positive and to grow stronger as a person and a hockey player.”
Lashoff has indeed become stronger.
At the 2011-12 season’s midway point, he had already scored six goals after recording exactly zero a year ago. He also scored a goal in three consecutive games, something he had never done in his career.
“I’m shooting the puck a lot more, which is the big thing,” he said. “I talked to the coaches and it’s something they want me to do, especially on the power play. I want to be a guy with a hard shot who can get the puck on net and give myself and the other guys a chance to score.”
His defensive play is also stronger. “I’m moving my feet a lot more,” he said. “Obviously, being a D-man, I want to take care of my own area first, but being able to contribute offensively is huge if you want to get to the next level. I want to be a two-way guy who can contribute at both ends of the ice.”
Last year was a disappointment because he came into the year with high expectations. He had a six-game audition with the Griffins at the close of each of his final two years in junior hockey.
In the 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs, he tallied a goal and four assists in eight games for the Griffins before getting injured against Manitoba. He also won a goal medal with Team USA at the 2010 World Junior Championship, besting host Canada with a thrilling 6-5 overtime victory.
“Winning a gold medal was probably the highlight of my career so far,” Lashoff said. “Being able to do it was pretty amazing, and accomplishing it in Canada made it even more rewarding. It’s something I will remember for the rest of my life.”
He also has fond memories of the tail end of last season when he was selected to be a “black ace” during the first round of the Red Wings’ Stanley Cup Playoff run.
Having the opportunity to practice with the team provided a big boost of confidence after what he had gone through during his injury-plagued season.
“It was awesome,” Lashoff said. “Going through a season like I did was tough, but to experience the playoffs and practice with the guys up there was very rewarding.
“To be able to extend my season was definitely helpful, too.”
The experience helped jump start his preparation for this season, which has seen the tables turned on the Lashoff brothers. Matt tore his ACL in mid-November and is likely out for the season.
It’s an ironic twist for the siblings, who may someday be hockey’s version of the Allman Brothers. Their father, Bob, used to play in rock bands and taught his sons how to play guitar when they were growing up in East Greenbush, N.Y., near Albany.
“My dad gave us the opportunity to play a lot of sports – hockey, baseball, lacrosse – but he also showed us how to play guitar. During summers, Matt and I skate and work out hard in the morning, then play music the rest of the day.
“We love playing, whether it’s with our dad and his friends, or just my brother and me playing in the backyard or on the porch. It’s an outlet for us. Some guys play video games, we play guitars.”
In fact, Matt recently released his first CD, “Living on Heart,” which will definitely surprise people.
Loren Harriet, who helped Yankees outfielders Bernie Williams and Nick Swisher make albums, produced the CD, which features an all-star cast of musicians.
Recorded in New Jersey, the sessions included drummer Kenny Aronoff, who has played with John Mellencamp and John Fogerty; bassist Leland Sklar, who has played with almost everybody, from Jackson Browne to James Taylor; and keyboardist David Sancious, who was an original member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.
“They’re some of the best in the world at what they do and it was pretty amazing to watch them work,” said Lashoff, who spent a weekend in the studio. “They all were so professional and to hear them laying down their tracks was really cool.”
Lashoff was even invited by his brother to play guitar on one track (“Something I Know”). The record includes original songs as well as covers of Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me” and Little Feat’s “Cold, Cold, Cold.”
While his brother is already planning on recording a second album, Lashoff has no illusions about his own prospects.
“Playing music is something I love to do outside of hockey, but it’s a hobby,” he said. “Right now I’m more focused on hockey and I’m all about trying to make it to the NHL. That’s my main goal.”