Andrew Ladd has been in the NHL for 16 seasons, but one lesson he’s carried through is how quickly the chance to play can be lost.
The pain of the past was halted as Ladd beat the odds to reach the career milestone of 1,000 games played as the Arizona Coyotes were dealt an overtime loss by the Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday at Gila River Arena.
Ladd worked his way back from two major knee surgeries in the 2019-20 season and only played four games with the New York Islanders and 34 in the American Hockey League. Ladd didn’t get the chance to suit up in the NHL last season and only appeared in one AHL game.
The Coyotes acquired him over the last offseason after the Islanders made a deal for the Coyotes to take Ladd’s $5.5 million cap hit in exchange for two future second-round picks and third-round pick from the Islanders.
“I think when you have a goal that seems like a summit at the time and you’re at a pretty low point when you’ve had two major surgeries and you’re in the minors, I would say most people have a tough time coming back from that. I think I’m just proud of how I handled myself throughout that process and just thankful for the people around me because your support system allows you to keep going when things are tough,” Ladd said.
Ladd netted an assist on Barrett Hayton’s goal during the second period that cut the deficit to one goal at 12:43.
“What he achieved this year, overcoming an injury, played through injury, all of it is a testimonial of the character of this man and how much we respect him for that,” Coyotes coach Andre Tourigny said.
The Blackhawks showed an early fight in the game with defenseman Jake McCabe scoring within 42 seconds for an early lead. Dominik Kubalik lit up at the end of the first period when he grabbed a rebound for the 2-0 lead. Skating in his ninth game, defenseman Alex Vlasic sent a shot from the point that snuck past Vejmelka for the 3-1 lead at 16:25 in the second.
Injuries continue down the stretch for the Coyotes with center Jay Beagle exiting the game near the end of the first period. Beagle sustained a lower body injury that kept him out of the remainder of the game. Left wing Nick Ritchie did not play in the game and is day-to-day with an upper body injury.
But the Coyotes found life in the third period after center Nathan Smith earned his first career NHL goal off a close-range rebound from Phil Kessel at 9:42. Anton Stralman sent the game to overtime when he went top shelf on a passing play from Kessel and Nick Schmaltz at 13:43.
Blackhawks goaltender Kevin Lankinen made 32 saves in the effort.
The fight continued from Coyotes goaltender Karel Vejmelka in overtime as he made some spectacular saves off a lethal Blackhawks attack. However, his efforts were unable to stop Blackhawks left wing Alex DeBrincat who ended the game for the 4-3 win with 36.9 seconds left. Vejmelka finished with 36 saves on 40 shots through 52:09 minutes on the ice.
Even with the eighth-straight loss for the Coyotes (22-49-6), Tourigny saw his leadership step up when needed.
“That’s two games in a row where we battled back. The start was no good, but after the way they bounced back, the leadership we had in the room between the first and the second and the character of our older players and the way they really dug in and bear down,” Tourigny said. “It’s good for our young guys to be a part of it to see how much the older guys dig in. They were real pros tonight so that’s unfortunate we lost in overtime.”
Tourigny praised Ladd’s leadership throughout the season as the roster contains a mix of young and veteran players.
Since joining the Coyotes this season, Ladd has played in 50 games and recorded seven goals and five assists. The veteran averages 14:01 minutes on the ice and played 16:02 minutes against his former team. Ladd has spent time with five different franchises and previously won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010. His former teammates, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, both registered two assists in the game Wednesday.
“You come into the league as a young player and when I started playing with Jonny and Kaner, they were teenagers and I was in my early 20s. To come to this point and have it hit that number against those guys that I had a lot of great memories with and grew up with for a few years is pretty special. I think this was the motivating number for me in my low points,” Ladd said.
Subscribe to azcentral.com today.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism