Brossoit slowly, surely working his way back to NHL

Photo: Zak Krill

📝 by Patrick Williams

The Vegas Golden Knights have leaned hard on their AHL operation in Henderson for success this season.

Now Laurent Brossoit is doing the same as he rebuilds his National Hockey League career.

Brossoit and Robin Lehner, the NHL club’s other goaltending incumbent, each had offseason surgeries, leaving the Golden Knights in the lurch. Logan Thompson, one of the organization’s top development success stories since they joined the NHL as an expansion team in 2017, has stepped up, and alongside newcomer Adin Hill has helped Vegas to the best record in the Western Conference coming out of the Christmas break.

Meanwhile, Brossoit continues his road back from hip and abdominal surgeries. While Lehner will miss the entire season, Brossoit’s prognosis was better, relatively speaking. But Brossoit’s career has already been a difficult road. Following parts of five seasons in the AHL as an Edmonton Oilers prospect, including being an AHL All-Star in 2016, Brossoit had broken through to an NHL role with the Winnipeg Jets. Three solid seasons as a backup to Connor Hellebuyck in Winnipeg helped to land him a two-year deal in 2021 to come to Las Vegas, at an average annual value of $2.325 million.

Not bad for a sixth-round draft pick.

But when the Golden Knights decided to end Brossoit’s season last spring, those hopes had gone sour. After a strong first two months, Brossoit’s 2021-22 campaign began to crumble. In his final game of the season last March 15, a 7-3 loss in Winnipeg, Brossoit was pulled midway through the contest after the Jets picked him apart for four goals on 13 shots. His season concluded with him taking losses in seven of his final eight appearances.

And the worst was still to come. Two major surgeries. A grueling rehabilitation process. No training camp.

“I would say it’s a combination of something that has been chronic for I would say the entirety of my NHL career,” Brossoit said of his injuries. “Then that, combined with an acute injury that I had last year, was kind of the first domino that started the unraveling of what we ended up seeing.”

A left hip issue had lingered for some time.

“I slowly figured out a way to get by with it,” Brossoit said.

That approach worked, at least until it did not. The goaltending position can exact a strong toll on hips, groin and abdominal muscles and the back, and it did a number on Brossoit over time.

Let Brossoit break down the situation:

“After I hurt my lower abdominal — we’ll call it last season — it put a lot of pressure on the hip. Then the hip kind of gave out, and the back took over. Then the back gave out, and there wasn’t really anything else I could compensate with after that.

“It took us a while to figure out what the plan of attack was, and when we did, sometimes things have to get bad enough for the problem to be obvious, which was the case.”

Brossoit faced a pair of surgical procedures. First came hip surgery. A month later, he had surgery to repair an abdominal issue. Dr. Bryan T. Kelly, the surgeon-in-chief and medical at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, handled Brossoit’s first surgery. Dr. William B. Hutchinson, Jr., in Los Angeles took care of the second procedure. In all, the months-long recovery process first required rest and then light treatment at his offseason home in Vancouver.

The next step was to rebuild muscles that had gone inactive during that recovery period.

There is also the mental angle that such a major career choice brings.

“I think there’s always a part of you that wonders if the process that you’re going through is the right call and the right decision,” Brossoit acknowledged. “It seems like some days you’ve got good days, some days you’ve got bad days. Some of the bad days feel like you’re taking a step back, and you got it wrong.”

With each passing week, however, Brossoit could push him a bit more while working out. There was progress, even if it came slowly. But exactly when — and how much — to push does not come with a little black-and-white playbook. Learning that balance can be quite a fine line. A wrong step can mean a setback.

“You want the process to be as smooth and linear in an upward direction as possible,” Brossoit explained. “But you can easily push too hard and then take two steps back. There’s only a certain amount that I could do each day, and it didn’t feel like it was a lot.

“Mentally, it felt like it was a very slow process. I would say that’s the hardest thing to understand, that there’s a healing process. I can’t just bust my [butt] and work through it to make the process go smoother or faster so that I could be healthy in time for the start of the season.

“It was a stressful period, but all in all it was the right decision. I was grateful that the team [involved so many physicians] to help me make that right decision.”

That work eventually did pay off for Brossoit, who at long last was ready to play by the fall. Two weeks into the NHL season, he went to the Silver Knights on a conditioning loan.

It did not go well.

Photo: Mark Nessia

For one, the Silver Knights had started 2-7-0-0 by the time Brossoit had even played his first game. The Bakersfield Condors, his former club from his days in the Edmonton organization, beat him for five goals on 25 shots in his season debut Nov. 5. Three nights later, he was pulled after the San Diego Gulls tagged him for four first period goals in a 10:40 span on their way to a 7-0 win.

Brossoit was re-adjusting to a league where he had not played since 2018, and doing so with a struggling group working through its own issues in front of him.

“In some ways, there are even some things in the NHL that are easier than in the AHL,” Brossoit said. “There’s a little more predictability. Pattern recognition. You know what to expect a little bit more sometimes.”

His conditioning stint ended. Knowing he needed to continue working in the AHL, the Golden Knights put him on waivers Nov. 10. He went unclaimed.

Clearing waivers would be a tough blow for anyone who had been established as an NHL regular, especially after so much offseason work. But Brossoit stuck with it and soon found his groove in Henderson.

“Slowly the game started coming back,” Brossoit explained. “I was starting to be able to make reads and getting in game shape. You can only work out, practice so much. [Through] those game repetitions, you start to feel things out. As of late, the last few weeks, I feel better than ever. So [I am] happy that body started to respond really well.”

It has been a long trek for everyone, to say the least, but the Silver Knights have put themselves back into contention. At 11-17-0-2, they are now only three points below the San Jose Barracuda and the Pacific Division playoff line. They resume play Wednesday in San Diego before the Gulls visit Dollar Loan Center for a pair of games this weekend.

Henderson put together a four-game winning streak earlier this month, one that included a two-game sweep on a difficult two-game weekend set at Colorado on Dec. 9-10. Brossoit posted back-to-back shutouts against San Jose on Dec. 14 and Abbotsford on Dec. 17, earning the Howies Hockey Tape/AHL Player of the Week award.

Brossoit has needed this time in the AHL to rebuild his career, but his teammates have counted on him equally. The opening months of a season can be a fragile time for prospects, especially young players going through difficult patches of losses. When that success does not come, prospects can get rattled quickly, and a season can unravel rapidly.

“I like to think I move very efficiently, and I make things a little easier,” Brossoit said. “I like to be as poised and composed as I can be. You know, there are a lot of ups and downs within a game, within a season, and especially with the young group that we have down here, emotions can play a little bit of a bigger role.

“I quickly learned that we have a lot of talent, a lot of speed, and a lot of good teammates — like, a lot of guys that are willing to learn the game and their position and their role on the team. Obviously with the struggles at the start, it looked like it could be a long year. But I’ve been very impressed with how quickly the boys have been learning their assignments on the ice and even in practice.

“There [were] some glaring mistakes when I first got down there, for myself included, and those seem to be corrected each game pretty consciously, which is good.”

Having a steady hand like Brossoit has helped those teammates through those early trying stages. He is 5-6-1 in 13 appearances, but his .921 save percentage is ninth-best in the league and his 2.35 goals-against average is good for sixth.

Brossoit is not back in the NHL — at least not yet — but he has made up a lot of ground in Henderson.

“I’m feeling much better than I ever have.”