Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Rod Langway
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One on One with Rod Langway

4 JANUARY 2008
In the summer of 1977, Rod Langway was drafted by both the Montreal Canadiens (NHL) and the Birmingham Bulls (WHA). The hard nosed defencemen opted to sign with the Bulls before joining the Canadiens in 1978.
Here's a great trivia question for you: name the only National Hockey League player to be born in Taiwan. Give up? It's Rod Langway, who was born into an American military family based in Taiwan on May 3, 1957. "I have five brothers and a sister," explains Rod. "Two were born in Massachusetts, one in Virginia, one in California, one in Rhode Island and I was born in Formosa, Taiwan. My Dad was shipped back to California and he and Mom had another kid in California. Dad ended up at the navy base in Boston and they bought a home in Randolph, Massachusetts. That was the end of the moving -- Dad got out of the navy after twenty-one years."

In his first season with the Montreal Canadiens Langway was sent to the AHL where he would suit up for the Nova Scotia Voyageurs. He would return to the Habs in the 1979 playoffs and help the club win their 4th consecutive Stanley Cup.
From an early age, Langway was athletically-inclined, and in the town of Randolph, was known as both an outstanding football and baseball player. For Rod, hockey didn't come into play until he was thirteen years old. "Most of my buddies were baseball and football friends, but during the winter, three or four of them played in the hockey program. They loved the game of hockey so they said, 'Why don't you try hockey?' They got me on the ice with my snowboots and I just played goalie for two or three weeks. Then we got a couple of bad snowstorms and I shoveled a couple of driveways and I got enough money to buy a pair of skates. They were figure skates! They kicked me off the pond about a week later because they told me I couldn't play with figure skates, so I went home and filed down the picks so that the blade was rounded and they let me play for the rest of the year. The following year, I shoveled some snow after a snowstorm and bought myself a pair of hockey skates. They were Bobby Hull CCM's."

While most boys were already quite advanced playing hockey by the age of thirteen, Rod's athleticism and aptitude allowed him to catch up quickly, and he soon became a local three-sport threat. "I watch all kinds of sports and I just like good sports. The (New England) Patriots only won something like one game in five years when I was a kid and for some reason, I became a (Miami) Dolphins fan. The (Boston) Red Sox are my favourite team, but I loved the (New York) Yankees too, and you can't say that out loud in Boston. Of course, I love the Bruins, but I also liked the Maple Leafs. Everybody wanted to be Bobby Orr or Phil Esposito, the big stars. I was one of those kids who picked different guys. I liked watching Ricky Ley play."

Over eleven seasons Langway was a pillar of strength on the Capitals blueline and was often referred to as the 'Franchise Saver' in Washington.
The state of Massachusetts was gripped with hockey fever during the mid-sixties ... and for good reason. "When I was a kid, Bobby Orr hadn't even played a game in the NHL but everywhere you went it was 'Bobby Orr's coming to town.' As a kid, you wondered, 'Who's Bobby Orr?' He was going to save the Boston Bruins and sure enough, he did," states Langway. "To this day, he's like a god. He is the man of Boston."

While attending Randolph High School, Rod was the quarterback of the Rockets. At the same time, as a high-scoring defenceman, he helped lead the hockey team to state tournaments in 1973 and 1975. "I had an opportunity to go anywhere in the country on a football scholarship, including Notre Dame and some other big schools," recalls Rod. "Not many Division One clubs were recruiting me as a hockey player, although I had opportunities at Division Two schools. I was too young to make a decision on which sport I wanted to play, but the University of New Hampshire would let me play both sports. The way it was set up, I only missed three games of hockey, which were essentially exhibition games anyway, during two years of college. Plus, I liked the campus at New Hampshire."


Langway captured the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defender in 1982 and 1983 and was known as one of the games best
defensive defencemen.
During 1976-77, Langway scored 10 goals and 43 assists for 53 points in just 34 games for the Wildcats. That summer, he was drafted in the first round, sixth overall, by the Birmingham Bulls of the World Hockey Association, as well as the second round selection (thirty-sixth overall) of the NHL's Montreal Canadiens. At the age of twenty, Langway chose to turn professional in the WHA. "Mr. (John) Bassett with Birmingham offered me a decent amount of money to try my luck at hockey. I had Glen Sonmor as a coach. He was from Minnesota and he loved the American players. He gave me a shot to play with the Bulls. Mark Napier was on the team - he was a superstar in that league. I was playing with guys like Frank Mahovlich." Also on the team during Langway's tenure with the Bulls were goal scorers Paul Henderson and Ken Linseman, as well as a quartet of ruffians who terrorized the league: Steve Durbano (284 penalty minutes), Frank Beaton (279 minutes in penalties), Gilles Bilodeau (258 penalty minutes) and Dave Hanson (241 minutes in the penalty box). "It was a great experience!"

That autumn, the Bulls sent Rod down to the Hampton Gulls, an American Hockey League affiliate located in Virginia. "That was the first time I met John Brophy, who was our head coach. I was more offense-minded at that time and John taught me how to protect myself and to play with a bit of a chip on my shoulder."

The next season (1977-78), Langway joined the NHL. "The Montreal Canadiens were the team that you would want to play for. Just to make the club and be on the ice with the greats like (Guy) Lafleur, (Larry) Robinson and (Serge) Savard, and you could go on and on. I was in awe. I sat out something like twenty games but I was honoured just to be in the stands watching them. I learned so much." That season, with spectacular netminding from Ken Dryden, the Big Three defencemen (Guy Lapointe, Larry Robinson and Serge Savard) at the zenith of their careers and superstar Guy Lafleur firing 52 goals and 129 points, the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup. It was the only Stanley Cup championship won by Langway during his storied career.

Langway retired from the Capitals following the 1992-93 season, however decided to make a permanent return to pro hockey joining the San Francisco Spiders of the International Hockey League in 1995-96.
After having been used sparingly during his rookie season, Rod became a full-time member of the Canadiens in 1978-79, and proved to be a considerable asset to Montreal's blueline. But in September 1982, Langway was dealt to the Washington Capitals, along with Brian Engblom, Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin, in exchange for Rick Green and Ryan Walter. "I pushed the button for that trade," admits Rod. "I tried to rearrange my contract in my fourth year. I was married, I had two kids and the money situation wasn't the greatest in Canada and because I am American, the taxes were a problem. I wanted to get a new deal with Montreal that would give me an extended contract in U.S. funds but they didn't want to cause problems within the organization."

The Washington Capitals had joined the National Hockey League in 1974-75 and had experienced nothing but frustration and failure from the onset. They missed the playoffs in each of their first eight seasons, finishing last in their division in six of them. But a funny thing happened with the Langway trade — the Capitals made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history and never missed post-season play in any of the eleven seasons in which Rod was a team member. "I got traded into the States and came into a pretty bad situation in Washington. There was no hockey history and if there was any, it was negative. They had some good young players like Mike Gartner and Bobby Carpenter, but they were a bad organization. David Poile and Bryan Murray put together a very good team and I was a good part of it, but there were a lot of good players that made the Washington Capitals a team to beat. We had some good runs at the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, we had to play the Islanders, New Jersey and Boston all the time, so it was pretty tough to get to the Stanley Cup."

In his first season in Washington (1982-83), Langway was selected to the NHL's First All-Star Team and was the recipient of the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenceman. He was also runner-up to Wayne Gretzky for the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player. The Capitals' fortunes leapt by 29 points in the standings and earned the team its first-ever playoff appearance. Washington finished third in the Patrick Division, but lost to the Islanders in the division semi-final.

In 1983-84, Langway repeated both honours, again winning the Norris and a berth on the First All-Star Team. The Capitals finished second in their division, but again, were thwarted by the Islanders, this time in the division final. Yet, Washington had seen a light at the end of the dark tunnel, and this time, it wasn't an on-coming train. Doug Jarvis took the Selke Award for best defensive forward, goaltenders Pat Riggin and Al Jensen won the Jennings Trophy for the best goals-against average, and Bryan Murray was selected as coach of the year, winning the Jack Adams Trophy.

There were a number of reasons why Rod flourished in Washington. "It was a case that it was simply my time," shrugs Langway. "If I had stayed in Montreal, I would have been the same kind of player, but I wouldn't have received the accolades of winning the Norris Trophy because I would have been put into different situations. Larry (Robinson) was there, and was put on the ice during certain situations that I was getting in Washington. Being the captain and being recognized as a key player with the Washington Capitals, along with the way I played, helped me win the Norris Trophy. And it helped that I was in the New York media all the time."

Langway played with the Capitals for eleven seasons. In 1989-90, Washington went to the conference final, but were eliminated by Boston. It would be the furthest the Capitals would go during Langway's time with the team. He left the NHL following the 1992-93 season. Through fifteen NHL seasons, Rod played 994 regular season contests, scoring 51 goals and adding 278 assists for 329 points. In 104 playoff games, Rod scored five times, assisted on 22 others and collected 27 points. He also played in six straight NHL All-Star Games. Additionally, Rod represented the United States in three Canada Cup tournaments and a World Championship, and was part of the NHL's squad facing the Soviets at Rendez-vous '87.

In 2002 Rod Langway was proudly welcomed to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Credited with saving the franchise in Washington, both as a leader on and off the ice, Rod Langway had his number 5 retired by the Capitals on November 26, 1997. "When the Capitals told me they were going to retire my number, I asked to have my number retired when Montreal was in town," remembers Langway. "I didn't realize it when I asked, but it turned out to be the last night of the Washington Capitals Stadium. Rejean Houle had been one of my roommates when I was with Montreal and he was now the team's general manager. He gave me a beautiful painting of myself in a Canadiens' uniform. It was a special night! At the end of the game, they brought my number down to take to the new stadium that was being built downtown and they had another night to raise the banner up in the new stadium. All over, it was a great night! It was great for the fans too. There was a packed house and they were saying goodbye to the stadium and saying hello to me, again."

In 1999, Rod was elected to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, and he was selected for the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2002. "To be recognized as a Hall of Famer makes you feel old, but every time I go back there for special occasions, it feels like a country club." Rod's 'country club' is one of the most exclusive anywhere in the world, and only the best of the best get to enter. "It's a great feeling to run into the same guys, plus the new guys being added. I hadn't seen Scotty Stevens in ten or fifteen years! (The two joined the Capitals the same year, and played together for eight seasons). You realize more and more every time that people point and say, 'There's Rod Langway,' but most of the kids now never saw me play but the Dads are the ones that keep the knowledge and passion for the game in the eyes of their kids."

Timing and talent served Rod Langway well, and he proved himself a leader in every sense of the word. Through his exceptional efforts, the 'Secretary of Defence' will forever be acknowledged as one of the finest defensive defenseman in the NHL's long history.

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features at the Hockey Hall of Fame.