- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 20, 2002

Rod Langway, the defenseman who almost single-handedly turned a laughingstock NHL franchise into a playoff team, was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame yesterday as a member of the Washington Capitals.

The two-time winner of the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman is generally credited with saving a floundering franchise from moving, probably to Tacoma, Wash. The Caps had just two sellouts the year before Langway arrived; they claimed as many as 23 in the seasons following the defenseman's arrival.

"I'm relieved," Langway said yesterday from his home in Richmond. "Last year I had high hopes of getting in so I'm relieved that it's over."

Others in Langway's class are players Clark Gillies of the New York Islanders and Bernie Federko of the St. Louis Blues, and coach Roger Neilson. Induction will be Nov.4 in Toronto.

Langway's election was delayed several times because he kept lacing skates on in bids as a player-coach at various levels. His last foray back onto the ice was in 1997-98 with the Providence (R.I.) Bruins in the American Hockey League. He was an assistant coach and filled in when the team suffered a severe manpower shortage. Players are not eligible for the Hall until they have been retired three seasons.

Langway became a Cap on Sept.9, 1982, when rookie general manager David Poile pulled off what until recently was the biggest deal in club history, acquiring Langway, defenseman Brian Engblom and forwards Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin from Montreal for center Ryan Walter and defenseman Rick Green. The deal was so lopsided in the Caps' favor that it eventually forced a complete front office turnover in Montreal.

Oozing charisma, self-confidence and a fierce determination not to be beaten, Langway quickly turned a perennial doormat into a competitive force. The turnaround was so dramatic and so dependent on defense that Langway won the first of his two Norris trophies that initial season with the Caps, leading Washington into the playoffs for the first time.

"This sits right up there with those Norris trophies, I guess, but not with the Stanley Cup," he said, referring to his 1979 championship season with the Canadiens. "But it's way up there. It's not like I'm going out of the game like a Stanley Cup winner but it's close."

Actually, the Caps and Langway parted on less than hospitable terms in February1993. The defenseman's legs were giving out, the Caps wanted to severely reduce his ice time and he objected. Langway and the team parted; the defenseman was six games short of 1,000 for his NHL career.

"That never bothered me, not to this day does it bother me," he said. "I think I played more than 1,200 games counting the [World Hockey Association] and the playoffs."

The rift has since healed and he now admits he might have acted hastily in 1993.

"In hindsight, I probably made a mistake the way I left but I left at the time in a way I thought was best for me," he said. "My days were numbered, they had already given my captaincy over to [Kevin] Hatcher so I understand now."

Langway, 45, was born on the island of Formosa, the son of a career Navy chief petty officer. He was raised in Randolph, Mass., played high school tournaments at Boston Garden and calls "stepping onto the ice Bobby Orr once skated on as one of my biggest thrills ever. Playing in the Forum in Montreal, playing in Montreal period, the Mecca of hockey, is probably the biggest. I got to the team after they had just won three Stanley Cups and I think 10 guys from that club made the Hall of Fame."

Langway played hockey in high school, and also quarterback and linebacker. He went to the University of New Hampshire, where he had hoped to be the Wildcats' quarterback but it became evident that there was somebody in front of him. Drafted by Montreal, he turned pro and the Canadiens secretly farmed him out to the Birmingham (Ala.) Bulls of the now-defunct WHA, a team that was so rough it made the Broad Street Bullies look like nuns in a choir. Langway learned quickly.

"You're 19 years old, you're getting paid to play a game and to be put with those so-called animals, that was something," Langway said, laughing. "It feels like yesterday. But then to go to Montreal and play with the Canadiens, wow."

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