- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 23, 2002

The Washington Capitals will honor Rod Langway tonight, which means the Caps will honor themselves, because if there is one player who is most responsible for this franchise establishing itself in this town, it is the popular defenseman — now a Hall of Fame defenseman.
Most people who have followed hockey in this town say the Caps, who began play in 1974, didn't really arrive until Langway came here in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens on Sept. 9, 1982.
It was one of the most historic days in franchise history as the Caps landed Craig Laughlin and Brian Engblom in the same deal, changing the makeup of a team that had been struggling.
Before the trade, the Caps had a record of 137-334-89. After the deal, until Langway retired in 1993, they went 461-329-94. Before Langway, there were no playoff appearances. After Langway, the Caps were in the playoffs every season he was here.
That's why when people in hockey talk about Langway, it is often in a sentence about how he saved the Caps franchise.
"That's great to hear, but it's not true," Langway said. "Obviously, there are quite a few players and management [who] had to do with that. We put something on the ice that fans liked, and we started winning and going to the playoffs, and when we got to the playoffs the fans came out and supported us, and it took off from there."
But it wasn't just winning that Langway helped establish in Washington. He developed the defensive personality of the team on the ice that still exists today, 10 years after his last season here. He is proud of that."I think that is why the Caps are still a competitive team, because they remain a defensive team," he said. "If you keep the goals down, you have a shot at winning games — at least that's the way I approached it."
The son of a serviceman, Langway, 45, born in Taiwan, brought a toughness to the franchise that he began forging as a star athlete in Massachusetts, playing football and baseball as well as hockey (he went to the University of New Hampshire on a football scholarship) and then solidifying that toughness when he left school after his sophomore year to play for the Birmingham Bulls in the World Hockey Association in 1977.
"The Bulls were a rough team," Langway said. "We had a lot of fighters. They used to call it the Birmingham Zoo. It was like the movie 'Slapshot.' If there weren't two or three fights a game, we weren't playing well. It taught me to protect myself and stand up for myself."
After one year in Birmingham, Langway wound up in hockey heaven — Montreal, playing four seasons for the Canadiens, including the 1979 Stanley Cup team along with Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe.
"It was like playing for the Yankees in New York." he said. "The fans were tough, the media were tough, but the atmosphere was all hockey. That was it. They would eat and sleep hockey. You could see 10 or 15 pages of coverage of the team in the paper, and that would be on an off day."
But he got into a financial dispute with the club and was traded to the Caps in 1982. It was in Washington where Langway built his legacy of toughness and his Hall of Fame career. When he was done after 1993, Langway had played in 994 games. He had won two Norris trophies for being named the NHL's top defenseman and appeared in six All-Star Games. Washington wasn't Montreal, but Langway was a big part of carving out a place for hockey in the Washington sports scene.
He was rewarded for that legacy last month when he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame — an honor that was a long time coming.
"When I got the call from the Hall of Fame, it was a nerve-wracking day," he said. "Comcast came down and they were waiting for the call also, and filmed me the entire day — you know, what was Rod Langway doing after hockey? It was an honor, but it was also a relief that I didn't have to answer the questions about when I would get in."
The honors continue tonight with a ceremony at MCI Center. He is married, with a 7-month-old daughter, and working in the family's heat-treating business in Richmond. He would like to get back into the game if the right opportunity came along, but for now, he will savor the moment — a celebration of putting hockey on the map in Washington.
"The first time we made the playoffs, we were in Montreal. We tied them, and got one point out of the game," Langway said. "That put us in the playoffs for the first time, and that was a big deal. That was a big moment. Then winning a playoff game against the Islanders. We lost the series, but we had won a playoff game, all in the first year I was here. Getting over the hump and making ourselves contenders were big moments for us."
Tonight is a big moment as well. It's Rod Langway Appreciation Night.


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