- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Hall of Fame defenseman Rod Langway was shivering yesterday and not because of the prolonged cold snap in Virginia.

Langway couldn’t stop wondering whether it was fate that prompted former teammate Gaetan Duchesne, who died of an apparent heart attack Monday at age 44, to make a rare return to Washington for a Capitals alumni game April 6.

“I’m not a really religious person, but after the initial shock of hearing what had happened — especially because he looked fine and was laughing as usual that night — I was thinking that maybe Gates had come back to say hello again and then goodbye to us and to his fans,” Langway said from his blacksmith business in Richmond. “The only sign in the rink that a fan made for one of us that night was for Gates.”

Ron Weber, who broadcast all 451 of Duchesne’s Caps games from 1981 through 1987, said the fans always loved the Quebec native, who made the team as a 19-year-old eighth-round draft choice.

“There might not have been a more popular Capital than Gates,” Weber said. “It was a combination of his personality — he had this big, crooked smile whenever the Caps scored a goal — and that he was so dependable on the ice. I believe that he’s the best left wing the Caps have ever had at clearing the puck out of his own zone. He could feed it up the boards time and time again.”

What might have been Duchesne’s final interview was 12 days ago, with several alumni talking about the 20th anniversary of the franchise’s toughest loss — the quadruple-overtime Game 7 home loss to the then-archrival New York Islanders that ended Washington’s 1987 playoff run after just one round.

That would be the final Caps game of Duchesne’s 14-year career. He was traded that June to Quebec for Dale Hunter, who would have a lot to do with erasing Washington’s reputation as a playoff choker.

“It was the most memorable game I ever played,” Duchesne said. “At that time, it was the fifth-longest game ever. What I remember the most was we had so many chances, just my line alone, and we never could put the puck in. We were so exhausted after the game that it didn’t really sink in that the season was over.

“People still talk to me about that game, and I still don’t really believe we lost,” added Duchesne, who owned an architectural supply firm in Quebec and whose son, Jeremy, was drafted by Philadelphia in 2005. “We knew we had a team that could go pretty far. We were ahead 3-1 in the series, but we choked. [Coach] Bryan Murray told us between overtime periods that it was going to take a lucky goal to win the game, and that’s what happened [when New York’s Pat LaFontaine turned and shot just before heading to the bench 8:47 into the fourth overtime]. But I wasn’t on the ice. So it wasn’t my fault.”

As he said that, Duchesne smiled broadly and laughed loudly. And that’s how he will be remembered by so many.

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