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Rod Langway: Back to the Grind

August 14, 2011 Players No Comments

Rod Langway: Back to the grind
By Tom Worgo
Oct 30, 2001, 07:10

 

©BBS

Rod Langway rested comfortably against a wooden bench in the Richmond Renegades locker room, clutching a huge ice bag to his swollen right knee. Langway had just finished back-to-back playoff games. But his quest wasn’t to capture Lord Stanley’s Cup for the Montreal Canadiens or Washington Capitals. It was to win the Riley Cup for a minor league hockey team in the East Coast Hockey League.

The hard truth is that the ECHL is pretty much the lowest level of the minors. And Langway’s playing in a league that isn’t quite at Slapshot level, but isn’t so far removed from it, either.

But wherever you play, an injury is an injury—and some of the pain showed on his face.

It wasn’t the first time Langway played hurt this season. He had a groin injury back in March, about the time his knee first began acting up. Were the injuries a surprise? Well, some struggles are to be expected when you haven’t played competitive hockey for more than two years.

“It’s pretty tough for someone to play in back-to-back games when you are 37 years old,” says Langway, who last played in the NHL on February 21, 1993.

This season, he was in and out of the Richmond lineup before playing in nine of the Renegades 17 playoff games. On this night, he played about 6 1/2 minutes, which covered nine shifts.

So how did the grand old man of the ECHL look? Well, first off, he looked different. Langway—earning $310 a week—wore a helmet. In his 15 NHL seasons—plus the time he spent in the old World Hockey Association—Langway never wore headgear.

A defensive Gretzky

Favoring his aching knee, he played the most in the final period. He killed some penalties, gave the first-line defense some rest and attempted to block two shots. On one dive, he stopped a slapshot. Even at 37, Langway still showed some of the superb defensive abilities that made him a two-time Norris Trophy winner in 1983 and 1984.

“Langway was the same as Wayne Gretzky, but in a defensive mode,” says Craig Laughlin, Langway’s former Washington teammate. “In the ECHL, he knew what the guys were going to do before they did it. Everybody in the league was in awe of him. He killed the penalties with the best of them. The way he pinned a guy to the boards…it’s an art. He doesn’t let the guy back into the play.”

Langway wasn’t expected to play in the Riley Cup finals, but when Richmond defenseman Jay Murphy broke his arm, Langway suited up.

“He was really playing hurt, and he shouldn’t have been out there,” says Richmond coach Roy Sommer, also 37, but a month older than Langway.

Langway is the Renegades only future NHL Hall of Framer. But that didn’t make things any easier this night.

“Probably at about 11:30 PM, or midnight, I might not be able to walk,” he explained. “It’s tough because of the swelling in my knee. When you are on the bench, it swells up. You get sharp pains in there. It’s all part of the game.”

These are the words of a warrior whose best playing days, admittedly, are behind him.

“My doctor told me not to skate anymore. It takes a lot out of you. You don’t have that one step to make a quality play and you get scrambling around. My skating is OK, but I have a tough time skating backwards to forwards.”

This particular game was all part of his entry back into the hockey world, and it was Laughlin who talked his good friend into lacing up the skates once again. Laughlin is a part owner and GM of the Renegades.

Why did Langway heed Laughlin’s words? He wanted to get a little exposure as a player and then join the corporate side, running hockey schools and setting up new ice rinks. Besides, retirement bored him.

“It got me off the couch,” says Langway of the comeback. “You can only play so much golf and relax. I started watching hockey again and had the itch to get back. I feel like I’m 25 again.”

A PR thing?

“I had to shake my head a couple of times when I saw him out there,” said Sommer. “I didn’t think it was for real. A guy who was a Norris Trophy winner and seven-time all star playing at this level. If I was a bystander, I would think it was a PR thing. But when he hopped on the bus to Charlotte, I saw how sincere he was.

“We were on a Northern swing through Wheeling and Hershey and all these towns he’d never seen before. I watching the warm-ups (in Hershey) and these guys king of stopped and were looking at him (wondering) ‘Is this for real?’

But Langway hopes his real future is in the coaching ranks. “It’s something I always thought about,” Langway says. “I won a Stanley Cup and was fortunate to have played with Montreal. It’s still the highlight of my playing career. I was 20 years old. Some of these guys (in Richmond) are 21 to 25 years old and just out of college. The big thing with them is just to see the ice, move the puck and don’t try to do too much. A lot of the kids get nervous.

“You just try to make them relax and make the quality plays; have them make the easy passes instead of the ones that don’t work. I think I have helped.”

For now, Langway will focus on youth hockey and ice rinks. Starting in July, Langway and Laughlin begin running six hockey schools in the mid-Atlantic area. The two will travel from one camp to another, teaching the youngsters.

Later this year, several new rinks will open. One in Richmond, one in Dale City, VA and another in Rockville, MD. Langway will be part of the venture’s management group. They expect to open rinks next year in Manassas, VA and Baltimore, MD.

Creating a hockey hotbed

“I want Rod to be involved in all the rinks and schools. I don’t think (the mid-Atlantic) area ever had this opportunity before,” Laughlin says. “I think we can develop hockey to the highest level it’s ever been. My goal is to get the area to be a hockey hotbed, like the places everybody talks about—Canada and Boston.”

“Myself and Craig,” adds Langway, “we are pretty well known in those areas, and in the hockey world. We are in a great situation. Hockey is booming from Florida to Pennsyl-vania. There’s good opportunity to make a business of it. Hopefully, I will get really deeply involved in it and make a good living by doing it. We are going to run the rinks and get involved in owning them.

“It’s an investment type of deal with our names on it. The business end of it, I don’t know too much about right now. I will be involved in some capacity. I think in five to 10 years you will have some quality players coming out of that area.”

The business end of hockey is something new to Langway. In the mid-1980’s, Langway set up a hockey school in his home town of Randolph, MA. “It was only a two-week program,” Langway says. “I did it to return the favor. That area allowed me to develop into a decent hockey player.”

One other time, Langway appeared at a Washington Capitals hockey camp in the 1980’s. “I didn’t even get paid.”

But which dream is stronger, giving back at hockey school or moving ahead in the coaching ranks?

“If a hockey organization wants to get me involved, I’d probably just do it for a year and see if I enjoy doing it,” says Langway.

He’s definitely made an impact on the Richmond team, especially with the defenseman. “He gives the younger players a little more motivation,” says Sommer. And even with his aching knees, Langway’s comeback has to be considered a raving success—the Renegades having captured the Riley Cup title.

Since he’s come back to hockey, the Hockey Hall of Fame will just have to wait a few more years for Langway.

 

Tom Worgo is a free-lance writer in Maryland.

This first appeared in the 07/1995 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2001 Hockey Player® and Hockey Player Magazine®

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