A Special Player

To get an idea of just how awesome of an athlete Rod Langway was, one need only look at the awards and accomplishments: Two Norris Trophies as the NHL’s best defenseman; the first American player to win the award; winning the Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 1979; selected as an NHL All-Star eight times; runner-up to Wayne Gretzky for league MVP as voted by the players in 1982; etc. … etc. …

Yet that’s only part of the story. Rod Langway attended New Hampshire, which already had one of the best Division I programs in college hockey before he arrived in 1975.

Thing of it is, he was recruited by UNH to play football.

“I was recruited by some pretty big schools. Notre Dame, Florida State,” says Langway. “But I wanted to play both football and hockey. I knew I couldn’t get into Harvard, and Vermont had dropped their football program. It basically came down to Boston College, Holy Cross, and UNH.

“The main reason I came here [to UNH] was Dave O’Connor,” says Langway of the former assistant coach for both the football and hockey teams. “It was one of the most honest interviews I had ever had. I told him, ‘I’m not going to UNH unless I can play both hockey and football.’ Dave went to [former UNH head hockey coach] Charlie Holt, and says, ‘Can this guy Langway play hockey for you?’, and Charlie says ‘Sure … he can play anytime he wants to.’ Then they went to Andy [Mooradian, former UNH athletic director], and he says it was O.K. So I decided to come here.”

Langway was honored the weekend of Oct. 18 at UNH for his upcoming induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto on Nov. 4. That accomplishment will complete the trifecta for Langway, who was inducted into the UNH Hall of Fame in 1990, and the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999.

“It’s just a tremendous honor; it’s the icing on my career,” says the 15-year NHL veteran regarding his upcoming induction. “There’s nothing left after I get inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, unless I get into coaching, which is pretty unlikely,”

Currently, Langway lives with his wife, Teresa, and their newborn daughter, Maya Rose, in Richmond, Va. Langway works in the family business, in heat treatment operations for metal machine shops.

During his brief stay at New Hampshire (1975-1977), Langway quickly made an impact for both the football and hockey programs. Langway was recruited as a quarterback out of Randolph (Mass.) high school (myth has it he could throw a football 70 yards … standing still). However, he was redshirted his freshman year because of an injury to his throwing shoulder that required surgery. New Hampshire had a strong football team in 1976, and when he was healthy enough to return, Langway found himself third on the depth chart at quarterback.

No bother. Langway was so adept out on the football field, he became the team’s starting outside linebacker, helping UNH win the Yankee Conference and gain a berth in the Division II playoffs.

“He had a great year,” says current UNH football coach Sean McDonnell, who was Langway’s teammate that season. “The first thing you saw was his size (6-foot-3, 215 pounds). The second thing was that he was a heck of an athlete. He could get off blocks and he was a tough kid. … He was in great shape all of the time. He was a phenom.”

"I would say this, though, to the guys playing [collegiately] now: If it’s a case of becoming a pro versus becoming an All-American, I’d say be an All-American. Stay in school."

— NHL Hall-of-Famer Rod Langway

“We’ve had some great linebackers here at UNH,” says former longtime head football coach Bill Bowes, “and Rod Langway could have been the best. He had that God-given ability. The kid could have played any sport he wanted to.”

How good of an athlete was Langway? Three days after UNH dropped its Division II playoff game to Montana State, 17-16 on a missed extra point, he was skating for the hockey team in a game against RPI.

“He was the best player on the ice,” says O’Connor of that particular game.

Later that same school year, Langway helped lead New Hampshire into the NCAA Ice Hockey Tournament for the first time in school history. In a game at the old Olympia in Detroit that is down in history as one of the most exciting (and stunning) semifinals in NCAA hockey history, the Wildcats lost to eventual-champion Wisconsin, 4-3, in overtime, after squandering a 3-1 lead.

No Wildcat fan will forget the conclusion: On a faceoff in the UNH end in the extra session, the Wisconsin player just shot the puck when it was dropped, rather than try to win it back to the point. Somehow the puck went past goalie Dan Magnarelli, and Wildcat fans were heartbroken.

“They had a couple of All-Americans; Mark Johnson at center. I had a pretty good game that day. I outplayed them,” says Langway of that fateful game, without the slightest hint of arrogance or pompousness. Just pure fact. “We heard later on that they [the Badgers] absolutely did not want to play us in that game.”

Says O’Connor, “[Langway] was immense. Scouts called Charlie and told him he was the most impressive guy in the NCAA tournament.”

For his career at UNH, Langway recorded 13 goals and 56 assists for 69 points — all in just 65 games. He scored 10 goals in his second season, a mark he would surpass just once in the NHL, where he was known as the ultimate defensive defenseman.

The scouts indeed took notice. Montreal selected Langway with the first pick in the second round of the National Hockey League draft that year. However the Canadiens were in no rush, and urged Langway to stay in school, since they were loaded on defense at the time.

Not long after the NHL draft was completed, the Birmingham Bulls of the fledgling World Hockey Association took notice of how high Montreal was on Langway, and they made him the first pick overall in that league’s draft, at a time when American college hockey players weren’t highly regarded.

The Bulls made Langway, who was married at the time, an offer he couldn’t refuse: A guaranteed contract for three years at the whopping salary of $30,000 per year. And with that, Langway’s playing days at UNH were over.

“It was time to go,” says Langway without hesitation or a hint of regret. “Thirty thousand dollars, guaranteed for three years … hey, my goal in going to college was just to get a scholarship. I never had any inkling of playing professionally.

“I would say this, though, to the guys playing [collegiately] now: If it’s a case of becoming a pro versus becoming an All-American, I’d say be an All-American. Stay in school.”

Of all the UNH memories, Langway says Holt’s presence was the biggest.

“Charlie was like a fixture here, with that black hat he always wore,” says Langway. “You couldn’t say a bad word about him. In fact, I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about him.”

Holt was soft-spoken, and Langway heard him raise his voice just once.

“It was during a big game against Clarkson,” says Langway. “[Forward] Bobby Miller got into a scrum after the first period had ended, and got thrown out for the rest of the game. When he finally got into the locker room, Charlie just chewed him up and down like I’d never seen him do before.

“Charlie almost suspended him right then and there for two games, but we had to play the next night against St. Lawrence, and one of the coaches whispered to Charlie that Miller had some die-hard friends and family that had made the trip to New York, so he let Bobby off the hook.”

That 1976-77 squad went 27-12 and came oh-so-close to playing in the school’s first-ever national championship game.

“I just remember a great group of guys,” says Langway. “Cliff Cox and Ralph Cox (no relation); Bobby Miller had 89 points that season. And we had a freshman class that was phenomenal that year — Bruce Crowder, Bobby Gould, Tim Burke, Paul Powers. It just rolls off my lips. Most of those guys went on to play in the NHL.”

Oh yeah, Langway also played with a couple of decent players in the National Hockey League.

“The three best players I ever played with were Larry Robinson, Guy Lapointe, and Serge Savard. It was kind of nice having Ken Dryden back there in goal, too,” says Langway of his four seasons with the Canadiens.

After Montreal’s dynasty ended, Langway was traded to Washington, where he played the last 11 seasons of his NHL career. He scored just 13 goals in the last nine years of his career, during an era when 50-goal scorers were much more common, but won Norris Trophies anyway. That’s how good his defense was.

You get a certain feeling of warmth and genuineness from talking to Langway. At the media conference, he greeted each of the writers with a big smile and even bigger handshake. Even for big guys, your hand feels as though it has been through a trash compactor.

The unassuming Langway has equally fond memories of the town and the campus itself as well as his hockey playing days here.

“UNH is famous for down-to-earth people,” says Langway. “I didn’t want to leave. Heck, I even loved the practices here. I lived across the street from the old arena [Snively]. I’d be there at 2 p.m. for a 4 p.m. practice.”

Thinking about whether being elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and the greatness of his career in general, has finally sunk in, Langway sits back, crosses his arms, and takes a deep sigh.

“When I was told that I was getting elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, I started sweating,” he says. “I always thought in college that I was an average player, maybe a bit of a late bloomer. When I open up a hockey encyclopedia, and I see my picture, I still can’t believe it.

“I can’t get used to it. I never will.”

Special thanks to Al Pike, staff sports writer for Foster’s Daily Democrat in Dover, N.H., for his contributions to this feature.