Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Langenbrunner brings impressive pedigree to Blues

Veteran winger brings pair of Stanley Cups, wealth of experience to rising roster

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- His resume is filled with a lifetime of achievements that some of the greatest National Hockey League players would covet. He's represented his country at the Winter Olympics twice, the World Cup of Hockey and at the World Junior Championships twice, has been captain of a NHL team, been a part of a career that's been distinguished to this point, and most importantly, was a member of two Stanley Cup-winning teams.

Meet Jamie Langenbrunner, who for the first time in what will be his 17th NHL season and 1,035 games will be playing for someone other than the Dallas Stars or New Jersey Devils after signing a one-year contract over the summer with the Blues.

Langenbrunner can walk away from the NHL and not have a regret in the world. With his pedigree of achievement, he can be proud of his accomplishments. If he walked away today, there'd be no regrets.

"Anybody that's going to start in this game, you want to play that first game," said Langenbrunner, who played his first NHL game with the Stars here in St. Louis against the Blues in 1995. "... That was a long time ago, but then your goal is to hit that 100th game, then 400 for that supposed pension. Then my goal was to try to reach 1,000. I did that last year, but now, it's to play as long as I can."

(Getty Images)
Jamie Langenbrunner hopes to add to an already impressive resume with
more hardware in St. Louis.
When the fire still burns and the desire still raises the adrenaline level, there's no reason to stop. Langenbrunner still enjoys the game ... and still craves titles.

"Everybody that plays this game, you play to win championships," Langenbrunner said. "I've been fortunate for the majority of my career to play on great hockey teams that have at least had a shot at it. ... I still enjoy playing. Until that's gone, I'm going to continue to enjoy it. I like being in the locker room. I like being with the guys."

For the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Colquet Minnesota native, it all began in 1990 where Langenbrunner prospered in high school for the Cloquet Lumberjacks, racking up 148 points in 70 games over three seasons.

Little did Langenbrunner know at the time that it would be the start of something special.

"I didn't even know it was my draft year until a month left in my (junior) season," Langenbrunner said. "(Playing hockey) wasn't high on my list. I did it because I loved it. It all just happened. I got drafted, Dallas signed me and it all just kind of took off from there.

"Within two years, I went from playing high school hockey and having fun with it to playing in my first NHL game."

Langenbrunner didn't play his senior year in high school after being drafted in the second round (35th overall) by the Stars. He left Cloquet and played two seasons with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League.

Langenbrunner's hockey life only got better, as he tallied 75 goals, 115 assists and 190 points in 124 games and 12 goals and 20 points in 18 playoff games. He made his NHL debut for the Stars in the 1994-95 season, playing in two games. That season also was where Langenbrunner would have his first dibs with USA Hockey, playing in the World Junior Championships.

Langenbrunner moved to the International Hockey League in 1995 to play one season with the Michigan K.Wings, where he was named the team's MVP after a 25-goal, 40-assist season in 59 games and 13 points in 10 playoff games.

Langenbrunner also played in 12 games for the Stars in 1995 but didn't play in his rookie season until the 1996-97 season. That's when his NHL career took off.

As time passed, so did Langenbrunner's accomplishments. He represented Team USA in Nagano, Japan at the Winter Olympics in 1998, then won the first of his two Stanley Cups in 1999.

Langenbrunner's first bit of adversity took place in 2002 when he was dealt from the Stars to the New Jersey Devils for a package that included none other than current teammate Jason Arnott. Blues general manager Doug Armstrong was GM of the Stars who pulled the trigger on the trade, which was none too popular in the Lone Star State.

But instead of a career that would plateau out or take a downward spiral, Langenbrunner would soon sip from Lord Stanley's Cup again, winning a second one with the Devils in 2002 and then playing for USA at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.

"You remember that first one because it was your first, but they all mean a lot," Langenbrunner said, "just because of how difficult it is to win one. You never know if you'll get the opportunity to have a shot at it again."

The offensive numbers would begin to increase playing with rising stars Zach Parise and Travis Zajac with the Devils. Langenbrunner would be named captain in 2007 before putting up career highs in goals (29), assists (40) and points (69) during the 2008-09 season.

I (felt) good ... had my two best offensive years," Langenbrunner said. "I feel depending on what the situations are within the team, what roles you're needed for, I can put up those numbers.

"Brent Sutter was the coach and I was given the opportunity to play on a line with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, and we gelled together pretty good. Zach had his biggest year of his career and I had a big year. We had good chemistry and we had a lot of opportunities. I got to play on the first power play. ... When you're given those opportunities, I think I was able to cash in and play well. I think that's part of being a team, whatever role you're put into, do the best you can in that role."

Langenbrunner's captaincy would carry over to Team USA, where he would once again represent his country at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010. He was part of a USA squad that took the silver medal, losing to Canada in the gold medal game that included current Blue David Backes and former Blue Erik Johnson.
(Getty Images)
Jamie Langenbrunner (left) has represented Team USA at the Winter
Olympics twice, including 2010.

Langenbrunner held his captain's 'C' with the Devils for four years before being dealt back to the Stars last season for a conditional third round pick. But the 2010-11 season was somewhat of a forgettable one. The Devils were horrendous for the first three months and Langenbrunner totalled nine goals and 32 points in 70 games split between the Stars and Devils.

"Last year was a mental beatdown, to be honest with you," Langenbrunner said. "It was a tough year. It was unfortunate to leave Jersey on those terms because I had a great time there, I enjoyed most of my years there immensely. We had success there. It's tough to leave it that way, but a fresh start's going to be great. I'm excited about that opportunity and excited to be here."

So what's left for the 36-year-old Minnesota native? What does he have left in the tank? What's left to offer for a Blues team that is seemingly on the rise?

"We think Jamie's got real good hockey left in him or else he wouldn't be here," Armstrong said. "As you mature and as you gain experience, you rely on different parts in your game. He knows why he's come in here. He's come in here to participate and to be a part of a team that's moving forward.

"He's not 27 anymore, but he's not 57 either. We expect him to come in here and be a good player. To statistically have a good season, you have to be put in certain situations."

Blues coach Davis Payne said of Langenbrunner, "We feel he's going to fit in on the third line (with Arnott and Alex Steen). We feel he's going to provide some work, some defensive responsibility. We'd like to see him contribute on the PK. He's got a great nose for the net. If there's a guy not performing and all of the sudden he takes that responsibility, that's what we're going to find out. He's got such a great understanding of the game as far as positional discipline, puck decisions.

"He's got a great deal of motivation to come in here, play his part and play it very, very well. That's the role we've discussed. That's the role he understands. How far up he pushes that will depend on a lot of things. We're open to that push."

Langenbrunner, whose last contract was in the form of a five-year, $14 million deal signed to stay in New Jersey in the summer of 2006, had interest from multiple teams this summer but chose the Blues because he sees an opportunity at achieving something. Who would know better than a two-time Cup champ?

"This is a team that I feel is on that doorstep and has the ability to take that next step into that upper group of teams," Langenbrunner said. "Hopefully with the additions made this summer, bringing in some guys with some experience, (we can) help guide the way and kind of keep the highs from being too high and the lows from being too low. I think that's key in this league, staying consistent. It's a long year and you have to keep plugging away.

"... I haven't seen this team a ton, but just from watching games when you get home at night, I thought it was a team with obviously a lot of young talent and a goaltender that's proven he can play in big games and tough situations. I think that's a big start. Hopefully, like I said, we can put the other pieces together. I'm excited."

Winning a Stanley Cup is what it's all about, and who knows more on this roster than Langenbrunner? He feels the ingredients are in place here.

"First off, that belief has to be built through playing together," Langenbrunner said. "I think on paper right now, there's going to be 30 teams thinking they can win the Stanley Cup going into camp. Some are more realistic than others, also some probably unrealistic. I think that belief builds and it starts with training camp.

"The one thing I've noticed here is that they're a really close group. They're guys that seem to really care for each other and that's a big start in the right direction. From there, you build that trust that when you're on the ice, you know that person's not going to let you down. You can go out there and do your job and the other guy do his and you become a better and better team. ... Those teams in Dallas where we were getting hundreds of points a year, you build that trust. It took a little time. You bring in certain players that fill certain roles. It's not always signing the superstar player to change your team, it's adding pieces. I think they've done a good job of putting some pretty good pieces together here and we'll continue to build."

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