Joe Nieuwendyk was in tears. The center had torn an oblique muscle in his left side in Game 6 of the 2003 Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators and, after two shifts of Game 7, realized that he simply couldn’t play.

He asked the trainer to grab Jamie Langenbrunner while both were in the locker room during the first intermission. Nieuwendyk had something to say to his fellow New Jersey Devils forward.

“There’s nobody I want to be a teammate more in these situations than you,” Langenbrunner remembered Nieuwendyk telling him. “You’re going to have a big second, third period.”

He wasn’t wrong.

The Devils had gone into that intermission down 1-0 to the Senators. They emerged up 2-1, courtesy of two goals by Langenbrunner, on their way to a 3-2 win in Game 7 and an eventual Stanley Cup championship.

The message was part exhortation, part understanding, of who and what Langenbrunner was, of what he was capable of in the biggest moments. Nieuwendyk, close friend and frequent road roommate of Langenbrunner, had seen it time and again, never more so than when the two won the Stanley Cup together for the first time, with the Dallas Stars in 1999.

Performing in those moments was the hallmark of Langenbrunner’s 16-season NHL career, most of which was spent with the Stars and Devils, in addition to two seasons with the St. Louis Blues. He would play 1,109 NHL games, scoring 663 points (243 goals, 420 assists), making the Stanley Cup Playoffs in all but one season, winning the Cup twice, culminating in his election to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. He’ll be inducted Wednesday in Boston alongside Dustin Brown, Brian Burke, Katie King Crowley and Brian Murphy.

“Especially in the playoffs, you could tell that he was able to raise his game to another level,” Nieuwendyk said. “That’s probably the mark of his career is that he was able to step his game up.

“I said it publicly and I’ve said it to him many times, I said if there was ever a player that I was going to go to war with in playoffs, it would be Jamie. That’s the way I felt about him.”


The second time they won the Cup together, in 2003, Langenbrunner finished the playoffs tied with teammate Scott Niedermayer for the League lead in playoff scoring with 18 points, having tallied an NHL-leading 11 goals and adding seven assists. In all, he had 87 points (34 goals, 53 assists) in 146 playoff games.

“You could see that there was a determination and a grit level to his game that, even though he wasn’t maybe as skilled as some other guys, he had something in him that had a compete level,” Nieuwendyk said. “You could see that right from the get-go.”

The pair played together from nearly the start of Langenbrunner’s career. Nieuwendyk was traded from the Calgary Flames to the Stars on Dec. 20, 1995, and Langenbrunner’s first full season was in 1996-97.

“They were tied at the hip,” said former Devils general manager and now New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello.

It was Lamoriello who acquired both players on March 19, 2002, sending back a 2002 first-round draft pick, Jason Arnott and Randy McKay to the Stars. That would set the Devils up for their 2003 Cup win, and all that would come later, including Langenbrunner being named captain midway through the 2007-08 season, when he was able to act as a calming influence on young players like Zach Parise and Travis Zajac.

“As far as a player, he personified what a Devil was in those days,” Lamoriello said. “He came to play every night. He had talent. He was a team player and he certainly had the respect of his teammates, obviously management too because he was captain. And he just brought so much offensively and defensively.”

Especially in those big moments.

That was his calling card.

As Parise put it, “He was a winner.”

It’s something that Langenbrunner ties back all the way to his high school days, when he played in the Minnesota state tournament in front of 18,000 or so people as a teenager.

“I think it builds on itself, that confidence,” he said. “I don’t particularly think it just happens overnight. I’m not a huge believer that anyone really gets better or elevates at that time. Guys are getting tired. It’s a long thing. I think there’s an ability to stay in the moment that players are able to do.”

It’s about not getting overwhelmed.

“That’s the biggest thing is being able to handle the pressure,” Langenbrunner said.

And he could do it as well as anyone.

“He didn’t feel the pressure,” Nieuwendyk said. “He just thrived in it.”

Jamie Langenbrunner on being elected to the HOF

Perhaps the highest, and maybe most unexpected, honor of Langenbrunner’s career came in 2010. The forward, who had been on the U.S. Olympic team in 1998 but not for the next two cycles, was named captain of the 2010 squad, a true testament to what the U.S. Olympic management thought of him.

“At the time, it was probably the single greatest individual honor I’d been given,” Langenbrunner said. “I was captain of my NHL team at the time and that was big, but this is your national team. This is on the Olympic stage. I hadn’t been a part of the Olympics in 12 years. … I thought my Olympic time was done. Not to only make the team, but then to be thought of as one of the leaders of it was pretty special.”

At that point, he had come to understand that being a captain, a leader, was about being himself, about all the things he had done previously that had led to that honor, about caring and valuing the people around him, about making them feel a part of the whole.

He would lead the team to a silver medal in Vancouver, with Canada taking gold.

“He was a significant part of that 2010 team,” said Burke, the general manager. “It was more than what you saw on the ice. It was the character he brought. It was kind of the symbol of our team. We were underdogs. No one thought we’d do anything. He represented the determination of our team.”

Parise, who was taken in by Langenbrunner’s family for holidays as a young player and who sat next to him in the Devils dressing room, was an alternate captain.

“He was the captain for a reason on that stage,” Parise said. “It was a relatively younger team and he was a perfect guy for us to have lead the group. You talk about the experiences that he had, how much players respected him and his career. For that group, he was perfect.”


Being named to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame also came as a shock. Langenbrunner got the call while he was knee-deep in free agency for the Boston Bruins, for whom he is an assistant general manager. He said that he probably only picked up the unknown number because he thought it might be an agent.

It wasn’t.

“It was a definite surprise,” he said. “And a great honor.”

But while Langenbrunner is known for his Cup wins, for his leadership in those crucial moments, it all had to start somewhere.

It was late at night in May of 1999, and Langenbrunner and Nieuwendyk were in their Denver hotel room just before the Stars took on the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference Final, after they had gotten past the Edmonton Oilers and the Blues.

“You’d lay in bed and you’d talk,” Langenbrunner said. “He’s like, alright, we’re halfway through. We need to go get you one of these rings, and he pulled out his ring from Calgary.”

They’d get that ring and one more.

“I just remember the fire in the kid when we were going through that run. Man, I just remember seeing the grit and determination on him, not backing down at all,” Nieuwendyk said of the 1999 playoffs, matched up against players like Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg.

“He didn’t care how big the moment was or who he was playing against. He just looked those guys in the eye and said, ‘This is our time.’”

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