Langenbrunner perfect fit as Team USA captain

January, 11, 2010

Here's what I love most about Jamie Langenbrunner being named captain of the 2010 U.S. Olympic men's hockey team.

When Team USA heads to Vancouver next month, it will largely be disregarded as a gold-medal team. There's some rich symmetry there for Langenbrunner. He also happens to captain another hockey team routinely disregarded by fans and media (and, if I can be honest without divulging names, a long list of NHL GMs and coaches who predicted the demise of the New Jersey Devils to me in the preseason).

I, of course, took that inside knowledge and also predicted in early September that the Devils would make the playoffs as a lower seed. Oops.

The point being, if there's a quiet leader who's perfect for an underdog U.S. team, a player with plenty of room for that chip that resides on his Devils' shoulder, it's Langenbrunner, whose NHL club competes with the best of them year in and year out, even if important players have left via free agency every single summer since the lockout.

Langenbrunner and the Devils just do things right, without fanfare. And that'll do the trick in Vancouver.

Throw in the fact current Devils teammate Zach Parise and former New Jersey teammate Brian Rafalski join Dustin Brown and Ryan Suter as the team's alternate captains, and you've got one heck of a compliment to the Devils organization and veteran GM Lou Lamoriello.

"When we were going through the selection process and the captaincy, that kept coming up, that this is a guy who played in the New Jersey system," Team USA GM Brian Burke said Monday on a media conference call. "Brian Rafalski cut his teeth as a Devil. Jamie Langenbrunner has gone through that whole process, to use his language, of checking their ego at the door and doing their job. So, yes, a lot of this team selection and captaincy selection is a tribute to Lou Lamoriello, who of course has been a giant with USA Hockey. No question that's a factor."

I loved Langenbrunner's answer Monday when asked by another reporter about the 30th anniversary of the "Miracle on Ice" team -- you guys will also be underdogs, so why not? But I think Langenbrunner took offense that his Olympic team should be seen as that much of a long shot like the bunch of college kids who stunned the mighty Soviets. What's also interesting about his answer is the country he immediately brought into the conversation.

"It's a different situation, in my opinion," Langenbrunner said of the 1980 anniversary. "As much as Canada deserves the credit they're given for all the players they have, the 23 players named to the U.S. team play in the same league as those guys. We feel quite comfortable playing against them on a nightly basis, and we feel we belong on the same ice with them. So we're looking forward to the opportunity and challenge of playing against them."

Spoken like a true captain.

If there was one surprising element for me (and I'm sure for a few of my colleagues) Monday, it was that Chris Drury didn't get a letter. I say that only because it was largely assumed by most of us Drury made this team largely for leadership and character reasons. So most of us took that to mean he'd be a captain candidate, or at least an alternate. I asked Burke about it Monday, saying Drury not getting a letter would raise some eyebrows, and I don't think he was thrilled with that question.

"No people are raising their eyebrows because they all predicted he'd be one of these guys and you guys [the media] are looking silly," Burke said. "Leaders lead. Leaders don't need letters to lead. ... If you need a letter to lead, then you're not a leader anyway.

"We know what Chris Drury can bring, he doesn't need a letter. We've got a number of guys who wear letters in the NHL and who aren't going to wear letters on this team."

The one thing it does do for Team USA is remove some of the spotlight from a roster pick some people thought was controversial given his struggles this season. Drury won't be the focal point in Vancouver. The team will.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?