DALLAS -- A season-ending injury at 37 years old can often wind up turning into a career-ending injury, but St. Louis Blues’ right winger Jamie Langenbrunner is determined that his current hip injury will not force him out of the NHL.
After playing just four games this year, recording one assist, the native of Cloquet, Minn. succumbed to a labrum tear that appeared gradually and underwent surgery about two weeks ago.
“We couldn’t pinpoint any one certain thing and it just got to the point where it got too irritated and [I] just didn’t have the ability to push off any more, so I had to get it done,” Langenbrunner said of the surgical procedure. “It’s coming along well. I’m close to getting off the crutches, then I’ll begin the rehab, and hopefully it’ll heal quicker.”
And while his projected recovery time extends beyond the end of the 2012-13 season, his 18th in the NHL, the two-time U.S. Olympian vows that this won’t be the last we see of him.
“Not if I have anything to say about it, but you never know what happens,” said Langenbrunner, whose one-year contract expires after this season. “Obviously, it’s not perfect timing for me, but I try to get myself to get through this, feel good and hopefully get back to training and hopefully be ready to go again.”
And although he is in the twilight of a fantastic career, Langenbrunner can still play, as evidenced by his contribution of six goals, including three game-winners, and 24 points in 70 games last season. He also provided valuable leadership and mentoring to the Blues’ younger forwards, helping the squad finish with the Western Conference’s second-best record last year.
The two-time Stanley Cup winner (1999 in Dallas, 2003 in New Jersey) served as the Devils’ captain for three-and-a-half seasons (2007-11), and in the same capacity for the silver medal-winning Team USA at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.
Langenbrunner, who was drafted by Dallas in the second round (35th overall) in 1993, spent eight years with the Stars during the franchise’s glory years of 1995-2002, returning on Jan. 7, 2011, in a trade with New Jersey. After five goals and 18 points in 39 games during his second stint with the Stars, Langenbrunner signed with the Blues in 2011-12.
His latest honor was being named to the Stars’ all-time team. He received a standing ovation from the Dallas crowd when he was recognized during the Blues’ 4-1 loss to the Stars on Sunday.
“It was a neat honor for me,” said Langenbrunner, whose 95 goals rank eighth in Dallas history. “Having played with pretty much everyone on that [all-time] team, some pretty special guys, to be in that group was definitely an honor for me. [The ovation] was really nice. You never know what to expect sometimes, but the fans are fantastic and obviously, I loved my time playing [in Dallas].”
He reminisced about the unique connection that still bonds the players on that 1999 Stanley Cup winning team and the one that returned to the Final in 2000 before falling to the Devils.
“You look back at the depth that we had and definitely the closeness that we had,” recalled Langenbrunner, who scored 10 goals and 17 points in 23 playoff games en route to the 1999 Cup. “We had a lot of fun, both on and off the ice, and definitely friends that you keep for life. It’s nice to have those friendships and think how that closeness we had is probably part of the reason we were such a great team.”
He also looks back very fondly on his various stints with the U.S. national teams over the years, starting with the 1994 and ’95 World Junior Championships. The 6-foot-1, 202-pound Langenbrunner also pulled on the USA jersey at the 1998 Winter Olympics, the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, and of course, the 2010 Olympics.
“I’m obviously proud to be part of that and have the opportunity to play with some of those guys from that ground-breaking group [in ’98] with [Mike Modano] and [Chris Chelios] and Brian Leetch and those guys,” said Langenbrunner, who has amassed 243 goals and 663 points over 1,109 career games. “And then to be part of that new group in 2010 with Patrick Kane and [Zach] Parise and those guys, it was fun seeing both sides of it.”
Langenbrunner considers his time as Team USA captain in 2010 as one of the highlights of his career.
“It was fantastic. Just to be named on that team was an honor, and then a week later, getting the call from Ron Wilson and Brian Burke to be the captain, I was definitely taken aback by that,” admitted Langenbrunner, who contributed one goal and four points in six Olympic Games in 2010. “Any time you get a chance to represent your country is an honor, but being named the captain — and then to have some success, we kind of surprised some teams I think, and really came together. It was definitely an enjoyable two weeks of hockey for me.”
Having experienced first-hand the evolution of elite-level American hockey from surprise winner to perennial powerhouse, Langenbrunner believes the U.S. is poised to remain an international force moving forward.
“It’s fun seeing how USA Hockey has grown,” Langenbrunner said. “The U.S. World Juniors winning the championship [this past January] and being a force every year, it’s great to see. A lot of credit goes to the Dallas Stars, with what they were able to do with growing hockey here and the same could be said in California. I think I saw where 13 states were represented on that World Junior team — that’s pretty great for hockey and it’s great to see the game growing.”
It would also be great to see Langenbrunner return for at least one more season in 2013-14.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
For the last 15 years, Ian Walsh has crisscrossed the United States as an NHL official. In this Part 2 of our conversation with Walsh, the 42-year-old Philadelphia native fielded a series of questions discussing life on the road, his conditioning schedule, mentors, on-ice struggles, the evolution of the game and advice for aspiring officials.
USA Hockey: How do you think you've been able to maintain all of the officiating success you've had over the last 15 years?
Ian Walsh: I believe one of my strengths as an official is my work ethic. I come to the rink every night ready to work hard and give 100 percent. I also believe I am very coachable, and when I'm offered a suggestion for improvement, I try very hard to implement that advice into my game.
USAH: What is your conditioning schedule like during the NHL season? How about during the off-season?
Walsh: During the season, conditioning work is more about maintaining what you built up over the summer. The workouts aren't as intense but you must continue to take good care of your body. Game-day workouts usually include a 30-minute bike ride or a couple miles run at the hotel gym. I also like to do some core work and light strength training on top of that.
The weather in Portland is amazing in the summer, and I prefer to be outside and on my road bike. I usually get in about four days a week of riding outdoors to help build my endurance and strength. I try to play hockey a few days a week as well to help work on my skating.
USAH: When did you realize you finally had cemented your career as an official? What was that feeling like?
Walsh: I don't know if you ever get that feeling. Every night is a different challenge in our league. It is a hard, hard league to officiate. The scrutiny of every call, every goal, ever non-call is such a challenge for all of us. The best players and coaches in the world expect us to perform at such a high level every night, and we have to be ready for anything that comes our way. It’s a privilege to be on the ice in the NHL, and I think that is something no official takes for granted.
USAH: What has been your biggest accomplishment to date as an official?
Walsh: Being chosen to participate in four Stanley Cup playoffs is what I'm most proud of. It’s an incredible honor to be selected and that’s the goal for every official each year. Also, being part of the team that was chosen to represent the NHL at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics was a phenomenal experience and a great opportunity.
USAH: What has been the biggest hurdle/obstacle you've had to overcome in your officiating career?
Walsh: I’ve been lucky so far, knock on wood, that I haven’t had any serious injuries. Other than some bumps and bruises, I’ve been relatively injury-free in my career. The biggest challenge is to be able to bounce back from calls you made that aren't correct. In this day and age, we usually know within minutes after the game if we made a wrong decision. When you make a call that impacts the game, it’s hard on the mind. Unfortunately, we make mistakes and what most people don't understand is that nobody takes it harder than the official making that mistake. Being able to bounce back from a mistake is something all officials must learn to do.
USAH: Who has had the most impact on your officiating career over the past 15 years? What has that person or those people taught you?
Walsh: Nobody has helped me more over my NHL career than fellow referee Paul Devorski. I've worked a lot of games with Paul and we’ve had the opportunity to travel together on the road. As an elite, veteran referee, he has been able to pass down some of his knowledge to me to help me become a better official. Paul is retiring this year, and our staff will sorely miss him.
USAH: How has the game changed, besides speed, since you started in the early 2000s?
Walsh: I would say the biggest change besides the speed of the game would be the use of technology. It is amazing what you see at rink – teams have iPads on the bench, super slo-motion video replays, hi-def video scoreboards, etc. With all that technology, it makes the officials job appear easy. People forget that the official on the ice sees a play one time, in real time, and must make a split-second decision on that play. It often appears quite different when you see a replay in super slo-mo on hi-def after a game.
USAH: What advice can you give aspiring NHL/professional league officials as they progress in their career?
Walsh: I would say make sure you have a backup plan. Making it to the NHL is everyone’s goal, but there are very few jobs available. There are so many factors that go into hiring an official and a lot of those are out of your control. Go and work the highest level available to you. Don't worry about other officials, if you are good enough, the NHL will find you. Also, control what you can control – always work on your skating, know your rules and come to the rink every night with a strong work ethic and a great attitude.