One of the greatest defenseman in Washington Capitals franchise history, Rod Langway’s playing style, leadership, and persona earned him the nickname “Secretary of Defense”, and his arrival to the team in 1982 was franchise-changing. In this latest Capitals Alumni Profile, NoVa Caps looks back at Langway’s Capitals and overall career.
Early Life and Career
Rodney Corey Langway was born on May 3, 1957, in Taipei, Taiwan, the son of an American serviceman in the Navy who was stationed there at the time and is the only player in NHL history born in Taiwan. He grew up in Randolph, Massachusetts, a tough blue-collar community south of Boston. When he was 13 years old, his mother, Elba, died of lung cancer and his father, who had become a guard for Brinks, soon moved out of the family house and with a girlfriend, leaving the seven Langway children to fend for themselves, of which Rod was the third-eldest. Their father occasionally stopped by to give them money and make sure they were okay. Rod’s two elder brothers soon moved out, as well, leaving Rod as the de facto head of the household.
Throughout most of his childhood, football was his main sport. Aside from playing street hockey with the other kids from his neighborhood, he did not begin playing ice hockey until he was nearly 13-years old. At that time, Bobby Orr had arrived in Boston and Langway was enchanted by the young Bruins’ defenseman who went on to win the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman in eight consecutive seasons. Inspired by Orr, he tried out for a local hockey team of 13 and 14-year-olds as an oversized 12-year-old kid. One of the team’s coaches, Jack Foley, could see that Langway had a lot of athletic ability, despite his awkwardness and relative inexperience at hockey. Within a month of skating with the team, he became their best skater.
He played high school hockey with the Randolph Blue Devils and led them to state tournament appearances in 1973, 1974, and 1975. He was also a standout quarterback for the Randolph High football team and was regarded as one of the top football recruits in the nation. In addition, he played catcher for the baseball team and was considered a baseball prospect, as well. His goal was to gain a sports scholarship. The top college programs had regarded him as a future NFL quarterback. A football recruiter from the University of New Hampshire (UNH) convinced him to come there where he would also be able to play college hockey. He could play both sports in college and not be forced to choose one or the other as an incoming freshman. He went on to lead UNH to the NCAA Frozen Four in 1977. As a result, recruiters from both the NHL and the World Hockey Association (WHA) tried to recruit him. Even though hockey was not his passion, he opted to leave school to play hockey since NCAA rules stated it was okay to be a professional athlete in one sport but still be considered an amateur in another, for NCAA purposes. He figured he could always return to school to finish his degree and still be eligible to play football. But as it turned out, hockey ended up being the direction he chose as a professional career.
Professional Career Prior to the Capitals
Langway was drafted by both the Montreal Canadians of the NHL and the Birmingham Bulls of the World Hockey Association (WHA) in 1977, with the Bulls selecting him in the first round with the sixth overall pick and the Canadiens drafting him in the second round with the 36th overall pick. Langway opted to play with the Bulls for the 1977-78 season, who then sent him to their minor league affiliate, the Hampton Gulls, with whom he played 30 games until he was recalled to Birmingham, where he played 52 games.
Birmingham was not included in the NHL/WHA merger and as a result, Langway ended up joining the Montreal Canadiens organization for the 1978-79 season, beginning the season with their farm team, the Nova Scotia Voyageurs, and was then called up after spending 18 games there. He played in 45 games for Montreal and was part of their Stanley Cup-winning team in 1979. The 1979-1980 season was his first full season in the NHL, recording seven goals and 29 assists, and a Plus/Minus rating of plus-36. During the 1980-1981 season, he was the NHL leader in Plus/Minus with a plus-53 rating and was named a Second-Team All-Star for the 1981-1982 season. During the 1982-83 season, he was named to the All-Star Team for the Prince of Wales Conference in a game that was, ironically enough, played at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland.
Langway, however, was not happy in Montreal due to the high tax rate in Quebec and the fact that, as an American, he was losing money due to the exchange rate between the United States and Canada and the taxes involved, and he wanted to re-arrange his contract during his fourth season, given that he was also married with two children. He wanted a new deal that would be in U.S. funds, but Montreal did not want to cause problems in their organization. As a result, he and fellow defenseman Brian Engblom, and forwards Craig Laughlin and Doug Jarvis were traded to Washington in exchange for defenseman Rick Green and Capitals team captain, Ryan Walter. The trade was franchise-changing for the Capitals.
Washington Capitals Career
The trade had a positive effect on the Caps almost immediately. Langway was appointed captain of the team within days of the trade. The team made the playoffs for the first time ever on the heels of a 39-26-12 record, and finished third in the Patrick Division, ultimately losing to the New York Islanders in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, though the season was also the first season in which the Capitals finished with a winning record. Langway won the Norris Trophy (Best defenseman) and received First-Team All-Star honors after the season. He was also runner-up to Wayne Gretzky for Most Valuable Player.
Langway stayed with the Capitals for 11 seasons and was the team captain for almost the entire time. During his entire career with the Capitals, the team made the playoffs, something they never had done before his arrival. He demanded greatness from himself and others and earned the nickname “Secretary of Defense”. While with the Caps, he earned many honors. He won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman in the 1983 and 1984 seasons, was chosen as an NHL First-Team All-Star after both the 1982-83 and 1983-84 seasons, and as NHL Second Team All Star after the 1984-85 season, he played in the All-Star games in 1983, 1984, 1985, and 1986 and finished runner-up to Wayne Gretzky for the Hart Memorial Trophy in 1984. Additionally, he was also part of the NHL All-Star team that played the Soviet national hockey team in Rendez-Vous ’87.
Throughout his career, Langway was known as a defensive-minded defenseman, and prior to his Norris Trophy victories, the award had been given to blueliners who had produced high offensive totals.
In 1991-92, he and his agent negotiated a six-year contract in which during the first two years he would remain with the team as a player, but in the last four years, he would serve as an employee for the team in a non-playing role. At the beginning of that contact, he was still an effective player, but the 1992-93 season proved to be a difficult one for Langway and the team. The Capitals were playing poorly, and it was felt the team needed to rely on younger, faster players. In early November, he met with then-General Manager David Poile to discuss his future as he would see limited ice time for the rest of that season. Other options were to retire or seek out a trade. Langway then took some time off from the team for a vacation and then had knee surgery and shoulder surgery. As his shoulder and knee had been bothering him, he at least wished to resolve any nagging health issues.
He returned to the lineup in early January and played regularly when other defensemen were out with injuries. But then he played only two games in February — on February 2 and February 21. After the All-Star break that month, he permanently relinquished his captaincy to young defenseman Kevin Hatcher. After his last game, he even occasionally served as an assistant coach but the part-time role bothered him. He asked for his release and departed from the team on March 12. He ended up playing in only 21 games in that season, his last with the team. That year was the last of his NHL career.
He was one of the last players in NHL history to play without a hockey helmet.
Related Reading About Caps Career
NoVa Caps: Interview: Langway’s Legacy — Culture of Success
NoVa Caps: Langway Home — Trade That Saved Franchise
Washington Post Story: Langway on Thin Ice — 1993
Washington Post Story: Langway — Defense Not Ready To Rest
Here is link to the 40th anniversary video tribute to him in the 40 Greatest Caps:
Following his departure from the Capitals, Langway played in six games for the Richmond Renegades of the East Coast Hockey League. During the 1995-96 season, Langway served as a player-coach for the San Francisco Spiders of the International Hockey League (IHL), serving as an Assistant Coach for the Providence Bruins in the AHL under Tom McVie, a former Head Coach of the Capitals. He played 10 games that season to assist with on-ice development. Providence finished with just 19 victories and McVie was re-assigned to be a scout and Langway did not return. In 2002-03, Langway became coach of the Richmond Riverdogs, an expansion franchise in the United Hockey League and coached them to a division championship, but a loss in the first round of the playoffs; he was not retained for the next season since the team was sold and the new owners sought to cut expenses.
On November 27, 1997, the Capitals retired Rod Langway’s jersey No.5 at the last game played in the old Capital Centre. In 1999, he was elected to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame and in November 2002, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, along with Bernie Federko, Clark Gillies, and Roger Neilson.
Langway has been active in Washington Capitals alumni activities and is President of the Caps Alumni Board. He now works for Monumental Sports, the parent company of the Caps. He can be seen at nearly every Caps; home game at the “Thank You for Your Service” segment in which he poses with the designated honored member from one of the USA’s armed services.
Washington Post Story: Langway Chosen for Hall of Fame
Washington Capitals Alumni Association
Washington Post on Capitals Alumni Enjoying the Connection
Washington Capitals Biography of Langway
Hockey Hall of Fame Spotlight on Langway