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New Hampshire scored twice in the closing minutes and won the game in double overtime 10-9, gaining a berth among the final four in Detroit. There UNH lost to the eventual champion, Wisconsin, 4-3 in overtime, but Langway impressed the scouts as the best defenseman in the tournament. In June, Langway became the first U.S. player taken in the NHL draft when Montreal grabbed him as the final pick of the second round.
The Birmingham Bulls of the World Hockey Association had drafted Langway in the first round, however, and they offered him so much money that he decided to leave school and sign. Langway was married—to the former Linda Marzinzik, his high school sweetheart—and figured that if he didn't like pro hockey he could always return to UNH to play football. But, he says, "I learned more about professional hockey that season in Birmingham than I did in any other. We were animals. But it was fun."
Most of what Langway learned that year centered on self-defense and fighting. The 1977-78 Bulls may have been the most belligerent team in hockey history. Steve Durbano, Dave Hanson (who later appeared as a hockey brawler in the movie Slap Shot) and Ken Linseman were among a host of ruffians and agitators at the command of Coach Glen Sonmor, but the team also had finesse players like Frank Mahovlich, Paul Henderson and Mark Napier. Langway proved not only that he could play with the pros, but also that he could tough it out—an oft-heard criticism of the U.S. college player at that time: Sure he can skate, shoot and pass, but the egghead can't handle the rough stuff.
The next season Langway came to terms with the Canadiens. He spent 18 games at the start of the year with Nova Scotia, Montreal's top farm team, then moved up to the defending Stanley Cup champions. He had been playing hockey all of nine years and was suddenly a member of the same defense corps as Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe—merely the best unit in the history of the game.
"Seeing those guys play day in and day out, you couldn't help but be influenced," says Langway. "They always made the easy play, did the little things to get themselves out of trouble. On a two-on-one, they'd take away the pass, saying, in effect, if you want to try to beat [Montreal Goalie] Kenny Dryden, go right ahead. They kept everything out of the middle, because that's where the other team's best player, the center, would be. They had earned so much respect that guys wouldn't even try to beat them one-on-one. I'd sit on the bench and think, 'Is it really that easy to play this game?' "
Langway credits Claude Ruel, an assistant coach for the Canadiens that year, for making him the player he is today. Ruel would stay after practice, firing passes to Langway, contriving imaginary situations to keep his interest. "He'd say things to you in broken English that would make you laugh—and that made it fun," Langway says.
In his four seasons with the Canadiens, Langway built a reputation as one of the steadiest defensemen in the game. His days in Montreal became numbered, however, when the Canadian government changed its tax laws in 1981, severely limiting a foreign athlete's ability to shelter his income. Langway still lived in New Hampshire in the off-season. Thus, by the time both the U.S. and Canadian governments were through with him he was taking home something like 30% of his income—in Canadian dollars, then worth 80% of U.S. dollars. He had several talks with Grundman to try to find a solution, but Grundman explained that it would disrupt the Canadiens' salary structure if they were to renegotiate in light of the new laws. So Langway asked to be traded to an American city.
He threatened to retire if Grundman didn't oblige and had already sold his Montreal home when he reported for training camp in 1982. "I thought they were going to call my bluff and make me sit," says Langway. "I never thought they'd trade me." But of course they did. At Washington Languay's new contract had bonus clauses throughout. In fact, the bonus value of his Norris Trophy was $175,000.
It was in his last year in Montreal that Langway stopped wearing a helmet. It wasn't a choice dictated by machismo, Langway insists, because he is no fighter. Rather, he simply forgot his headgear during a playoff road trip and decided he felt more comfortable playing without it. Still, it may or may not be a coincidence that the Canadiens' Robinson, Lang-way's idol, doesn't wear a helmet either.
When the Capitals opened their training camp last month in Hershey, Pa. with an intrasquad scrimmage, Poile was watching from the stands. Referees were on hand; score was being kept. It was good competition. Langway had already slid out to the point to block a slap shot and was now on the bench following the play. He could be heard exhorting his side on as if he were still in college. "Get back! Get back!" he yelled to a teammate who was not back-checking at full speed. He wanted to win the scrimmage, wanted it enough to holler about it.