|Jamie Langenbrunner will be joining rare company when he takes part in his 1000th career NHL game. The distinction of maintaining a level of excellence over 1000 games is quite an honor in its own right but only 36 American-born players in National Hockey League history have previously accomplished the feat.
When Langenbrunner takes the ice at American Airlines Center next Monday against the Los Angeles Kings, it will be a special evening not only for Jamie and his family but for his large fan base stretched across the nation. Jamie became a hockey icon in his home
state of Minnesota before earning hero status with both the Dallas Stars and New Jersey Devils as an important piece in their most recent Stanley Cup championship teams.
As a prodigy at the high school level for his hometown Cloquet Lumberjacks, Jamie caught the eye of NHL scouts by amassing 150 points in 70 games. He took his game to an even higher level in tournament play by dominating the Minnesota state playoffs as a junior. A reputation as a "big game player" would follow Jamie into his professional career as he was drafted 35th overall by the Dallas Stars in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft.
Langenbrunner continued his development in the Ontario Hockey League and the International Hockey League before becoming a regular for the Stars in the 1996-97 season at the tender age of 20. Hockey writers across North America quickly took notice of Jamie's fine play as he was named as a finalist for the Calder trophy at season's end.
Mike Modano, the all-time leader in NHL goals and points among American players kindly agreed to discuss Langenbrunner's career. Modano played alongside Jamie as his teammate at both the international level for Team USA and for eight seasons with the Stars. A youthful Langenbrunner was able to impress a Dallas roster made up of long-time NHL veterans like Modano and went on to be counted on as a dependable mainstay in the Stars' lineup for years to come.
"Being such a veteran team it was tough to crack the lineup. Jamie stepped right in and played great from the start. He understood a lot at that young age," Modano recalled.
Langenbrunner had the advantage of learning from both experienced pros and a demanding coach in Ken Hitchcock as Modano elaborated, "I'd say that having a collection of veterans like Guy Carboneau, Joe Nieuwendyk, Craig Ludwig, Brian Skrudland and Mike Keane around him helped him a lot. Coach Hitchcock was someone who made a big impact on his career."
Former Stars' teammate Kirk Muller spoke candidly about Jamie's experiences in 'The Lone Star State.' "It was a great group of guys in Dallas. There were at lot veterans and ex-captains around. At that time, Jamie was just coming into his own and I remember 'Hitch' being so tough on him but he was a great competitor. He played a lot with Nieuwendyk back then and Jamie was a great 'Dallas Stars-type' player. A grinder who could finish, score big goals in big games and he was a great teammate to play with," Muller detailed.
During the 1999 playoffs, Jamie caught fire as he trailed only Conn Smythe-winning teammate Nieuwendyk with 10 goals. Langenbrunner's 17 total points placed him in the top 5 that playoffs and he shared the postseason lead with 4 power play goals.
"He and Joe played very well together. We had a great first line with myself, Brett Hull and Jere Lehtinen. Teams sometimes focused on us and the second line took advantage. Jamie took his game to another level that playoffs," Modano remembered.
The Stars continued to be one of the most competitive teams in the Western Conference until the 2001-02 season when the team went into a prolonged slump. On March 19, 2002, club general manager Doug Armstrong decided to shake things up by moving Langenbrunner along with close friend and line-mate Joe Nieuwendyk to the New Jersey Devils for Jason Arnott, Randy McKay and a 1st round pick. In his first full season with the Devils, Jamie eclipsed his previous career highs with 22 goals, 33 assists and 55 points.
By the time the 2003 playoffs got underway, Langenbrunner not only maintained his superb play but took his game to new heights by leading the playoffs with 11 goals and shared the postseason lead in points (18) and game-winning goals (4.) His crucial performances throughout the 2003 playoffs helped the Devils claim their third Stanley Cup in nine years.
Langenbrunner's long list of playoff heroics rank him in the top 19 in game-winning playoff goals in NHL history. Through the 2009-10 season, Jamie has compiled an impressive 86 points in 137 career playoff appearances.
Longtime teammate Patrik Elias spoke of Jamie's importance to the Devils' franchise, "He's been on a couple of winning teams and can play any kind of game. He knows what it takes to win and was obviously one of our leaders. Jamie can play any kind of game and plays on the specials teams… on the PK and power play. He has a lot of experience and brings pride, excitement and confidence. I've played him for quite awhile and he's won a lot of games for us over the years."