Jamie Langenbrunner and much of the leadership core of the U.S. Olympic hockey team will infuse the New Jersey Devils’ way of life into the club at next month’s Vancouver Games.
Langenbrunner, captain of the Devils, was tabbed Monday by USA Hockey to wear the ‘C.’ The alternate captains will be New Jersey teammate Zach Parise, former Devils defenseman Brian Rafalski — now of Detroit — Nashville’s Ryan Suter, and Dustin Brown, who serves as Los Angeles Kings captain.
Langenbrunner is one of three U.S. hockey players with Olympic experience. Rafalski is a three-time Olympian along with New York Rangers captain Chris Drury.
“We’ve had some difficult decisions and some long discussions and some vitriolic, profanity-laced arguments through the selection process but the one thing we didn’t have any kind of a fight on was picking our captain,” Team USA general manager Brian Burke said. “He is serving on an organization that is respected throughout the league. He has been a model of consistency of versatility.
“This is a guy that does just about everything well on an ice surface and a lot of things well in the dressing room.”
While coach Ron Wilson favored picking only three alternates, the committee decided to go with four. Only two will wear the ‘A’ for each game, and they will be chosen on a rotating basis.
The 34-year-old Langenbrunner hasn’t been in the Olympics since the 1998 Nagano Games — the first to feature NHL players. He was a Stanley Cup champion with the Dallas Stars in 1999 and New Jersey in 2003.
“I have coached him in a couple of events, and he is the ultimate professional,” Wilson said. “His experience in the Olympics, and also the World Cup, will really help get our team pulled together and headed in the right direction.”
Rafalski spent his first seven NHL seasons with New Jersey and won the Stanley Cup twice with the Devils before moving on to the Red Wings and capturing the title again in 2008. At 36, he is the oldest player on the team.
Wilson said he wanted to spread out the leadership to cover all areas on the team. Langenbrunner and Rafalski give more of a veteran presence, while Parise and Brown — both 25 — represent the younger players.
“There are plenty of leaders on this team,” Langenbrunner said. “I’ve been fortunate to play with both Raffi and Zach on a long-term basis during the season and with the other two in the orientation camp.
“I’m not too worried about leadership on this team, at all. We have plenty of great leaders and we’re all going to know our goals and our focus going forward. I am looking forward to the challenges of going to Vancouver and winning a gold medal.”
That has been accomplished by the U.S. team only twice, in 1960 and the “Miracle on Ice” club in 1980. Both of those Olympics were held in the United States.
This team, while not nearly the underdog it was in 1980 with a roster full of college players, will not be considered as favorite to reach the podium in Vancouver. Suter’s father, Bob, was on the Olympic team that shocked the world 30 years ago.
Since NHL players have taken part, the Americans have won only one Olympic medal — silver at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
But Burke and Wilson hope the influence of the Devils, who have won the Stanley Cup three times in 14 seasons, will help create a championship atmosphere. Defenseman Paul Martin was also chosen for the U.S. team, giving New Jersey three players — a team high matched by Los Angeles.
Burke and Wilson were co-captains in college at Providence under coach Lou Lamoriello, the longtime architect and general manager of the Devils.
“A lot of this team selection and this captaincy selection is a tribute to Lou Lamoriello, who has been a giant with USA Hockey,” Burke said. “No question that is a factor.”
The exclusion of Drury from the group of captains came as a bit of a surprise, especially since some questioned his selection to the team due to his limited offensive production this season with the Rangers.
Drury, in his second season as Rangers captain, has six goals and 16 points in 40 games.
“Leaders lead. Leaders don’t need letters to lead,” Burke said forcefully. “If you need a letter to lead, then you’re not a leader anyhow. We know what Chris Drury can bring. He doesn’t need a letter. We’ve got a number of guys who are wearing letters in the NHL that aren’t going to wear a letter on this team.”