After Rod Langway had won the National Hockey League's Norris Trophy for being the top defenseman two weeks ago, he was sitting with Capitals Coach Bryan Murray when a fan approached.
"As far as I'm concerned," said the fan, "you're still the best defenseman in the league, Larry, and I think you should have won the Norris Trophy instead of Rod Langway."
Langway stood up, aware that the fellow had confused him with Montreal defenseman Larry Robinson, and said, "I am Rod Langway and I am the best defenseman in the league."
Langway is not boasting, just stating the facts. Voted a first-team all-star by his peers, Langway served as captain of the Capitals last season, and according to General Manager David Poile, "showed these guys how to be winners."
"Rod's got a lot of confidence in himself, and he's worked hard to get where he is," Poile said. "It's not a position he would give up too easily, because he never quits."
Langway, who came to Washington from Montreal last September, is perhaps the best example of the team's workaholic image. He plays full tilt for what often seems to be 60 minutes a game, hustles just as hard in practice, and continually encourages his teammates. He is what Poile describes as "the type of player who typifies a Capital. Rod is very much the 'team' player."
Langway agrees. "There is a lot to this workaholic stuff, and I mean all of the guys on the team. This award, there is no way I would have gotten it without their help. We're the kind of club that doesn't quit. We're a lot like the Islanders, really."
He expressed some surprise at being one of the two finalists for the Norris, saying, "There are so many good defensemen around, how can you think of yourself as the best?" Langway said he did not dwell on his chances of winning the award, and was actually more impressed with being named to the first team all-star squad.
"That says something," he said. "That's from your peers, and they know.
"Seriously, I've never even been in this situation before. Even being nominated, I know it's not just me. I have to thank David (Poile) for bringing me here, Bryan (Murray) for playing me, all the guys on the team who work so hard. It's not something I'm thinking too hard about right now."
But when the awards were being announced, Langway was openly delighted. "He was nervous," said his wife Linda, "maybe afraid he wouldn't win it."
"Winning this helps the Washington Capitals," Langway said. "I think people are starting to realize the respect this team deserves."
For Langway, playing in Washington has brought him a new level of respect and individual attention.
"When Rod was in Montreal (for the first four years of his NHL career), he was playing in the shadow of Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe," Poile said. "The trade to Washington made it possible for him to stand on his own two feet and show what he could really do. I think he's enjoyed the additional exposure, which came from the Capitals doing well this year, and the responsibility of being captain."
Langway tries to play down his captain role, frequently commenting that "a lot of guys on this team are captains; I'm just the one who wears the 'C' (on his jersey)." But he is a natural leader, with a confident, take-charge manner that began emerging in training camp last fall.
"We (Poile and Murray) had approached him with the idea of being captain within a week after the trade," Poile said. "With 11 new players in camp, we knew the captain would be important in helping bring the team together. Rod said he wanted to think it over, but later came back to us and said he would do it. I think he wanted it at that point.
"The trade with Montreal (Ryan Walter and Rick Green to the Canadiens in exchange for Langway, Brian Engblom, Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin) was a good one," Poile said.
"But the icing on the cake was the fact that Rod became our leader. I always refer back to the years when Philadelphia won the Stanley Cup (1974 and 1975). The Flyers were not the most talented club around, but they had excellent leadership in Bobby Clarke, and Rod's confidence gives our team that quality."