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From the Catbird Seat...Full Circle

The first time I met Jamie Langenbrunner, he was 15 years old.

The youngster had earned a spot on Tom MacFarlane’s Cloquet varsity team as a freshman — no mean feat, that — and had set a record for freshman scoring that would stand for 20 years.

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You could see what kind of player he would be even at that tender age. And he lived up to that potential.

Last week, after 1,255 NHL regular season and playoff games, two Stanley Cup victories and an Olympic silver medal in the sport he loves, Langenbrunner announced his retirement. And what a career it was.

He scored 277 NHL goals, including 34 in the playoffs, and exactly 750 points, including 87 in the playoffs. He won Stanley Cups with Dallas and New Jersey, and captained the 2010 U.S. Olympic team.

And now, he’s getting the opportunity to do other things he loves — coach hockey and be a full-time father.

He’s one of the coaches for Cloquet’s peewee program now, home at last and enjoying his family.

“I got the chance to do what I loved and play in the NHL,” Langenbrunner said. “My dreams came true and that’s fantastic. But some of the things in my life I haven’t gotten to do yet. With a young family, my kids are starting to grow up, and it’s a different dynamic.”

“I’ve got a sophomore in high school now, a seventh-grader and a fifth-grader, and they’re going to hockey. In the NHL you get summers off but now I’m there every day, part of their life every day, and being around my friends.”

But for now, with the NHL still fresh in his mind, it’s time for Langenbrunner to look back on a great career.

“The Stanley Cups were great, of course,” he said. “Coming home for the summer feeling completely fulfilled professionally, that was the best memory. Sometimes you’d come home saying you wish you had accomplished this or that, but those summers were great when you knew you had done it all. That long season followed by two months of playoffs were incredible. There are a lot of great players who never had the feeling I had and I was lucky enough to have it twice.”

Langenbrunner ranks the 2010 Olympics as second on his list.

“That was a two-week sprint as opposed to the long NHL season, and to come out with a medal after representing your country was right behind the Stanley Cups,” he said.

He takes away many memories from the game — of teammates and coaches alike.

“My role model early in my career was Joe Nieuwendyk,” Langenbrunner said of his longtime teammate with Dallas and New Jersey. “From a playing standpoint he was a role model for me on how to treat people on and off the ice, from the superstar to the stick kid. He was a great guy to emulate and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the NHL who didn’t like him.”

And from a coaching standpoint, he has several favorites as well.

“I played with Hitch (former Dallas and current St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock) for a number of years,” Langenbrunner said. “There were days I hated him and days it was great. Another influence on me was the late Pat Burns (one of his coaches in New Jersey), who was old-school hard, and taught guys to have a passion for the game, to play with hard work and determination.”

And of course, there were his local coaches.

“Everyone, from peewees on up, who gave their time to make me a better player,” Langenbrunner said. “And obviously you know how much respect I have for Mac (Tom MacFarlane) and what he did for me.”

“One thing I learned from him in coaching is that you have to push the best players on your team, not the bottom of the lineup. He did that with me and made me a better player. He wasn’t satisfied that I could be the best player in Cloquet, he wanted me to be the best player in the section, then the state. He never let me get away with anything, which was key.”

Langenbrunner will turn 39 years old on July 24, so this is a good time for him to plan the next stage of his life — and for now, that includes coaching.

“I can see myself coaching,” he said. “I really enjoy that interaction with the kids, and trying to teach them something. I really do enjoy it.”

You’d think that a player of Langenbrunner’s stature would command the respect of his dressing room of players, but with players of that age, you might have to think again.

“You’d be surprised with these 12-year-old kids,” Langenbrunner laughed. “I don’t know what they’re thinking sometimes! We have a good group, though, and they’re fun to coach.”

And, Langenbrunner is a surprisingly intense coach.