Some things, you just know
I'll probably remember March 2, 1991, for the rest of my life. It was a day Cloquet hockey fans will never forget, but it was the day I first met the program.
It was in the aftermath of a gut-wrenching 3-2 section final defeat to Duluth East. I was then a 26-year-old television reporter, and as I waited outside the locker room to meet and speak with coach Tom McFarlane, some of the talk among the other reporters gathered there was about a freshman forward.
That would be Jamie Langenbrunner, who I met that day as well. The 15-year-old forward had just finished a season in which he had scored a point for each year of his young life - and you couldn't help but be impressed by the developing talent he was already showing.
It was a bleak day for the purple and for their fans, who left the DECC that day in stunned silence.
While I gave the coaches and players time to compose themselves after the loss - a gesture that began my nearly 20-year association with the program - I got the sense that this group, this community, and that young man, wouldn't stay down for long.
The next year, we were proven right. Sophomore Langenbrunner was third on the team in scoring with 38 points on a team that beat East 4-1 in the section semis, and behind goaltender Dutch Barrett, went on to finish fourth in the state.
The next year, though, is the one we all remember. Jamie centered Sergei Petrov and Aaron Novak on perhaps the best all-around high school line the Northland has ever seen, and he set the school record with 89 points on 27 goals and 62 assists for arguably the best team Cloquet has ever produced. Had they ever gotten a power play in the state quarterfinals against Moorhead, we might still be talking about a state champion.
It was the start of great things for a truly great player.
When he left, first for junior hockey and then eventually for the NHL, we were left with the sort of memories reserved for heroes. Yet, we never forgot him.
And, in the end, he didn't forget us. That's the great thing about Jamie Langenbrunner.
Current Cloquet-Esko-Carlton coach Dave Esse, an assistant coach with the 92-93 team, put it another way.
"Jamie moves cones around at our summer camps," he said. "Here's a guy who's worth millions just asking what he can do to help."
He never forgot.
Jamie and Derek Plante brought the Stanley Cup here together, and made sure all and sundry got their chance to see it. When Jamie won it a second time with New Jersey, he did it again.
I've also got a picture of Jamie and me holding the Cup outside the Jacks' locker room. He sure didn't have to do that. And he knows it.
It's part of what makes him special, and to a great extent, it's also a reflection on the people of our town.
We often talk about the "Cloquet work ethic" when describing our sons and daughters, and to a very large extent we've earned that reputation here. Our coaches preach drive, effort and desire to excel, and the kids buy in.
The result is something special. Special people grow from a place such as this.
When we look at Jamie, or at any of our teams, we see ourselves. We see the people who coach the youth programs, the people who arrange the ice time, who sell the concessions and who sweep the stands after the night's game is done. We see him as Everyman and ourselves as Everytown. We're proud of that. And we ought to be.
As one of the "Fabled Five" players the high school program has so far helped send to the NHL - Plante, Corey Millen, Rick Mrozik and Clay Wilson are the others - Jamie holds a very special place in local lore.
The news, first of his selection to his second Olympic team and then of his elevation to the captaincy, is special. Yet, to those who watched him from near and far for nearly 20 years, it comes as no surprise.
That's not because we expected it from him. It's because we always knew he could. That's a wonderful feeling.
Best of luck, Jamie.