CONCEPTION BAY SOUTH, Newfoundland -- Nearly three decades had passed since Darren Langdon
had skated at Robert French Memorial Stadium. But he was back in the old barn Saturday night.
Langdon, who grew up in Deer Lake, Newfoundland, helped the Kraft Hockeyville team skate away with an 8-7 victory against the Conception Bay South club in a celebrities game as part of the 2011 Kraft Hockeyville festivities. Langdon told NHL.com that Deer Lake is roughly a 6 1/2-hour drive from Conception Bay South.
But it was well worth the trip.
"I think I probably played here 20 or 30 years ago," said Langdon, who appeared in 521 NHL games from 1994-95 to 2005-06. "It's my first time back since and it's been great.
"That was fantastic … really fun. I saw a couple of buddies that I played with (in the NHL). So it was good fun. It's nice to see a good crowd here to support Hockeyville."
Langdon arrived in the NHL with the New York Rangers
just one season after they ended their 54-year championship drought. Had he gotten there a season sooner, he would have become the first Newfoundlander to hoist the Stanley Cup. Instead, it took another 14 years before that fortune was reversed, when Danny Cleary
of the Detroit Red Wings
brought Lord Stanley to his home province.
"I think this year there's probably seven guys that are probably going to be in the NHL," Langdon said. "Every year it gets better. You get more games now. You've got to in order to compete with Ontario and all of them. But when I was growing up, it was probably twice a week around the ice and that was it. No tournaments or nothing. But it's grown a lot. When you see guys like Cleary and Michael Ryder
take the Cup home, it makes all the young people want to do it even more."
Langdon admitted it was tough to be an aspiring hockey player in Newfoundland, knowing all the advantages kids from provinces such as Ontario and Alberta had. But he believes as time goes on, the NHL will have more and more players come from Newfoundland.
"It was big (as a child). It's just now people realize you've got to practice a lot more and you've got work harder," said Langdon, who racked up 1,251 penalty minutes over the course of a career that also featured stints with Carolina, Vancouver, Montreal and New Jersey. "You've got to be dedicated to play at higher levels -- not just NHL, but university and junior. You've got to be dedicated. People are starting to know that and coaches are starting to know that at a younger age. A kid just can't be a good hockey player. They've got to work hard and become a good hockey player."
Seeing one of their own on the ice Saturday night certainly brought smiles to the capacity crowd at Robert French Memorial Stadium -- as did the $100,000 the town received from Kraft that will go towards arena upgrades. The festivities continue with more on-ice clinics and a family skate Sunday before the Winnipeg Jets
and Ottawa Senators
arrive on Monday, when they'll play a preseason game at the Mile One Centre in nearby St. John's.
"Just to get the whole community out and get everyone together, it's definitely a lot of fun," Langdon said. "Newfoundland is always in the top two or three in these things. You know, a rink like this could definitely use a hundred grand, for sure."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL