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Despite absence, Langenbrunner’s still a fan favorite

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

For Lavena Hampton, a long-ago wrong was finally righted. 

Wearing her favorite jersey, the old-school Stars Jamie Langenbrunner number 15 that she’s worn faithfully since she bought it back in 1996, the diehard Stars fan couldn’t wipe the huge smile off her face. That’s because earlier on Friday, Dallas General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk acquired the 35-year-old Langenbrunner, who spent six-plus years in Dallas from 1995-2002 and was a key contributor on the franchise’s only Stanley Cup championship in 1999, from New Jersey for a conditional third round draft pick.

When her favorite player was initially traded from Dallas in March 2002, Hampton was devastated. 

“He’s my favorite NHL player, period, and he was my favorite Star,” she said. “I cried (when he was traded), just a little - no, a lot. It was rough, because the team was playing bad and to see him go to Jersey was tough.”

Despite the fact that he’d been gone for nearly nine years, Hampton never gave up the dream that he might find his way back and now it has happened.

“I’m very excited, I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” said Hampton after watching the pre-game warm-ups Friday night at American Airlines Center. “It’s like Santa came again, just a little late, but I’m excited. This has made at least one person happy, and probably a lot more.” 

She’s right - she was just one of a large number of longtime Stars fans who were happy with the transaction.

“It’s great, I’m glad to have him back,” added fan Andrew Barton, sporting an old Stars Nieuwendyk sweater. “We finally have one person from the Stanley Cup team back here.  I’m sure New Jersey needed to unload some people, so I’m glad we were able to pick him up.”

The overwhelming majority of the 14,934 in attendance for Friday night’s 3-2 shootout loss to the New York Rangers agreed. While Langenbrunner did not arrive in the Metroplex in time to suit up, he was in the building and when he appeared on the center-hung video board with broadcaster and good friend Ralph Strangis for an interview during the first intermission, the place erupted with cheers.

More applause came when Langenbrunner, who waived his no-trade clause to complete the deal, spoke about how Dallas was a preferred destination for him if he was going to be moved.

“This was one that was obviously high on my list,” Langenbrunner said. “I love the city, I love the fans here and I like what Joe’s doing building the team.”

The fans had much the same reaction midway through the second period when some old Langenbrunner highlights from his first stint in Dallas appeared on the video board with the caption ‘Welcome Back Jamie!’ and then when the man himself was shown, he received a standing ovation, probably the loudest of the night. 

“I’m happy,” declared Laura Frey, wearing an old Darryl Sydor Stars jersey. “I always felt that it was kind of odd. I never really got comfortable with him being in New Jersey and I didn’t like the trade to begin with when he first left, so him coming back is kind of like he’s coming home.”

Many fans concurred that they never approved of the original trade that shipped Langenbrunner to New Jersey, along with Nieuwendyk, in exchange for Jason Arnott, Randy McKay and a first-round draft choice. To have him back now, even nine years later, made things right again.

“We were disappointed, we didn’t really want to see him go,” acknowledged Tom Crabtree, proudly wearing an old-school Stars Pat Verbeek jersey. “But then again, we know it happens with some of the best players - as long as they don’t go and join the Red Wings!”

“Initially, I thought it might have been a good deal, but later I realized we missed having him here,” added Tim Kotrla, donning a Brett Hull number 22 Stars jersey. “I can’t wait to see him play again.”

At one of the Fan Shops inside the American Airlines Center, they had just received a new shipment of modern Langenbrunner number 15 jerseys and had sold about half of them (about 12) by the second intermission Friday night, not to mention another few where people bought blank jerseys and had Langenbrunner’s info imprinted onto it separately. 

“I’ll put it this way - everybody that comes in is real glad to have him back,” noted store employee Karen Prevette. “A lot of people are real excited. It’s a good thing.” 

Of course, in the end, many Stars fans also recognize that Langenbrunner can help them on the ice right now, as the Pacific Division-leading club strives to make the playoffs after failing to qualify the past two years. 

“I’m happy about it,” Frey said. “It just kind of makes me feel like the Stars, which are already a really good team, now have a little bit more chance to go all the way, so I’m happy about that, too.” 

And if the Stars can accomplish their goals while also bringing back an old favorite, then even better.

“I’m just glad that it kind of worked out in the end, he came back, so maybe he’ll finish his career here,” Barton suggested.  He started here, he may finish here. I like that he’s home-grown and he started here. I’m glad he has ties here, it’s just cool.” 

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