German Stefan Langwieder brings toughness, leadership to Winter Hawks
Stefan Langwieder comes from what he calls the largest extended family in Austria. His father had 14 brothers and sisters, and each of the siblings had six or seven children, and many of them have had kids, he says. The funny thing is not many of the Langwieder kin know where in the world Stefan is.
'They don't even know what hockey is,' says Langwieder, a defenseman picked by the Portland Winter Hawks in this year's junior hockey import draft.
Langwieder's father, Peter, moved from Austria to Germany as a young man to work in computers instead of on a farm like his brothers and sisters. Similarly, Stefan Langwieder chose to come to North America to try his talent in the Western Hockey League with the hope of someday playing in the National Hockey League.
A year after Portland featured the first Dane to play in the WHL, Jannik Hansen, it will sport one of few players from Deutschland, the 19-year-old Langwieder. He can think of only one German player who has played in the WHL, Yannic Seidenberg with Medicine Hat.
Langwieder played for Mannheim of the German Elite League, the past two years, appearing in 37 games with one goal, one assist and 10 penalty minutes last season. Mannheim featured many NHL players during the league's lockout season of 2004-05; last year, Langwieder played with former Winter Hawk Lonny Bohonos, and this year former Hawk Colin Forbes joined the team.
Langwieder also has played two years on the German junior team, including last year against Hansen's Denmark team in the world Division I championships, a step down from the world junior tournament.
Surprisingly, Langwieder has not been drafted by an NHL team.
'Honestly, I wasn't good enough,' says Langwieder, who speaks fluent English. 'I made a huge step last year. I wanted to come over (here) to prove myself, to show that I'm good enough to be drafted.'
At 6 feet, 200 pounds, Langwieder won't play the rough, intimidating game on the blue line. But he plays physically and does everything well, his Winter Hawk coaches say.
Head coach Mike Williamson already says that Langwieder serves as a mature leader who can contribute on the power play and penalty kill.
'I don't know if there's a guy on our team who works harder, in games or practice,' Williamson says.
Assistant coach Brian Pellerin played with Langwieder's Mannheim coach, Greg Poss, in the minor leagues. Poss recommended Langwieder, partly because Mannheim brought in more former NHL players who would have taken his playing time.
With the Winter Hawks, playing the 72-game WHL schedule, Langwieder will perform in front of many scouts.
'He hasn't had the exposure, and he'll get that this year,' Pellerin says. 'He's definitely made an impact with us already.'
Veteran Kyle Bailey has been Langwieder's designated chaperone in Portland. Bailey calls his new friend 'a great player,' mostly because of Langwieder's experience against pros in Germany.
'He's very competitive,' Bailey says. 'He's got a sponge for a brain.
'He has this aura. He always wants to be better, and it rubs off on people. It's been very good for our team.'
Very little about Langwieder identifies him as German, outside of his accent and the big Bavarian flag in his room. Mostly, Bailey talks with him about the German leagues and the different style of play in Europe.
'It's smooth and flowing, like artwork, and not the crash and bang and quick, quick, quick style over here,' Bailey says. 'There's less time to make decisions here' with smaller rinks.
As with all Europeans, Langwieder has to prove himself in the rougher North American style of play and the long schedule, Williamson says.
'Here, I try to come into the offense, push the game from behind with fast passes, and I like to rush and play with forwards,' Langwieder says. 'Sometimes I go for forechecks. Here, they like it so far. Last year, my coach didn't like that.'
The German Elite League has been compared to the minor-league American Hockey League. So Langwieder has great experience and got paid, which makes him ineligible to play U.S. college hockey. 'When I want to study, it'll be in Germany,' he says.
He hopes to play for the German team in the regular world junior tournament this year in Sweden. Mostly, he wants to do well in the WHL to help pave the way for other Germans to get playing opportunities. 'I know other, younger guys who want to come over,' he says.
Langwieder misses home, misses the food. He sought out some sausages and noodles just to get the taste of home - fast food doesn't cut it, he says.
Many of his teammates ask him about Germany and, predictably, about World War II and Adolf Hitler.
'I tell them the truth: Germans are still embarrassed about what happened, but we can't hide from it,' he says. 'It's 60 years ago. We always should remember what happened, but we shouldn't be linked to it.'
He likes the United States, so far.
'People are very friendly,' he says. 'Everybody welcomes me to America.'