Friday, July 22, 2016

Brad Richards ... 15 year and two Stanley Cups later

By Larry Wigge

Brad Richards is one of those marvelous quick-twitch, now-you-see-him, now-you-don't athletes who can quickly flit in and out of the picture and in between something pretty special is likely to happen.

And it's just that kind of magic that he brought to the NHL in the playoffs, when hearts are beating faster and faster, pumping more and more adrenaline into every part of the body. The collisions are more physical, each and every battle testing the will and the body to its limit.

The playoffs is where Brad Richards made his mark for 15 seasons -- playing 1,126 games over 15 seasons with Tampa Bay, Dallas Stars, New York Rangers, Chicago and Detroit Red Wings. He wound with with 298 goals and 932 points.

Chicago's Patrick Kane remembered both Stanley Cups won by Brad Richards in 2004 for Tampa Bay and in 2015 for Chicago.

"Congrats Brad Richards," Kane recalled. "I'll never forget watching you win with Tampa in 2004 and for your no-look pass to me for the clinching goal in Game 6, 2015.

"Playing with Brad, he just makes a lot of really good plays. Plays you don't really expect most guys to make."

Instant impact. Productivity.

"This is the time of the year when you want to make an impact," Richards explained of making a pass to Kane for the clinching goal in Game 6. "The playoffs, where risk and reward become the battle cry, where paying the price to win on the ice comes into play on each shift. It was just a play of instincts."

Richards is one of those players who isn't open to hyperbole. He's like a silent assassin.

"Even though he's a quiet guy, you can see the poise and patience he obviously got from his mom and dad," Tampa Bay teammate Vincent Lecavalier told me. "The whole family is pretty down to earth ... and focused, really focused."

"He's really cerebral, always seems to be thinking about five seconds ahead of every play," Lightning captain Martin St. Louis added. "It must look to him like the rest of us are playing in slow motion."

In Game 4 of the Finals, Brad rocketed a 30-footer off Calgary goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff's left shoulder high into the net just 2:48 into the game.

Richards exploits landed him in the record book, surpassing the previous mark of six playoff game-winners in one season set by Joe Sakic in 1996 and tied by Joe Nieuwendyk in 1999. Richards' seventh game-winning goal of the playoffs tied the Stanley Cup Finals at two games apiece.

"His vision is extraordinary," explained Calgary coach Darryl Sutter. "He makes plays that you don't expect, that you don't anticipate. He's a game-breaker for sure."

Richards, Lecavalier and St. Louis captured Tampa Bay's first-and-only Stanley Cup championship in 2004, collecting 26 points in 23 playoff games and earning the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the postseason.

He was the first player in history to begin his career 8-0 in playoff Game 7's.

Richards was selected by the Lightning in the third round of the 1998 NHL draft. He made his NHL debut two years later and after helping Rimouski Oceanic win consecutive Canadian Junior Memorial Cup titles.

Richards scored a career-best 28 goals with Dallas in 2010-11 and he twice totaled 91 points in 2005-06 with Tampa Bay and again four seasons later with Dallas.

"As far as I'm concerned, Brad Richards is a sure thing," co-G.M. Brett Hull added after acquiring Richards from Tampa Bay. "We have a guy who has won the Stanley Cup, won the Olympic Gold Medal, won the Conn Smythe Trophy being the MVP of the NHL playoffs. To me, there's no risk, not when you're adding a player like this who is in the prime of his career."

Said Detroit Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Listrom, "You can't take your eyes off of Brad for a moment. He lulls you into thinking he's just looking to make a pass. That's when he lets go of one of his sneaky-quick wrist shots."

"Richie is an opportunistic guy, a special player," Arizona coach Dave Tippett, who was with Richards in Dallas, said. "A lot of times, he not only creates the turnover, but then makes the play that results in a goal."

Ryan McDonagh was with Richards when he played for the Rangers.

"He just really tried to show his passion for the game," McDonagh said. "His love and his work ethic is something you definitely can’t teach a player. You either have it or you don't, and he tried to spread that throughout the room so guys could all buy in and make sure they’re that much more prepared and that much more focused for the game."

Said Jon Tortorello, who coach him at Tampa Bay: "I've known him since he was a kid. You could see that he had that intangible as a young player. He makes big plays at big times."

Richards used to laugh about how his parents, Glen and Delite, and how they followed his career. You see, lobster fishing is in the blood of the Richards family -- so is their 46-foot boat that is named "Brad and Paige" after Glen's children. Brad understands his dad's dilemma.

From an early age, Brad Richards knew his future didn't lie in lobster traps.

"I'm the son of a fourth-generation lobster man ... but I don't like waking up at 4 a.m. to go out there," he said with a smile. "My dad had me on the boat a few times, but he'd be the first one to tell you it was never something I got excited about doing.

"But a lot of my friends have turned out to be fishermen. Maybe that's what drove me out of there to maybe make it the NHL. I'm not sure."

But he knew his parents watched and followed his career.

"They watch all the games," Richards said. "Even if it might mean that in staying up late the night before to watch the game that they sleep in a little longer the next morning."

Sleep in?

"Yeah," Brad Richards said laughing a bit to himself. "On those days they probably don't head to the boat until like 4:30 or 5 a.m."

Like abracadabra or magic, Brad Richards 15-year NHL career was filled with memories.

Now, POOF, they're gone.

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