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Mike Richards: The Consummate Captain

Monday, May 12, 2008

A journalist interviewing Marty Turco following Dallas’s series victory against San Jose asked Turco about Brendan Morrow’s game winning goal.  Turco responded, “I watched that goal and I thought – there goes my hero.”

It’s not often that one hockey player refers to another as a hero.  That’s terminology typically reserved to fans, small children, and perhaps a reporter here and there.  But sometimes the great captains of the game bring such heart that they elicit passionate, emotional responses from their teammates.

Regardless of what happens in the Flyers-Penguins series (and the story hasn’t been written in full yet, folks), there’s story that should be garnering all the attention.  We are watching the beginning of the Mike Richards era.

Richards isn’t the most skilled player on the ice.  He lacks the goal-scoring potential of a Jeff Carter, the ridiculous creativity of a Sidney Crosby, the skating ability of a Jonathan Toews, the explosiveness of a Rick Nash or the incredible playmaking skills of a Nicklas Backstrom.  He’s usually called a great two-way player, which is a euphemism for highly competent in both ends but not outstandingly gifted.  Commentators who feature Richards in pregame or intermission segments rarely seem to know how to convey his star quality to the audience.

Yet Richards has an infectious attitude of determination, grit, and perserverance that never ceases to amaze.  Last night’s shorthanded goal was magnificent, but it wasn’t the most striking moment in the young assistant captain’s game.  The Flyers started the game with little energy, losing puck battles, taking poor penalties, and struggling to gain any momentum.  Richards went on the ice and started using his 5’11” frame to make noise.  He took on Malkin, Roberts, Gill – anyone and everyone who was vulnerable with a puck.  And suddenly the rest of the Flyer began taking the body as well.  Richards single-handedly revived his team, giving them a chance to win despite a decimated blue line.

Whether the Flyers win or lose this series, the papers will tell you a tale about a team lacking its top two defensemen.  They’ll tell you about a star-laden Penguins team rolling through the playoffs, headed by the young and gifted Sidney Crosby.  And they will completely miss the truth. 

This series isn’t about stars or skill – it’s about the emergence of a warrior captain who breaks the star-studded mold.  In a new NHL, Mike Richards shows that the best of old time hockey is alive and well in south Philadelphia.

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