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Richards Changes Only for the Better

Tuesday, 12.16.2008 / 3:54 PM / News
By Mike G. Morreale  -
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Richards Changes Only for the Better
Mike Richards claims he\'s the same player he was when he entered the League, but the Flyers\' captain has improved with age and maturity

Philadelphia Flyers forward Mike Richards admits he's no different now than he was when he entered the League as a wide-eyed rookie three seasons ago.

"I haven't changed," Richards told "I just enjoy coming to the rink and playing hockey. I think if you change your game, you put too much pressure on yourself and that's when you start trying to do too much and wind up hurting your team."

Interesting point, but with all due respect, Richards is different. Sure, he might feel as though he's performing each shift with the same ferocity as he did in his first season in 2005-06, but there's no denying the fact he's more mature, more secure in his role and, perhaps most importantly, more respected.

On top of that, the 23-year-old center was named the 17th captain in the franchise history prior to the start of the 2008-09 season. How could earning a "C" on your sweater not change the way you play and view the game? Ask any Flyers fan and they'll tell you being named captain of their team isn't something to be taken lightly, and that's precisely why those same fans are ecstatic to have Richards leading the team for the foreseeable future.
Geno's gets the nod from Richards

It's become apparent Mike Richards won't back down from anyone or any inquiry.

Take, for instance, the one question that certainly means a lot to Philadelphians -- "Hey Mike, do you get your cheesesteaks at Geno's or Pat's?"

Richards has become a Philadelphia food guru as he enjoys dining out at several Italian restaurants and steak houses around the area. But when the qu
estion turned to cheesestakes, Richards smiled and offered this response:

"It's got to be Geno's," he said. "I can't really tell you why, but I just like the cheesesteaks."

So there you have it, Flyers fans. Geno's creates the official cheesesteak of the Flyers' captain.

Geno's Steaks was started by Joe Vento in 1966, while Pat's King of Steaks was founded by Pat Olivieri in 1930. The two eateries are directly across from each other in downtown Philadelphia and have become a popular hangout for locals following most sporting events.

- Mike G. Morreale

"There are a lot of different things he's doing this year," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "I really believe he's becoming the player he was on the junior and American Hockey League level. We use him on the power play, the penalty kill and he's shown an ability to produce offensively while still being able to maintain his defensive responsibilities."

There's a lot to like about Richards, who signed a 12-year contract extension in December 2007, and registered an assist in his first All-Star Game appearance last season. In 2007-08, he won the Bobby Clarke Trophy as the team's most valuable player while leading the Flyers in assists (47), points (75), shorthanded goals (5) and average time on ice among forwards (21:30). He was tied for the team lead in game-winning goals (6) and ranked second in hits (110).

Through 29 games this season, Richards is motoring along once again with 12 goals, 34 points and a plus-15 rating while averaging 22:31 in ice time. He leads the team with 50 hits and shares the League-lead with teammate Simon Gagne with 4 shorthanded goals, and his two overtime goals are tied for second in the League, behind only teammate Jeff Carter.

The fire in Richards' eyes each shift and during every practice is something to behold. He's usually the one rapping his stick against the side boards while awaiting his turn in a drill. He's also the first one to drop the gloves in game situations when he feels an injustice has been done.

"Being one of the younger players on this team, Mike has been one of my close friends ever since I arrived in Philly (from Nashville in February 2007) and helped me through the transition of being traded," Flyers forward Scottie Upshall, 25, said. "When I started to get to know him as a person, you really began to see his leadership traits and how much of a competitor he really is."

Richards already has earned comparisons to a few of the legendary Flyers captains with his merciless style of play, including Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke.

"It's tough to see how Bobby Clarke played because usually I'm just watching quick game highlights or video of him carrying the Stanley Cup around the Spectrum when they won it all," Richards said. "It's nice to hear those comparisons, but really, as captain for the Flyers, I play for the guys in the locker room more than anyone else. We have great fan support and everyone is passionate, but really, it's the 23 guys in the locker room that you want to go and play hard for."

Upshall has witnessed that tenacity each game.

"Every night, he's the guy we follow," Upshall said. "He's putting his body on the line and is the hardest worker. He goes out, scores big goals and makes plays, and that's kind of everything you would look for in a captain. And the fact he's just 23 years old means the future is really bright for Philadelphia's leadership."

Flyers rookie defenseman Luca Sbisa, just 18, also has benefitted from Richards' leadership.

"He's been a great captain, and he's not only a leader on the ice, but off the ice, too," Sbisa said. "I see him as a person I can really look up to."
Mike Richards led the Flyers in scoring last season, and was named the team's Most Valuable Player at the conclusion of the regular season. (Getty Images)

One area of Richards' game that has improved dramatically has been his reckless pursuit. Now, he attacks the puck with a defined purpose.

"He's learned to limit his risk a little more," Stevens said. "I think he was trying to do too much early in his career and some of those turnovers got him in trouble, but now he manages his game better and seems to make the right play more times than not, so now he's in a situation where he can play against the other team's top players and produce while not giving a whole lot the other way."

Richards admits it's a lot easier to lead a team that's having some measure of success, which is something the club has certainly experienced lately. That wasn't the case at the start of the season, when the Flyers opened the 2008-09 campaign 0-3-3.

"A couple of things needed to be said at the start of the year when we weren't playing well since we weren't very disciplined, but you never need to embarrass anybody in front of the team," Richards said. "You maybe pull them aside or something and say it to them. But there's no question my first couple of months as captain have been interesting.

"Lately, instead of losing by one goal, we're winning by one goal and that's because of hard work."
There are different things you can do to change momentum of hockey games and, fortunately, fighting is one of them." - Mike Richards

Former Flyers defenseman Jason Smith, who was the team's captain last season, certainly left a lasting impression on Richards.

"He was a very hands-on captain," Richards said. "He just went out there, played hard and played the game the way Flyer fans expect it should be played -- hard-nosed. He never complained even though he suffered a couple of injuries late in the year and he always participated in practice despite the fact he was hurting. He always kept things positive and there was never a time I didn't see him with a smile on his face."

While dropping the gloves and mixing it up with an opposing player isn't in his job description as captain, Richards rarely will back down.

"Fighting is the job of some guys and I realize it's not my job, but I also never want someone else to take liberties with any of our players," Richards said. "There are so many different things that can change the outcome of a hockey game, be it a big hit or big shift. There are different things you can do to change momentum of hockey games and, fortunately, fighting is one of them."




1 MTL 64 41 18 5 172 142 87
2 NYR 63 39 17 7 197 155 85
3 NYI 65 41 21 3 207 182 85
4 TBL 65 39 20 6 213 171 84
5 DET 62 36 15 11 182 160 83
6 PIT 63 36 18 9 182 158 81
7 WSH 65 35 20 10 193 162 80
8 BOS 62 31 22 9 165 161 71
9 FLA 64 28 23 13 156 181 69
10 OTT 62 28 23 11 176 167 67
11 PHI 64 27 25 12 170 186 66
12 NJD 64 27 27 10 144 165 64
13 TOR 64 26 33 5 173 195 57
14 CBJ 63 26 33 4 163 201 56
15 CAR 62 24 31 7 144 167 55
16 BUF 64 19 40 5 123 215 43


J. Voracek 64 19 46 6 65
C. Giroux 63 18 42 2 60
W. Simmonds 64 25 18 -2 43
M. Streit 64 9 32 -5 41
B. Schenn 64 12 23 -6 35
S. Couturier 64 13 16 2 29
M. Del Zotto 52 8 17 -6 25
M. Read 64 6 18 -9 24
M. Raffl 49 14 5 6 19
V. Lecavalier 46 7 10 -9 17
S. Mason 12 13 8 .924 2.27
R. Emery 10 10 4 .893 3.15
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