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Richards was Raised to Focus on Defensive Game

Thursday, 06.18.2009 / 12:20 PM ET / News
By Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Staff Writer
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Richards was Raised to Focus on Defensive Game
That\'s the nickname bestowed upon Selke nominee Mike Richards, who does it all for the Philadelphia Flyers.

With a father who was adamant about mastering defense first and a former coach in junior hockey who taught him the principles of how to do it, maybe a nomination for the Selke Trophy was always in the offing for Mike Richards.

"It's the way I've been brought up playing," Richards, captain of the Philadelphia Flyers, told NHL.com of his defensive style. "It's instinct and a lot of reaction."

Flyers Senior Vice President Bob Clarke called Richards "the full Canadian package" because he does it all and is "not a very easy guy to play against."

"He can fight, he can check, he can take faceoffs, give assists and is just a terrific playmaker," Clarke told NHL.com. "He never has to rely on one part of his game to be an effective player and that's the sign of a complete hockey player."

Richards and many other NHL stars will be in Las Vegas on June 18 for the annual NHL Awards Show. He's up against Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk and Vancouver's Ryan Kesler for the Selke Trophy, which goes to the player deemed the best defensive forward.

Datsyuk, who is also a Hart Trophy finalist, took home the Selke last year.

"I've never been nominated for something like this, so it's nice to be recognized for the work you put in," said Richards, who finished the season with a League-best seven shorthanded goals and a career-best plus-22 rating along with 83 takeaways and 90 blocked shots. "I would consider myself a two-way player, but it's nice to be recognized for something you really focus on."

Richards has been focusing on the defensive principles of the game since he was growing up in Kenora, Ont., a city situated in the northwestern part of the province, not far from Winnipeg.

"My dad was very laid back and didn't push me to do anything I didn't want to do, but he kept it in the back of my mind that defense is part of the game," Richards said. "Never be at the far blue line waiting for the breakaway pass. When you get into that mindset, it comes easily."

From Kenora, Richards ventured to Kitchener, which is more than 1,100 miles away in southern Ontario. Former Kitchener Rangers coach Pete DeBoer, who is now the coach of the Florida Panthers, drilled home the message about defensive hockey.

Soon enough, playing strong against the puck became instinctive for Richards, who had four successful seasons in Kitchener and twice played in the World Junior Championship. He was plus-35 with five shorthanded goals in just his second OHL season.

Richards said his success comes from adhering to those principles DeBoer taught him, such as containment, instincts, stick control and, of course, positioning.

"I think the biggest thing is positioning," Richards said. "Me not being the biggest player (5-foot-11, 195 pounds) I'm not going to outmuscle too many players on the ice, so it's about positioning and having stick in the right spot and being aware of people away from the puck."

Defensive forwards thrive on making life miserable for the opposition, and Richards does it two ways.

Not only is he strong on the puck, but he's one of the best at turning his defense into offense. Richards finished the 2008-09 season with career highs in goals (30), assists (50), points (80) and shots (238). His eight power-play goals tied a career high.

Right now, Datsyuk may be the only forward in the NHL better at transitioning his sound defense into offensive chances. The sneaky Datsyuk had 97 points (4th in the NHL), 89 takeaways (2nd) and a plus-34 rating (3rd) this season.

"There's no question in my mind he's in that category (as best defensive-forward) because we have him playing against the top players every night and he continues to kill penalties and produce offensively while playing big minutes," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "He's as important to our team as a Datsyuk is to Detroit."

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EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 x - NYR 76 48 21 7 231 179 103
2 x - MTL 77 47 22 8 203 174 102
3 x - TBL 78 47 24 7 250 204 101
4 PIT 76 42 23 11 210 190 95
5 NYI 77 45 27 5 235 215 95
6 WSH 77 42 25 10 227 190 94
7 DET 76 40 23 13 221 208 93
8 BOS 77 39 25 13 204 198 91
9 OTT 76 38 26 12 220 204 88
10 FLA 77 35 27 15 192 210 85
11 CBJ 76 37 35 4 210 234 78
12 PHI 76 30 29 17 198 219 77
13 NJD 77 31 33 13 170 197 75
14 CAR 76 28 37 11 176 208 67
15 TOR 77 29 42 6 201 245 64
16 BUF 76 21 47 8 148 255 50

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Voracek 76 21 55 7 76
C. Giroux 75 23 46 2 69
W. Simmonds 75 28 22 -5 50
M. Streit 75 9 36 -10 45
B. Schenn 76 14 25 -7 39
S. Couturier 76 13 17 1 30
M. Del Zotto 58 9 20 -5 29
M. Read 74 7 22 -7 29
M. Raffl 61 20 6 7 26
V. Lecavalier 52 7 11 -10 18
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
S. Mason 15 17 11 .927 2.24
R. Emery 10 10 6 .892 3.15
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