DeBoer coached Richards as coach of the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL for four years, from when Richards was 16 to 19. Richards served as captain on some of those teams, and the relationship helped produced a Memorial Cup in 2003 (New Jersey's David Clarkson was also on that team).
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"It's hard to believe it's already been seven years," Richards said. "He's getting really old. I'm old, but he's getting really old."
Richards said he sometimes text messages DeBoer and he talked to him briefly when DeBoer became coach of the Florida Panthers. DeBoer has turned once-staid New Jersey into an offensively potent team, something that many thought couldn't happen despite having Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk at its disposal.
Richards doesn't think he possesses much insight into a DeBoer-coached team because it's been so long, but he certainly expected DeBoer's success.
"He's such a smart hockey coach," Richards said. "Not only Xs and Os, but he knows how to get the most out of his players. He's very smart at matchups and stuff like that. I'm not really surprised by it."
Richards had one of his first offensive explosions under DeBoer, with 99 points in 67 games in that 2002-03 season. Kitchener lost to the eventual Memorial Cup-winning London Knights in the 2005 OHL conference finals, and Richards later left that season to join the Philadelphia Phantoms of the American Hockey League for the American Hockey League playoffs.
Richards also had DeBoer as an assistant coach on a World Junior Championship team.
"He's had a big part of my career, getting me through the four years and teaching me a lot, and obviously I won with him, too," Richards said. "It's a pretty unique situation, but obviously I hope he [doesn't have] success [against us]."