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Toews and Richards rivals on ice, friends off it

Thursday, 01.20.2011 / 12:51 PM / NHL on NBC Spotlight

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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Toews and Richards rivals on ice, friends off it
They became friends playing one another growing up in Winnipeg and were combatants in last spring's Stanley Cup Final -- now captains Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks and Mike Richards of the Flyers are set to face off once again.
Spending time together during the summer is nothing new for Flyers captain Mike Richards and Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.
 
However, this summer was a bit different after all the time the pair spent on the ice together during the Stanley Cup Final. After six grueling games, the series ended with Toews hoisting the Stanley Cup on Richards' home ice in Philadelphia.
 
The teams will meet Sunday, Jan. 23 in Chicago (12:30 p.m., NBC, NHLN-CA, RIS) for the first time since then. But it certainly won't be the first time Richards and Toews have seen each other. Their relationship goes all the way back to their youth hockey days, when they played on opposing teams in Winnipeg-area leagues.
 
Playing in the Winnipeg area as a youngster was common for Richards, who grew up three hours east of the city in Kenora, Ont. As each grew into a young hockey star -- Richards with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League, Toews at the University of North Dakota -- they would see each other during summer hockey in Winnipeg.
 
"Nigel Dawes was good friends with him through World Juniors," Toews said, "and through Nigel and Derek Meech and some other guys from Winnipeg (we'd hang out)."
 
The relationship really blossomed in the summer of 2009, when the pair spent time together in Calgary at Canada's Olympic orientation camp. When both were named to the team, they spent even more time together in Vancouver, on the ice as linemates and off the ice.
 
"Just at the Olympics I got to know him a lot better, hanging out with him a lot more," Richards told NHL.com.
 
"That's when you get to know guys on a personal level," added Toews.
 
What they learned was that each pretty much had the same skill set. Each can score -- Richards has scored 30 goals in back-to-back seasons, Toews is on pace for his second 30-goal output in three seasons. Both are highly regarded for their defensive skills -- Richards was a Selke Trophy finalist last season; Toews isn't far from that level. They're both the kind of players you have on the ice in the first minute of a game and the last minute of a game, up a goal or down a goal, with the puck in the offensive zone or defensive zone.
 

"He's an all-round guy. You look at his competitiveness. You can't really single out one thing he's better at than others. He's a great player on both sides of the puck -- scores big goals, fights, leads his team by the way he plays and the way he works. Lot of qualities I think I have as a player. You think you can test yourself and find what you really have when you play against a player like that."
-- Jonathan Toews on Mike Richards

"He's an all-round guy. You look at his competitiveness. You can't really single out one thing he's better at than others. He's a great player on both sides of the puck -- scores big goals, fights, leads his team by the way he plays and the way he works. Lot of qualities I think I have as a player. You think you can test yourself and find what you really have when you play against a player like that."
 
That was Toews talking about Richards, but it just as easily could be the other way around.
 
While the fun at the Olympics ended with gold medals, the next time they were on the ice together, the mood was considerably different -- the Stanley Cup Final.
 
Neither player had what you would call an outstanding series -- Toews had 3 assists and a minus-5 rating in six games, Richards had a goal and an assist with a minus-7 rating -- but when Patrick Kane scored in overtime in Game 6, it was Toews who walked away with both the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Stanley Cup. And it was Toews who got to bring the Cup home to Winnipeg and party with his family and friends.
 
It was a long summer in different ways for the pair.
 
"I've never been one to watch hockey," said Richards, who said he hasn't seen any replays of the Final and has no intention of doing so. "I wasn't looking for the tape. I didn't watch really anything in the summer time."
 
While they battled on the ice, the friendship remained -- and remains -- intact.
 
"I think if anything you gain more respect for a guy who you play against that hard for that many games," Richards said. "There is disappointment, but the respect that I have for him, knowing how hard it is to play against him, how hard he works and his skill level -- I think you gain more respect for somebody when you play against them in a series like that."
 
"We have a lot of mutual friends, people from Winnipeg, and go to Lake of the Woods and go fishing," Toews told NHL.com. "There's a common group of people that know each other. I went out there on Canada Day and we hung out at his cabin. I met a bunch of his friends from Kenora. They're all Philly fans and it was a nice night of taking some heat from them."
 
It was all in good fun, of course.
 
"When you got to the Stanley Cup Final it's down to business," Toews said. "But afterward, win or lose, you're not going to be childish and hold grudges against each other."
 
Toews also was careful to keep Cup talk to a minimum any time the pair was together.
 
"With respect to him, I tried to deflect any of that talk," Toews said. "I knew it wasn't something he'd be overly touchy about, it was just out of respect. We both fought very hard for a Stanley Cup and I happened to be on the winning team. I'm happy and proud of that, but I don't have to add any unnecessary fuel to the fire by talking about it in front of him."
 
But Toews still has what Richards wants, and the Flyers captain admits there will be that lingering bit of jealousy until he gets his own name on hockey's ultimate prize.
 
"I'm happy for him, but every couple weeks you see him and still kind of get that urge to be in that place he was just in," Richards said. "Maybe it's a little bit more motivation, but at the same time, you know it's a long year, you know it's a long way ahead of you, but it's something you have to strive for."
 
Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com
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