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Richards Ready For The Challenge

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Todd Richards put it succinctly: he’s ready to start winning in Columbus.

In taking over as the Blue Jackets interim head coach on Jan. 9, Richards said one of his first objectives was to restore confidence in players that, frankly, had nothing to play for. All it took was a glance at the standings to realize that, with half of the season left to be played, there was little hope of playoff hockey.

The mountain ahead of him would be a steep one to scale, but Richards and his assistant coaches were up to the task. Columbus finished out the 2011-12 season by going 16-14-1 in its final 31 games, won five of its final six, and under Richards’ guidance, saw marked improvement on the power play and at even strength. Columbus also closed games effectively, going 14-0-0 when taking a lead into the third period after going 9-6-2 when leading after two periods prior to his taking over behind the bench..
Guys enjoyed coming to the rink and working hard every day and that translates into success. I’m really looking forward to seeing what we can do over the course of a whole season. - CBJ D Jack Johnson

And he will get the chance to continue down the path he started on.
Richards, 46, was named the sixth head coach in Blue Jackets history today. The native of Crystal, Minn., is taking over his second NHL club on a full-time basis; he guided the Minnesota Wild to a combined record of 77-71-16 over two seasons and averaged over 100 points per season in two years as head coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL).

As he begins the full-time job with the Blue Jackets, Richards wants to make sure his players remember what they worked hard to build at the tail end of the regular season.

"It's a very exciting, happy, and proud moment for myself,” Richards said today. “There are only 30 of these jobs in the world, so I'm very humbled. Everyone was disappointed (about last season), but there are reasons to be excited about this team moving forward."

GM Scott Howson and senior advisor Craig Patrick used the weeks following the season to thoroughly analyze several candidates, but when highlighting the qualities they desired, they were led back to Richards every time and were convinced he was their guy.

“We have high expectations and feel a sense of urgency to improve this team and establish a culture in which competitiveness and accountability breed success,” Patrick said. “Todd has been a winner at every level of his hockey career and has developed into an outstanding coach.”

The Blue Jackets were not only impressed with Richards’ ability to get results from the team despite its place in the standings, but in demanding accountability and establishing structure that permeated through the club.

“Todd brings a really balanced approached to the job,” Howson said. “He had a three-month interview, and he passed it with flying colors. (Throughout the process) we kept coming back to Todd. That’s where we feel the most comfortable we believe he’s the right guy.”

Jack Johnson, who played the last 24 games of the season with the Blue Jackets after a trade from the Los Angeles Kings, said he never had more fun playing hockey than he did upon coming to Columbus. A large part of that, he said, was the atmosphere created by the coaching staff.

“He did the best job I’ve seen in keeping guys loose and having fun, while being demanding at the same time,” Johnson said of Richards. “That is hard to do, but he did it and we started to see the results towards the end of the season.

“In the short time I’ve been here, I really enjoyed playing for him. He did a great job keeping the team together both on and off the ice. Guys enjoyed coming to the rink and working hard every day and that translates into success. I’m really looking forward to seeing what we can do over the course of a whole season."

Richards had exactly one-half of the regular season to get the lay of the land, and in doing so, the Blue Jackets turned in a respectable record. They were 18-21-2 with Richards as the interim coach after opening the year with an 11-25-5 mark which led to a coaching change. Internally, the Blue Jackets met the goal they set for themselves down the stretch, but Richards didn’t feel as if the job was complete.

In the season’s final weeks, Blue Jackets players discussed the level of joy they had coming to the rink every day, and the reward of winning games after putting in the work. That’s one of Richards’ key points: he wants the players to have fun and enjoy playing hockey for a living, but also expects a professional effort each night from his team.

“Todd did a great job and the guys really responded to him,” defenseman James Wisniewski said. “He has a really good demeanor in the room and on the bench. He is assertive and confident and doesn’t get too emotional.

“He is never too high or too low and always seems completely in control. He is a true professional.”

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