One big question looms after a player retires from professional hockey: “what do I do now?”
Many players go into coaching, scouting, broadcasting, and numerous other areas around the game, but not many got the “unique opportunity” that Luke Richardson received.
Richardson answered that question shortly after retiring from the NHL during the 2008-09 season, and he quickly found work with the Ottawa Senators coaching staff thanks to Senators GM Bryan Murray. Murray, who saw first-hand the leadership and character Richardson played with, hired him as an assistant shortly after he retired while playing with the Senators.
“I was really lucky that I was offered an opportunity to join the coaching staff in Ottawa right away when I retired in the middle of the season,” Richardson told BlueJackets.com. “I think it was good to have an ex-player so close to playing so that I could be a bridge in between the players and coaches.
"Sometimes it’s a long season, so I can convey the same message that I hear on the coaches’ side to the players. I could kind of put it in my own words on the players’ side of things and just kind of bridge those two worlds together.”
Richardson served in that role through the 2008-09 season, and was with the team for the following two years. After the 2010-11 season, he was appointed as the head coach of Ottawa’s AHL affiliate, the Binghamton Senators, where he still serves today.
While in Ottawa, Richardson served as the coaching staffs "eye in the sky" in the press box, where he had a big-picture view of the game that he was able to pass down to the coaches on the bench.
“I’d go down every period to talk to coaches and tell them what I saw," Richardson said. "The odd time I’d also go into the dressing room and talk to the players about what I’m seeing up top.”
Richardson has been head coach in Binghamton for the past two seasons, where he has been a mentor as well as a coach, realizing that a lot of his players have aspirations of developing and being able to make an NHL roster someday.
Although he had a long career in the league and brings a lot of experience, he doesn’t talk about what he did in the NHL, instead trusting that his players know there is always a reasoning behind everything that he says.
“I like working with young guys, and I really wanted to give head coaching a shot,” Richardson said. “I thought I learned from a lot of head coaches that I’ve coached under, and head coaches that I’ve played under, that I could kind of put all of what I learned together with my own philosophy to be a helpful coach to young guys trying to work their way up to their dream that I know what they want to get to.
“I don’t really ever talk about what I did. I don’t need to keep telling them 'I did this' or 'I did that.' I’m there for them, and I think that they know when I say something that I went through it and I understand what they’re going through, whether it’s good times or bad times. I think I’ve gotten the respect where I can be hard on them sometimes and they respect it, and sometimes you’ve just got to listen, almost like parenting. Being there for them and supporting them, and encourage them along the way.”
Former Blue Jackets player and current team broadcaster Jody Shelley remembers Richardson having the toughness and leadership that translates well to being a successful coach.
"He was the man of the room. He just had that toughness about him and this perception that he was a stone wall. He really was as a leader in the room," Shelley told BlueJackets.com. "He was a man of the league and of the room. We all followed him."
Shelley remembers a certain moment where Richardson showed that character and leadership on the ice with the Blue Jackets.
"He took a slap shot in the face and shattered his jaw," Shelley said. "I was on the ice and I heard the puck hit his face, he didn't go down, and skated off the ice. I saw him on the dentist chair and was just sitting there and he was mad. Anyone else would've been down on a stretcher. I remember that moment like 'holy cow.'
"(He was) that figure, that dad, that leader of the room — he led in all situations. There was no weakness in him at all."
A veteran of 1,486 games with six NHL teams, Richardson has combined what he learned from all his past coaches to create his coaching identity, using different approaches to each side of the game both on and off the ice.
Richardson lists John Brophy, Craig Ramsay, and Ron Low as coaches that had the biggest impact on his philosophy, and said Ramsay was the best "teaching" coach he had in the NHL.
“I was lucky to have all of these coaches, and I think I learned a little bit from each of them at different areas of the game,” Richardson said. “That’s what I want to do, I want to give the players as much information as possible, and make sure they can use it to the best of their ability to go as far as they can go. They all have the dreams to make it to the NHL, but also to be the best they can be in the NHL; not just to get there, but to really grasp a hold of that opportunity and make it worthwhile.”
And though he is eight years removed from his three-year stint as a Blue Jacket, Richardson remembers the excitement and buzz around the city while he was in Columbus.
“I think it was nice to be an older guy and try to help those young players; it’s something that got me into coaching," Richardson said. "Being around a young team with young players, trying to pass on some of the experiences that I had so they have an easier time and I can help them along.
“When I got there, we had a pretty good start to both my first and second years there, and a lot of optimism. We just never got to that playoff level, and now that I see Columbus in the playoffs, and the excitement in the arena, I wish I would’ve been able to be a part of that. I certainly enjoyed playing hockey, but the friendships and support of the fans were probably the biggest things I enjoyed in Columbus.”