It was on September 25, 2004 at St. Louis' then-named Savvis Center when the multi-platinum hard rock band was opening for Metallica on the Madly in Anger with the World Tour.
"I got word that he was there with Doug Weight. I asked to go see them and I met them at their seats. I told Luke who I was and said I was a big fan and we became good friends ever since," recounted Merrill, ahead of a gig in Virginia Beach, VA this past Friday afternoon.
Merrill, a founding member of Godsmack, wasn't kidding about being a Richardson supporter. At the time of the encounter, he'd actually been tracking his play for quite some time and was excited to meet the then-Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman.
"I've always been a hockey fan and I was always a fan of his. I followed him through his career, especially when he was playing for Philly. I just liked him as a player, and I used to put him on my PlayStation game," said Merrill, who thoroughly enjoyed the way Richardson went about his business before hanging up his skates in November 2008. "He was just like a grinder. To me he was a Boston Bruin, and I'm from Boston. I'm a huge Bruins fan, and he was that type of player. And he played a long time, so I have a lot of respect for him."
The 56-year-old musician didn't just follow hockey closely, though. He adored playing the game as well, and was fortunate enough to skate with a host of former NHLers over the years.
"Duncan Keith showed up one time. It was summertime, and he was there with Brent Seabrook. I got to skate with Shjon Podein with the Avalanche back in 2001 when Ray Bourque was there. Another guy was Jamie Langenbrunner when we were in New Jersey," remembered Merrill. "Whenever I could, I brought my gear with me. I got to skate with so many great people."
And whenever Godsmack rolled into Richardson's native Ottawa, the 21-year NHL veteran was more than happy to hook Merrill up with some coveted ice time.
"Robbie said the guys liked to work out on the road, but that he preferred to play pick-up hockey wherever they went. I put him in touch with my best friend who played some pro hockey, and he got a group of guys together at a rink," explained Richardson. "Robbie went over and was happy to have that connection."
When his playing days were over, Richardson connected with the Lawrence, MA native again while helming the AHL's Binghamton Senators.
"Robbie was good friends with our equipment manager, so when Godsmack came to Binghamton, I had him in the dressing room," mentioned Richardson. "And when we'd play up in Manchester, NH outside of Boston, he'd come meet us, too."
Earlier this summer, they exchanged text messages aplenty as Merrill's beloved Bruins battled for the Stanley Cup. But, the pair wasn't about to let their hockey allegiances get in the way of their relationship.
"I'm a fan of hockey. I can let the other stuff go," insisted Merrill, who admits to being a fan of another member of the Canadiens' coaching staff. "I respect Claude Julien. He was our coach for 10 years. I've always liked him."
Richardson and Merrill's most recent meeting came on May 10 when Godsmack played the Canadian Tire Centre. It marked the sixth time he'd seen the four-time Grammy Award nominees perform live.
And it proved to be the perfect opportunity for Merrill to have a little fun at his good buddy's expense.
"Robbie had a little gym bag on his tour bus, and I pointed at it. It was an Edmonton Oilers bag. I go, 'I'm going to have to upgrade it to a Montreal bag.' He goes, 'Whatever I get, I promote,'" joked Richardson. "He said it with just a little bit of a smile. It was a jab at me to get him something."
All kidding aside, though, Richardson's admiration for Merrill is off the charts.
"When he gets on stage, he just grabs the bass and becomes a rock star. That's where he lets his wildness out, his artistry and his talent. He knows his industry, his trade and his craft, and he does it to perfection. He takes a lot of pride in it. He's a total professional," praised Richardson, whose favorite Godsmack tracks include "I Stand Alone," "Voodoo" and "When Legends Rise." "He also balances the lifestyle great and knows the grind on the road. When he has his downtime, he goes home to his wife and daughters and spends it with his family. I like to do the same. That's why I think we have lots in common and our friendship has really grown."
But, it really was their mutual love of hard rock that put them under the same roof in Missouri almost a decade and a half ago.
In Richardson's case, his philosophy is the more aggressive the music the better.
"I find the beat and the heaviness really motivated me in my training. Even though I don't play anymore, I still like to work out and that's kind of been my routine. You get to points in workouts that are exhausting, and you have to push yourself past that. It's the best kind of music to help with that," revealed Richardson. "I remember listening to Andrew W.K. when I'd be doing a bike program with sprints or hill climbs. You'd just close off everything, turn up the music and go."
Godsmack remains Richardson's music of choice when he's sweating away in the Bell Sports Complex gym after practice, but you'll find the likes of Metallica, Rob Zombie, Three Days Grace and Volbeat on his playlist as well.
Some Guns N' Roses or Van Halen would surely do the trick, too.
Speaking of things Richardson and Merrill share in common, they're also fighting for common causes.
The Richardsons championed Do It For Daron (DIFD) - a youth-driven initiative focused on raising awareness and inspiring conversations about youth mental health - after their 14-year-old daughter passed away from suicide in November 2010.
Likewise, Godsmack established The Scars Foundation to help raise awareness of a variety of mental health issues that have ultimately led to people taking their own lives.
Click here to learn more about DIFD.
Click here to learn more about The Scars Foundation.
Bring on Heavy Montreal!
Merrill is looking forward to Godsmack's upcoming appearance at Heavy Montreal, which is set for Saturday, July 27 beginning at 7:15 p.m. at Parc Jean-Drapeau.
"I love all of Canada, and the French part of Canada is the best. It reminds me of Europe. Montreal and Quebec has just awesome, awesome crowds," praised Merrill. "They know all the words. They sing all the words. They're just very passionate."
That passion, coupled with playing outdoors, is still a thrill for Merrill and the rest of his bandmates.
"I've always enjoyed festivals. There's all kinds of music and it's just a good time. Depending on what time you go on, I don't know how fans can last as long as they last, especially in the heat and the sun, but they do it," said Merrill. "I love playing there. They love the metal."
Click here to purchase tickets for Heavy Montreal.