BUFFALO -- For Justin Richards and Tyson McLellan, hockey has always been a way of life.
Richards, a sophomore forward with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, is the son of Tampa Bay Lightning assistant coach Todd Richards. McLellan, a junior forward with the University of Denver, is the son of Todd McLellan, former coach of the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks, and former assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings.
Each player grew up in and around the NHL game with his father working behind the bench. This week, they are in Buffalo for the Frozen Four at KeyBank Center with their sights set on an NCAA title.
Minnesota-Duluth will play Providence College at 5 p.m. ET, and Denver will play the University of Massachusetts at 8:30 p.m. ET on Thursday. The championship game is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.
"He's been nothing but advantageous for me," Richards said of his father. "Even when I was struggling to score last year. He was always there to comfort me and reassure me that I'm a big part of this team and still doing a good job with being responsible in the defensive zone and things like that."
The 21-year-old from Columbus is the first player from Ohio to play for the Bulldogs. He had 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists) in 44 games in his second season, after nine points, all assists, as a freshman.
"He's had a really, really good year for us," Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said.
McLellan grew up around many notable names as his father rose through the coaching ranks. This season, he was named an alternate captain and for the second straight season was named to National Collegiate Hockey Conference Academic All-Conference Team and a NCHC Distinguished Scholar-Athlete.
"It's been a big influence," McLellan said. "I've always been around the rink, always seen players like Pavel Datsyuk, Joe Thornton, kind of seen what they do, trying to implement some of that stuff into my game. It's been really helpful in my game."
And that influence isn't lost on either team's coach.
"You can tell whether you're talking to him about his game, our team game, an NHL player, NHL team, he's in the know," Denver coach David Carle said of McLellan. "He's a really intelligent, bright hockey mind."
Sandelin said, "Absolutely you can tell he's been around the game. Just the way he goes about every day. I think he trains the right way. He studies the game. He has a purpose every day when it comes to the rink. He's a very focused young man. He wants to get better."
Richards and his father stay in touch as much as possible amidst their schedules. The Bulldogs are looking to repeat as Frozen Four champions Saturday and if they advance to the title game, his father will be on hand to cheer him on, along with his mother and brother. The Lightning will be traveling to Columbus that day.
"Sometimes you don't get bounces and things like that but the thing that you can control is your work ethic and to be the hardest worker on the ice," Richards said. "If you do that, chances are you're going to be successful and you'll get noticed."