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Richards looking forward to glare of New York

by Dave Lozo
The hockey world was Brad Richards' oyster this summer. As the gold medal of a free-agent class filled mostly with fourth-place ribbons, Richards was pursued heavily by a plethora of NHL executives desperate to land the top-flight center.

Richards spent July 1 holding court in Toronto, where teams made their aggressive pitches to the 31-year-old, who has a Stanley Cup, a Conn Smythe Trophy and 716 points in 772 NHL games on his resume. Just some of the suitors who offered him tremendous amounts of money were the Los Angeles Kings, Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers.

For a player who was born in a town (Murray Harbour, PEI) with a population of about 500 and played his entire career in the non-traditional hockey markets of Dallas and Tampa, it was a whirlwind of attention the likes of which Richards hasn't seen all that often. When it came time for him to decide where he would likely spend the rest of his career, he showed he's not afraid of playing in the spotlight.

He chose New York.


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"You definitely think about it, but that's not what I based 100-percent of my decision on," Richards said of playing in the world's biggest media market. "The first thing you want to think about when you go into free agency is where are you going to be playing and what kind of quality of life there is and how easy it is to get away from the game and do other things. I've played in the South and been able to do those things.

"It's still an Original Six city and hockey matters. I can't speak for everybody, but that was something that was missing in my career. Because I was a free agent, I might as well try it out."

The Rangers tend to take a back seat in New York to baseball's Yankees and Mets and football's Giants and Jets, but that doesn't mean Richards will be wearing a cloak of invisibility at the renovated Madison Square Garden. The fans that bleed blue can be as harsh as any when a player is underperforming. Journalists can be just as unforgiving as well.

Richards spent seven seasons in Tampa and four in Dallas. Hockey in Tampa was in its infancy when Richards was raising a Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004. As a member of the Stars, Richards could have won three Stanley Cups in a row and it wouldn't have garnered the same attention as Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo breaking a clavicle or dating a pop star.

Hiding won't be an option in New York, not with the raised expectations that arrived the moment Richards signed his nine-year contract with the Rangers. None of that seems to bother him, though. All Richards wants to do after this frantic offseason is play hockey and not worry about how the added scrutiny of playing in New York will affect him.

"I don't know yet. I wish I could tell you because it seems like it's taken forever to be able to start playing," Richards said. "It'll all happen fast. I think the biggest thing is the stuff around the hockey that gets thrown at you. That will be the stuff that you have to learn how to deal with or say no to. I don't think the hockey part is going to be any different. I think it'll probably be a little easier than playing in Toronto or places like that, where it's only hockey.

"It's going to be a challenge, for sure. It's going to be something different. I haven't experienced it, but if you want to be a good player or a great player, that's something you should relish. What better place to try to perform every night than Madison Square Garden? That's a dream come true."

The first big step in Richards' Rangers career will start in Europe, as the team will play four preseason games in Europe, and open the regular season playing the Kings and Ducks on back-to-back nights at Stockholm's Globe Arena as part of the 2011 Compuware NHL Premiere Series.

From there, the Rangers will play five road games before their home opener, Oct. 27 against the Leafs. The lengthy stretch away from MSG is because of the ongoing upgrades taking place there. While that situation could be a burden, two weeks in Europe and another week on the road is a chance for Richards to assimilate himself with his new teammates.

"It's going to be a challenge, for sure. It's going to be something different. I haven't experienced it, but if you want to be a good player or a great player, that's something you should relish. What better place to try to perform every night than Madison Square Garden? That's a dream come true."
-- Brad Richards

"For me, it will probably be good for getting away and getting to know the guys for two weeks," Richards said. "I've never been involved with this so I don't know. It's probably different for the Rangers because we're over there for a little longer and playing other games and stuff like that."

It's almost fitting that Richards is taking part in this tour of Europe that also includes games in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Switzerland. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, a native of Are, Sweden, who got his start playing with Frolunda, will be the main draw for fans coming out to see the Rangers in Stockholm. While Lundqvist will bring the fans out for these two games, he's also responsible for bringing Richards to New York.

"That was part of the lure of New York, knowing you're going to have a goalie like that for the next 4-5 years he's signed, and hopefully longer," Richards said. "It goes without saying how huge it is. I've watched him over the years. He's one of the top goalies in the League, for sure."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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