Seeing Mike Richards
make his first tentative steps in the visitor's locker room here at the Wells Fargo Center, Simon Gagne
knew exactly what was going through his teammate's mind.
Richards, who spent six seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers
and expected to spend many more in black and orange, was traded to the Los Angeles Kings
in June. Now, just four games into his stint with his new team, he was back in the building where he had so much success.
Gagne was in a similar situation almost exactly a year ago. Like Richards he was a Flyers first-round draft pick, and like Richards he was a long-time Flyer -- he spent his first 10 NHL seasons in Philadelphia. But not long after helping Richards guide Philadelphia to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, Gagne was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning
And also like Richards, he played his first game back in Philadelphia early in his tenure with his new team.
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In just his third game with Tampa Bay, on Oct. 14, 2010, Gagne returned for a game in Philadelphia.
"It was almost like a déjà vu," Gagne told NHL.com. "It's funny, sitting in my seat there and getting ready … looking at Mike, it's like looking at myself last year and he's in the same situation that I was."
Gagne was a fan favorite during his time in Philadelphia, helping the Flyers reach the Eastern Conference Finals four times and the 2010 Cup Final, and he ranks in the franchise's top-10 all-time in games played (664, 10th), goals (259, ninth) and points (524, 10th).
His overtime goal in Game 6 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals is one of the more memorable scores in team history. With all that history, he received a tremendous ovation from the fans, and the Flyers put together a video retrospective of his career.
While the fans relished one final chance to say goodbye to a favorite, Gagne said it made jumping over the boards that much harder for him.
"That was not a regular game," he said. "It was one of the toughest games I had to play in my career. It was really hard to play my game. What they did last year with me, and the video, it almost took all my focus away after that and it was hard to play the game."
Richards' success in Philadelphia isn't far removed from Gagne's. He was an All-Star, an Olympic gold medalist, team captain, and led the Flyers to a pair of Eastern Conference Finals appearances and a Stanley Cup Final trip.
However, if there's any kind of ovation or highlight video of his career, Richards said he doesn't expect to have any problems getting into the game.
"You want to treat it like every other game and that's how I'm treating it," Richards said. "I'm coming here to play hockey and my opponent. I'll go out there and treat this afternoon the same way, and come to the rink with the same mindset."
"That was not a regular game. It was one of the toughest games I had to play in my career. It was really hard to play my game. What they did last year with me, and the video, it almost took all my focus away after that and it was hard to play the game." -- Simon Gagne on his first game back in Philadelphia last season
Kings coach Terry Murray
said he isn't worried about Richards. He was an assistant coach with the Flyers during the early days of Richards' career, and has a pretty good understanding of where his player's focus will be.
"It's a big game for him," Murray said. "He's a player that needs to play with emotion (but) you need to play the right way with that emotion." Mike is more the kind of player that instinctively things take over, his leadership, the quality that we've all liked in his game from the time he was drafted to the NHL, is the ability to play the game at critical times and play it the right way. That's an emotional instinct that kicks in.
"I think he's been thinking about this game from the time he got traded to the L.A. Kings. There's nothing that I'm going to be able to say or do that's going to temper that enthusiasm or that energy he's going to have. He wants to come back here and play and have a big game."
Gagne said he and Richards haven't talked about what to expect, but Gagne said from what he's seen of his teammate, it isn't necessary.
"He's really strong mentally and he looked really prepared for this game," Gagne said. “The way he's talking right now, the way he's acting around us … he's doing better than I did last year. Hopefully it's going to be like that."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK