Come February, Mike Richter
will have had his jersey number hanging from the rafters at Madison Square Garden for six years.
Doesn't it seem like just yesterday Richter was regarded as the greatest goalie in the world following his remarkable performance in leading the New York Rangers
against the Vancouver Canucks
in the 1994 Stanley Cup Final and that spectacular exhibition in the '96 World Cup for the United States?
"It just goes by so fast and your career is over in a blink," Richter told NHL.com. "The hard part to understand is that you work so hard for so many years to win that Cup and, as an athlete, you're always setting higher goals for yourself. The next level for us would have been winning another Cup, and when we didn't repeat, it was kind of stunning. We wanted to build a dynasty, and when you don't do it and fall short, it's tough. Looking back, I would have loved to win one more, but I also remember the great players who I played against who didn't experience that, so I feel fortunate to be able to have that in my life."
During that '96 World Cup, Richter went 5-1 with a 2.43 goals-against average on the way to earning tournament MVP honors and helping lead the American squad to its first international title since the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.
On Wednesday, Richter, who was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame last year, will be one of three hockey greats honored with the Lester Patrick
Award, given for outstanding service to hockey in the United States.
"I was lucky enough to experience some great moments on the ice, so it means a lot to me and brings back memories when I'm honored like this because I'm able to savor it," Richter said. "I didn't learn much about (the Lester Patrick
Award) until fairly recently and it kind of takes you out of the blue. I always felt like, when it comes to U.S. hockey in particular, I owed them a hell of lot more then I gave them. Remember, I grew up in Philadelphia, which wasn't exactly a hockey hotbed, but the people from USA Hockey were phenomenal about helping me and providing opportunities by getting me into developmental camps and all that. I never felt as good as my peers in Moscow and Quebec when I first started out, but I was given an opportunity to get there through USA Hockey."
The 43-year-old native of Abington, Pa., still has every USA Hockey jersey he's ever worn, from the early stages of developmental camp through the Olympics.
"(The U.S. developmental camp jersey) is just some crumpled up little green thing," Richter said. "One year it's yellow. But then, one year, that turns into red, white and blue. And then it becomes serious. And you're representing your talent, your development, your skill and your whole culture in front of others. That's an awesome thing. I don't know too many people who don't regard that as one of the highest honors you can have."
Today, Richter is a founding partner at Environmental Capital Partners based in New York -- a private equity firm that offers products and services used to enhance and protect the environment. It's a position that means an awful lot to him.
"I've always had an interest in the environment and I really thought about going into some form of public office to make good on some of the things I want to do with the environmental movement and the private markets are the most powerful places to be to be able to move society along," Richter said.
Richter remains a huge fan of the game and continues to be amazed at the increased caliber of talent each season.
"The level of talent in the League right now is incredible, and maybe that's the most frustrating thing because you'd like to see the game grow a little bit more because it's such a great game," Richter said. "From the goal on out, the League offers such great athletes, and as a fan, I absolutely appreciate it.
"It's still great to see that desire in a given player and that's always been an unknown because you don't know the level of commitment and genetic ability that a player might have. But it's impressive that (Alex) Ovechkin and (Sidney) Crosby are being labeled as the next great ones and you can see their love for the game. I'm curious to see how Pittsburgh will respond this year after winning it all because the truly great players won't lead their team to a win every night, but will compete and have that fire to return."
Much like Richter did in his heyday.
That said, does he ever imagine what it would be like to strap on the pads again and face today's top forwards?
"I would love to play against a guy like Ovechkin or Crosby because they're every bit as good as advertised, but you always know a little bit more about them when you're preparing and playing against them," Richter said. "Back when I played, you knew Wayne Gretzky
was good, but until you played with or against him did you really find out exactly how good. I think the Rangers are finding that out about (Marian) Gaborik now -- in seeing what he can do and how he prepares."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.