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Strangis: For Hawks' Richards, past defines present

by Ralph Strangis / NHL.com

Ralph Strangis, the former play-by-play voice of the Dallas Stars, uses his lengthy and varied career in hockey circles to tell unique stories about the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the people who define the tournament. Follow Ralph on Twitter @ralphstrangis

Glen Richards is a lobsterman, as was his father. It's an honest and excruciating job. His son worked the boat a bit whenever Glen could urge him out there, but the boy was not inspired to carry on the family trade.

Getting up in the middle of the night, standing at the stern near the hauler with icy salt water spitting, and yanking trap lines held no romance or allure for young Brad Richards.

He had other plans.

Pursuing his dream meant there would be no money for family vacations or extravagances, and that was fine with Glen and Delite, who told him and his sister Paige that as long as they showed pride in what they were doing, and worked hard every day, their parents would make the sacrifices.

They resulted in a long and illustrious hockey career for Brad, whose latest stop finds him with the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Western Conference Final.

The Anaheim Ducks stand between Richards and a chance to win his second Stanley Cup. Game 1 of the best-of-7 series is at Honda Center on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

When Brad was 14, he left for school and hockey in Saskatchewan. Three years later it was off to Rimouski in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Armed with the lessons passed from his stoic and uncompromising father and a baptism in the tempestuous waters of major junior hockey, the 20-year-old made his NHL debut with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 6, 2000.

Brad Richards

Brad Richards won the Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley
Cup in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Photo: Getty Images  (Click to enlarge)

By 2004, Richards, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis would help the Lightning win their only Stanley Cup.

Fast forward 15 years and Richards, the 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, is playing in his fifth conference final and hoping to reach the Stanley Cup Final for a third time and second straight season (New York Rangers).

In the vernacular of Brad's father, "He's a good guy to have on the boat."

When you're a young player in the NHL, you hope for the kind of guidance Richards found from Fredrik Modin and Tampa Bay captain Dave Andreychuk.

"Dave was so welcoming, so inclusive," Richards said. "He always made sure the young guys were invited to his house for dinner and that we were included in team outings on the road. It made me feel like I was a part of things, and when you're a young guy in this League, that's huge."

The Lightning elders made such an impression on Richards that he integrated mentoring into his hockey persona. When he was traded to the Dallas Stars in 2008, he saw young players James Neal, Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn with the same wide-eyed stares he exhibited a few years earlier.

"He was playing so well that I wanted to know what his secret was," said Benn, now captain of the Stars. "He'd drag me into workouts after practice and tell me that this is going to pay off later in the season. He would make sure we were all welcome at his place. He took an interest in me and in all of us, and for my part, I wanted to be there."

Richards felt he had a responsibility to linemates Neal and Eriksson.

"I noticed that if I was positive on the ice that they would be positive on the ice," he said. "I also saw that if I was having a bad time it could rub off on them, so I always had to keep an eye on what I was doing. They held me accountable that way."

It was Richards' idea to have Neal move in with him during his rookie season. The goal-hungry wing felt at ease on the ice but needed a little guidance off it.

"I helped him balance his checkbook and we'd go grocery shopping together and drive to practices and games together too," Richards said. "And now, it's so great to see him doing so well, and I count him among my closest friends in hockey."

Richards is the first to say he's been fortunate during his career. He also was fortunate to hit free agency at a perfect time.

As the most coveted center available in the summer of 2011, Richards had several high-profile suitors. He signed with the New York Rangers, which meant the brightest lights, the harshest scrutiny, and the greatest pressure imaginable.

"You know that there's going to pressure but you say, 'I can handle it,'" he said. "But until you're in it, you don't realize how loud the noise is, and how hard it is to shut it out. At the end of the day, we had two great runs but didn't finish it. And while I'm really disappointed with that, what I learned there is helping me in the final years of my career."

Richards is no longer the guy; he's a support player on a very good team. It's a role he embraces. And this time, in an odd reversal of roles, it was younger Patrick Kane who volunteered to drive Richards to practice and games and serve as his guide around Chicago. On the ice, Richards is deferring to Kane too, learning to play with a unique sniper with superb hockey sense, a strong work ethic, and a knack for scoring when it means the most.

"It's so fun this time of year, these games mean so much," Richards said. "I want to be a part of winning it again and I'll do everything I can to help this team."

I've known Brad since those days in Dallas; he's been a friend to me through the years. We spoke Tuesday night by phone, after the Eastern Conference Second Round series between the Lightning and Montreal Canadiens. Richards doesn't miss many games, especially this time of year.

He's a husband and father now, meeting his wife Rachelle in New York and watching the birth of his son Luca in a Chicago delivery room. His maturation has made him even more thoughtful and reflective.

"In looking back I'm proud of the career I've had and where I am right now, but I'm also really excited about the young guys I've been around," he said. "Guys like Jamie and Loui and [Neal] and (Rangers captain) Ryan McDonagh and now all the guys in Chicago.

"I learned from really good guys how to be a pro, and I hope I've helped pass some of that on."

Glen Richards is captain of his lobster boat; Brad has never worn the "C" in the NHL. But his is a unique resume of dependable offense and long playoff runs. Most important, he's someone who never needed a letter to lead, or an invitation to include others wherever he goes.

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