Sitting in his office chair, you’d think Teddy Richards was a high school football coach. He’s still got the stature of an offensive lineman left over from some high school glory days and college playing time.
This man, however, no longer has a football life. He’s the Penguins assistant equipment manager. And he’s gearing up for his 1000th game on Jan. 21 when the Penguins host the Chicago Blackhawks in a nationally televised game.
“I really liked the locker room atmosphere and hockey locker rooms are identical (to football),” Richards said. “You’ve got the camaraderie, friendships, so something I just enjoy being around.”
Richards’s journey to the NHL equipment room was long and at times, tumultuous. It began back when the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins invaded eastern Pennsylvania in 1999.
“When the team came to Wilkes-Barre, it was the biggest thing,” Richards said. “The rock stars were in town. You couldn’t go to a bar without the Penguins being there.”
The new team brought with it new jobs, including parking attendant, a part-time job that a teenage Richards snatched up.
His father, Ted, was the first-ever bus driver for the team, which helped him to gather more responsibilities. After games, the young Richards folded towels for the team on a volunteer basis. After he put in work in the laundry room, he began part-time employment in the pro shop owned by the head equipment manager.
It was there that he learned the staples of the job he has today. Richards left after high school to attend Mansfield University on a football scholarship. Due to a recurring injury and general unhappiness, he left school. He took an equipment manager position in Wilkes-Barre.
“Sitting here now it worked out for me, but it’s hard to recommend anyone that’s the path,” Richards said. “But along the way, there’s a lot of long nights and a lot of very small paychecks. It’s bittersweet to be where I am right now.”
Richards made a new life for himself as an equipment manager and worked his way up to head equipment manager of the team. Then another member of the Richards family jumped aboard the Penguins program. Richards’ younger brother, Josh, joined the ranks.
“There’s good and there’s bad. But more better than bad,” Josh said. “There are times when you’re going to butt heads obviously. We’re going to yell, but we’re brothers. That’s what happens with siblings.
“It also worked for the better too, because I could always say, ‘I don’t agree with this.’ We talked about stuff.”
(Teddy and Josh Richards: Photo courtesy of Josh Richards)
Two summers ago, after five years of working side by side, the two-headed monster of equipment managing split. The elder was headed to Pittsburgh while the younger to Texas to work with the Dallas Stars.
Twelve-hundred miles and busy schedules don’t get in the way of their relationship.
“There hasn’t been a day that’s gone by that we haven’t talked to each other on the phone,” Josh said. “If I don’t talk to him for a day, something’s got to be wrong. I start to get worried.”
Even though Richards moved from head equipment manager in the AHL to assistant equipment manager in the NHL, he is glad to have made the jump to the big show.
“I don’t have all he stress of the head equipment manager. Everything doesn’t fall on my shoulders, I kind of had somebody to run to if I had an issue or question. It doesn’t all fall on my shoulders where in Wilkes-Barre it did.”
Richards is as dependable as they come. In his entire career as an equipment manager, he’s only missed three games: One for a death in the family and two more for the birth of his first child. Not even a broken ankle kept him out of the job he loves.
Teddy Richards stood in front of two massive industrialized sewing machines in one of the many equipment rooms in CONSOL Energy Center. He was beaming like a toddler showing off a brand new toy.
“My favorite part,” he said excitedly. “Is making something out of nothing.”
Whether it’s sewing a protective attachment for a player’s uniform or working his way up to becoming an integral part of an NHL team, Richards does just that.