by John McGourty - Courtesy of www.nhl.com
When it comes to Mike Richter
, it seems that everybody likes Mike, be it friend or foe alike.
Longtime New York Rangers teammate and current San Jose Sharks left wing Adam Graves is among the goalie’s biggest fans.
Graves said statistics are meaningless when discussing Richter, who simply plays to win and prepares harder than almost any player he's seen. He paid him the ultimate compliment a few years ago when they were teammates.
“You could take the statistics and throw them out the window,” Graves said. “There are so many other facets to the game. I’ve played on teams with Mark Messier when he won MVPs and I see Ricky doing a lot of the same things. He really works hard in conditioning his body, not only in the wintertime, but in the summertime. He’s got legs like tree trunks. I’ve never seen legs like that before in my life. He’s one of the best-conditioned athletes on our team. You don’t see that very often where a goaltender is top ranked in conditioning."
Richter owns the Rangers’ records for most saves in a single game (59 on Jan. 31, 1991 at Vancouver), most wins in a single regular season (42 in 1993-94), most wins in one season including playoffs (58 in 1993-94), most games in one season (72 in 1997-98), most playoff wins in one season (16 in 1993-94) and most career playoff wins (32).
Most importantly, he led the Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup, posting a 16-7 record with a 2.07 goals-against average.
"His team believed in him, and he believed in this team," then-coach Mike Keenan told reporters at the time.
Keenan left before the next season and was replaced by Colin Campbell, now the NHL Vice-President of Hockey Operations. The team stumbled and a frustrated Campbell answered a reporter's midseason question with brutal honesty when asked about the team's "system."
"Everyone knows (Mike) Richter is our system," Campbell said, identifying the rock around which the others foundered.
While teammates get to watch the extraordinary preparation that Richter puts into his job, opponents see the tip of the iceberg: Game results. St. Louis Blues right wing and fellow American Keith Tkachuk has long been impressed with Richter.
"He proved to the world just how good he was in 1994 when he led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup," Tkachuk told reporters, "and he underscored that when he led pretty much this same team to the World Cup of Hockey title in 1996."
"If he's healthy, he's proven he's one of the best single-game goaltenders in the game," said longtime friend and Rangers teammate Brian Leetch.
The two-time Norris Trophy defenseman spent a lot of time with Richter the past two summers while he rehabilitated his injured knees.
"We'd be down on the patio, and he'd be sitting there doing the leg weights," Leetch said. "Everyone just sat there, checking him out, thinking, 'This guy's unbelievable.' But he could see they were interested, so he'd explain everything to them, why he was doing certain exercises, the whole concept of strengthening muscles so the knee is protected. And they all sat and listened."
''From where he's come from -- even at the start of the season -- to now, is remarkable,'' said Rangers coach Ron Low, a former goalie. ''It's great for him to do it and pull it off. The great thing is, he said it. On the phone over the summer he told me, 'I'm in great shape and there's nothing nobody will be able to do about it.' ''
Rangers teammates and management were thrilled for Richter when he was named to the American team in December.
"He really deserves to be on that team," said teammate Theoren Fleury at the time. "He has been the best U.S. player all year."
Richter, who is now 1-0-1 in two appearances for Team USA is looking for gold. The United States faces Russia in a historic Olympic rematch on Friday at the E Center (6:15 PM ET). It's a safe bet Richter will be between the pipes for America in their most important game of the tournament thus far.