IT'S ALL ABOUT RICHIE
Instead, I made that wonderful commute to Newark, N.J. - the plan? Talk to Mike Richards.
I have a story coming on him very soon (it'll be in tomorrow's papers but we'll give you a sneak peak in a bit), but I wanted to share some quotes with you about the former captain.
I spoke with Simon Gagne, Richards himself and Kings assistant coach John Stevens.
I also have some quotes here courtesy of Wayne Fish of the Bucks County Courier, who was in Voorhees, N.J. talking Richards with the Flyers.
For the record, Mike didn't want to get into to many details from his past - which I understood. So, his comments are rather plain.
Here are all the Q and A's.... full story to come:
>The guys in here defend Richards, said he was a good team player. . .
“He was a guy who wore a letter and guys looked up to him. They listened to what he had to say when he spoke. It wasn’t too often that he would step up and say something but when he did, it meant something.
“So I’m sure it will be an emotional game for him. He started his career here and he was the face of the organization. It will be an emotional game for him but it will be just like any other game for us. It’s something more for the fans and the media and stuff.’’
>You’ve been traded. Sometimes it’s good to get a fresh start, might change a guy’s career, right?
“Absolutely. In going through it twice myself, it is sometimes a blessing in disguise. Time will tell on both sides how that plays out but it’s one of those things that’s always bittersweet. You don’t wish it upon anybody. When it happens, you feel bad for the parties involved. I’m sure it’s the same for management and the people that are making those decisions. It’s not an easy decision to make, to trade somebody.
“A lot of the fans don’t realize you’re uprooting your family and your life. But at the same time, it’s what we do. I think everyone understands that.’’
>Are expectations a little less after you’ve been traded? There’s always that initial hype for players drafted. On the second team, players seem to operate in a less demanding environment…
“I guess, again, time will tell. We watched that first game (Kings vs. Rangers in Stockholm), he was playing top minutes and he’s not a guy who’s going to fly under the radar. He’s a top echelon player in this league. Any team he’s playing, he’s going to be facing their best defensive pairs.’’
>Expect a good reception for him?
“Yeah, I think the fans recognize the work that he put in and what he did every night on the ice. He sacrificed his body, great two-way player, blocked shots, fighting, hitting. . .he really led by example for us.’’
>What do you expect on Saturday?
“We’re facing a tough team, there’s going to be a lot of emotion with a lot of ex-Flyers coming back. We’ll have to be ready for this one.’’
>What about Richards, what’s going through his mind?
“Yeah, I think it’s going to be mixed feelings for him. He’ll never forget the good times that he’s had here but at the same time, he’s moving on and I’m sure he wants to start something special in LA as well.
“It will be very weird as the fans respond nice to him. Everything. . .the way he’s played the game, on the ice especially, I don’t think the fans have anything to complain about.’’
>You’ve moved in this league; is there a natural tendency to want to show the previous team they were wrong. . .extra motivation?
“You go back and you want to prove they made a mistake. I think every competitive hockey player – and we all know Mike is – plays with a little bit of an edge when you’re back in that situation.’’
>Did you have that feeling the first time you went back to Buffalo?
“When I went back to Buffalo, when I played Phoenix. . .I think it’s totally normal.’’
JAMES VAN RIEMSDYK
>You and Richards are part of that first-round draft pick fraternity. What did he impart on you?
“Just his presence in general was good. On and off the ice, he made me feel real comfortable here. Obviously, he’s a pretty laid-back guy off the ice. Maybe he keeps to himself a little bit. But he’s a guy you definitely look up to you when you come into the league. He’s had a lot of success in his years here. He’s a great teammate and a great friend, so obviously we were sad to see him go.’’
>Briere said there’s extra motivation for a traded player to prove his old team wrong. . .
“I’m sure he wasn’t expecting it to happen, so maybe that puts a little more salt in the wound. I know he loved playing here. I don’t think necessarily he wanted to leave. It makes it tough to leave. Coming back, I’m sure he wants to make a point.’’
>Was it overstated that the room was divided and Richards was in the middle of all of it?
“I don’t know where that came from. Both Jeff (Carter) and Mike were key members of what we did on the ice and off. As far as getting the guys together, I know that even after I got drafted and before I made the team, I spent my summers here. They went out of their way to make me feel really comfortable. ‘Do you want to go to a ballgame?’ or whatever. I can’t say enough good things about those guys.’’
>You know what it’s like to go back to a place you’ve called home for years. What do you expect it will be like for Mike to come back here Saturday? Will he be received well?
“I’m sure he will. I’m not sure what Mike’s thinking or what he might be going through. He’s been a part of this organization for a long time and I’m sure he will be received well.’’
>What are your lasting impressions of him?
“I wasn’t here for that much of his tenure. What stands out for me the most is that he was a captain of a team that went to the Finals and almost won the Cup. The players that were here that year were close.’’
>JVR said Richards helped him a lot when he first got here. There seem to be a lot of good things about Mike that maybe people aren’t aware of. . .
“Way more. Mike was a great player for our organization for six –plus years. He did everything we asked . . . maybe he got painted with the wrong brush there. He was a good player. When we made the trade, we thought we were making a good trade that would work out well for us. Probably will work out well for Los Angeles. He’s still one of the top young players in the game. Two-way guy, quality character. Tough. LA made a good deal and we think we made a good deal. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had a great year and LA goes on to do great things.’’
>How difficult was it to make that trade?
“For our organization, that was huge (decision) to make both those trades. They were something we thought we needed now and in the future. I still believe they are good hockey trades and we will benefit from them down the road. That doesn’t mean those guys aren’t going to do good things for the teams they are with now. I hope they do.’’
What is Saturday going to be like for Mike?
“It’s not easy. For me this year will be easier to go back to Philly. For the first time, it’s almost like going home. Just driving by the rink and driving through the city brings you back to the past and brings back a lot of good memories. It’s hard. Mike played there quite awhile. It’s going to be tough and it’s going to take time to adjust. On my side last year it took me a while to realize I wasn’t playing for the Flyers and that I was with Tampa Bay, wearing that jersey was definitely weird. Then, walking across to the locker room on the other side was definitely one of the toughest days in my career. It’s not going to be easier for Mike. We’ll try to help him with that but he’s strong enough mentally to get through it. Other than that it will be fun for him to go back and see some friends. We have two days there, which is something I didn’t have last year because we had back-to-back games there. I don’t know if it was a good thing or a bad thing to just go there, play and get out of town, but it’s not an easy thing to do.”
Have you had the chance to talk about it at all?
“Not really. I’m the type of guy that if you want to ask me I’m willing to talk, but I think he’s old enough now and mature enough that he’s really strong mentally. I’m sure he’s really prepared himself for this moment and is going to be ready for it.”
Was it an easier transition for him coming to L.A. because of so many familiar faces?
“Maybe. Personally, I think it was easier to come to Los Angeles this year than it was going to Tampa because I know guys like Mike and the coaching staff and (assistant G.M.) Ron Hextall and (G.M. Dean) Lombardi. It’s like coming to a place you are comfortable with and comfortable with the system. I guess it would be the same thing for Mike. That was the first time he was traded in the league so who knows, but I think it will help in the transition to a new team to adjust a bit quicker then going to another team and learning everything all over with new coaches and guys you’ve never played with before.”
What’s this weekend going to be like for you?
“I’m not sure. I haven’t thought about it that much, or at least tried not to as much as possible. It’s going to be exciting once I get there.”
How much has having familiar faces here helped with your adjustment?
“I think everyone in the dressing room has helped out. You may not notice it much being all the way on the East Coast, but the guys in this dressing room have helped me a lot to make me feel at home right away. But yeah, to have familiar faces like Johnny and Murph and Simon definitely helped out a lot, but we have a great group of guys here. We come to the rink every morning and tell jokes and stories – it’s a real close group that welcomed me in.”
How important was your summer – just getting away?
“This time there was a change, but not much of a change – I like to get away from hockey and get away from everything. Get my thoughts together and prepare for another season off the ice.”
What was your initial reaction?
How long did it take for that shock to go away?
“A little bit – Once I got to know the area a little bit it helped out, but once I got to L.A. it was just hockey again?”
Does it make it easier to not focus on going back to Philly that it came at the end of this incredibly long road trip that had you away from home for almost three weeks?
“Yeah. It’s been here, there, everywhere with planes, trains and automobiles. It’s been good though, to get away with the guys and be welcomed into their tight-knit group. It’s fun to come to the rink again. You don’t have to worry about anything. You just come to the rink and joke around with the guys. There’s not little (cliques) or anything – there’s just one big group. When you have that it makes everyone closer and you play that much harder on the ice.”
Have you kept in touch with any of the guys?
“I was actually in Philly Monday and went out to dinner with Hartnell. I still keep in touch through text messages and stuff. I will probably see a couple more of the guys (tonight).”
What was it like playing in front of Philadelphia fans?
“I enjoyed playing in front of them every night and I’m excited to play in front of them again Saturday. I tried to leave everything on the ice every night for them and I thought I did that. It’s what made it fun to go to the rink.”
What has it been like for Mike joining up with you guys and now getting ready to come back to Philly this weekend?
“We’ve had other things on our mind, but at this point in the trip, the return to Philly is upon us. I’m not quite sure what the emotions are going to be for Mike or the fans but he certainly was a big part of things there. He grew up there. He was drafted there. When you think of Mike Richards you think of Philadelphia. This is certainly a big event for him and the fans. As far as for us, getting him integrated is no different than any new player trying to find his way with the team. He’s a quiet leader the way he plays the game anyway. He does some subtle things that exude leadership. I think he’s getting adjusted much like (Gagne) is or even Ethan Moreau who is a veteran player in a new city and new situation. He’s settling in with his teammates and developing new relationships and every day he seems to be more and more comfortable being here.”
How much does having familiar faces here help?
“It helps because it’s such a big change moving from East Coast to West Coast because of the time change and communication and stuff like that. I think it easier for a guy that doesn’t have a wife and kids and a family with schools to deal with, but it’s still a big change. I think he’s had some time now and he’s enjoying the area and it’s a great place to live – that part’s been easy. But I also think when you’re a player you have relationships with your coaches and other players and that helps you settle in. The fact that Mike has existing relationships with (coach) Terry (Murray), myself, (Hextall, Lombardi) and of course Simon – that relationship[p has been important for both guys. It helps. If a player went somewhere where he didn’t know anybody it would be a longer adjustment phase but from our end, having a guy like Mike who we know so well and from his end having relationships already in place, it’s very helpful all the way around.”
What are your expectations for Mike?
“No different than they were in Philadelphia. He’s an all situations player that we count on in every critical situation both offensively and defensively. He plays on our top two lines and has a lot of responsibility and we expect leadership from him as well. I don’t think anything has changed for Mike except for his uniform.”
Do you like the fact that coming home you have an extra day to catch up with Friends and the sort in town rather than it just being one night, in and out?
“If you talk to anyone who spent time in Philadelphia they’d tell you it’s a great city. We’ve all thoroughly enjoyed our time there. It’s a chance for us to go back and see people we’ve grown close to and everyone relishes those opportunities. It’s a great city and everyone, including Mike, will have nothing but great things to say about the city and their fans. We’re excited to go back and spend a couple days.”
Does it take some of the pressure off Mike that he doesn’t have to wear a letter on his jersey here and can just play?
“I don’t think Mike changes anything whether he wears a letter or not. I still see him doing things where he subtly taps guys on the pads or he communicates in the circle during a timeout. To me that’s the Mike leads. He leads by example and with his play. So, whether he has a letter on his jersey or not, I don’t see a big difference in the way he carries himself.”