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June 28, 2011 :: 9:10pm ET
Out of the Flyers pan, into the Pacific
The newest member of the Los Angeles Kings, former Philadelphia Flyer Mike Richards, finally gets to exhale.

LOS ANGELES, CA -- Approximately 100 hours after his world was rocked, Mike Richards dialed me up to talk about the next stage of his NHL career. He was apologetic while leaving word about the late afternoon call and welcomed me to ring him up whenever I had the time to yak.

So far, so good, eh? Where's the bad guy giving all those nice media folks in Philly a rough time?

While the character assassinations rose to a crescendo with the Flyers' failure in this year's playoffs, we went to better sources before our chat, guys who shared the room with him.

To a man, we were told that Richards was a great teammate and would fit well in the new room he'll stride into in September. As long as you respected the guy, he'd stay around and chat with you in the post-game locker room.

Hitting him up for words this deep into the swap aftermath and months away from training camp, we spared him the 20th consecutive round of questions about the shock attached to being dealt for the first time, the parting with Jeff Carter and those final days in Philadelphia. To be honest, I wasn't going to cover any new round with that line of questioning and the repetition wouldn't the best way to commence a relationship with a player we're likely to cover for the better part of the next decade.

"So Mike, you own a pet?"

Richards is a dog owner; a black Labrador Retriever named Arnold. If you own four legged canine friends like we do, I could conclude the story now and you'd get it as only a certain type of individual understands what puppies do, they make a house into a home.

But that would make this piece better suited for Dog Illustrated than The Fourth Period, so I chose to continue the discussion. Brilliant.

Expectations are abnormally high in Philadelphia; there's a legacy of winning by virtue of the two Stanley Cup banners from the mid 70s that were shipped across from the dearly departed Spectrum and hang from the rafters of the Wells Fargo Center.

The organization is not unlike the Mafia, once a Flyer always a Flyer. Many former players are still attached to the team, whether it is in the executive suite, broadcast team or ancillary businesses. The loyalty and ferocity of the fans is well documented as to a person, nothing less than a Stanley Cup will ever do. They really do bleed Orange and Black hard by the Ben Franklin Bridge with every loss.

As our discussion progressed and we veered away from queries about who he felt would be his line mates or if he might give Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty a personal seminar on how to hit the net from the point on the powerplay, it's apparent that he won't miss the responsibility he shouldered by virtue of the letter C he deservedly wore with pride for the Flying P.

With Dustin Brown well established as captain, and core players Anze Kopitar and Matt Greene wearing the "A", you shouldn't expect Richards and his new number 10 to have any kind of additional lettering come the fall.

"Coming into a new team, it will be good not to have that pressure," Richards said. "Philadelphia is a tough city and when things go wrong they look at the captain, which is fine because I don't like losing. If there's blame to hand out, it might as well be me.

"I think coming to the Kings and not having people look at me first for leadership is going to make it an easier transition. It will be good to just concern myself with on ice things and not what's going on the dressing room and outside of hockey."

Playing in the Atlantic Division, the proximity of the opposition found him sleeping in his own bed most nights (that bed was in a rented condo, Richards never bought a home in his six years in Philadelphia).

Many players voice concerns about heavy travel while playing n the Western Conference, but Mike minimized the issue as he pointed out Los Angeles' biggest road trip will be its first.

"It's going to be an adjustment, but the good thing is we'll spend more time on the road and I'll get to know my teammates better quickly," he said. "I think the Europe trip is a perfect fit for us, and half to travel to the East is in our initial trip."

The Kings open the season playing in the Premiere Series in Berlin and Stockholm, then hit the East Coast for matches against New Jersey and what stands to be a very emotional return to the City of Brotherly Love on Oct.15.

So while the road will be a friend to Richards and his new pals early on, the transition stands to be seamless by virtue of the fact that he's toiled for the current Kings bench boss and assistant coaches during his time in Philadelphia. Terry Murray and John Stevens both tapped on his shoulder from behind the bench in South Philly, they welcome the opportunity to do so again and for his part Mike concurs.

"It makes it much easier with Terry and John here," Richards explained. "I know the system they play, five-on-five, powerplay, penalty kill and the whole nine yards. Knowing the head coach as I do and knowing what he expects, there's no feeling-out process."

Decompression

Once the Flyers were bounced from the post-season, Mike needed to decompress from the cauldron watching only a couple of games in the final round.

"I like to travel right after we're done, go to places I've never been to," he shared.

While many team's media guides list personal information about players' favorite things away from the rink, the Flyers book just feeds you statistical information. So where did Mike Richards fly off to this spring to forget about it all?

"I went to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and Paris," he said. "In Cabo, we hung on the beach with a couple of buddies and then went with my older brother to the French Open. We've gone to the U.S. Open five years in-a-row, but since we went out earlier, we went to the French this time and Wimbledon's next."

Before you start thinking that he lives the life of a rock star (okay, he really does), most of the off-season is spent like a large majority of Canadian NHLers. Richards retreats to the north.

"Once my vacation ends, I like to get back, go fishing, work out and do all my things in one spot and get away from everything."

Most of the Kings' players reside in the upscale beach towns of Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach, they're in proximity to the team's training facility and the Pacific waves are far more friendly and warmer than the banks of the Schuylkill River.

"I've looked a little on line at housing and it's very early in the process, but I'm having fun," Richards admitted.

To expand on the fun part away from the ice, the cars he owns are disparate yet appropriate for the places he resides.

Back home, he trucks it in a GMC Sierra pickup, "it's out in the middle of nowhere" but when the city boy comes out, he rolls to the arena in a BMW 750i (autograph seekers, you know owe me for the tip.) The aforementioned Arnold the black Lab never made it down to Philly, life in a condo near Broad Street pales in comparison to the ability to run free in the open spaces of western Ontario.

His musical tastes vary from Brad Paisley to Eminem to My Morning Jacket but unlike many others in the big show he's devoid of superstitions.

"I have a stretch routine before the game, but I don't believe that anything I do before a game is going to hurt me or help me on the ice," Richards said.

While he might be convinced to sample sushi and tofu while dining out in L.A. in the fall, steak is his favorite food putting him directly in line for a $70 Kobe (not Bryant) beef steak somewhere on La Cienga Boulevard.

Mike stirred the pot with Twitter comments over the past few months and he's among the increasing numbers of NHLers using social networks, but sees its primary value as a bonus to his fans.

"It's for the fan's sake," Richards said. "You do a lot of interviews on TV, and to tell you the truth, it's just the most generic, not-get-you-in-trouble answers you can give, especially in Philadelphia. Everything is personal and you can't joke around with them. (Twitter) gives me the opportunity to throw stuff out there and give more of a glimpse to my life than what they see on TV. I don't do it a lot, throw some tennis stuff out there, for fans that care about you."

He's not all in on social networks either, as you can search Facebook but you won't find him there.

Richards' final words reflected that while the adjustment continues throughout the summer months, he'll be raring to go come opening night wearing a Crown.

"With the expectations we had last season, it was set up for failure if we didn't win," Richards indicated. "When you have that much pressure, I don't think any team has lived up to it. There's always pressure going into a season, but when you say, 'you must win, period', it made it tough. Besides, the moat pressure I feel is the amount I put on myself, to do well and help your team. No one is more disappointed than me that we didn't win this year."

While he deals with that recent disappointment, there was more than one high-five exchanged around the Kings executive suite when the deal was consummated. Coach Terry Murray can't wait for the former Flyers family to grow by one in Los Angeles.

"Winning just follows him around," Murray said. "It's incredible he's an L.A. King. You do what you have to do to acquire this player."

The final words, as they usually do, go to GM Dean Lombardi.

Criticized for the duration of his tenure as L.A.'s top hockey guy, he's silenced virtually all the negative talk with this deal. While it's indisputable that he's built an organization from the ground up and instilled a culture to a franchise that never had one, the naysayers said that his inability to lure big time free agents to L.A. (OK, the guy isn't Pete Carroll when it comes to recruiting) or pull the trigger on the big deal (he'll argue with you he's done so in San Jose by acquiring Teemu Selanne and Vincent Damphousse), his patience was finally rewarded by acquiring a two-time All Star center for a solid third line right wing in Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, a rookie with all of eight games of NHL experience, but big potential.

The day of acquiring potential is over. Two consecutive playoff berths will lose its luster to the fan base and ownership if it evolves into three consecutive first-round playoff eliminations. Progression must be made and Lombardi went all in to acquire the guy who makes this team a serious contender to emerge from the West.

"I've admired this player from his junior days up until the present. He has the unique presence of taking over a room without trying to." Lombardi stated. "He's got that 'it'; you can't define 'it' but you know it when you see it.

"I've stayed away from a lot of players because part of building a team was also about building a culture. Players like him are culture changers."

For a fan base devoid of a Stanley Cup since its inception in 1967, they're begging, hoping and pleading that Mike Richards turns it into a championship culture.

Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period Magazine and a Columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com.
You can also visit Dennis on Twitter.


 

 

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May 30, 2011 The Cup Comes Home
May 07, 2011 Jumbo Flavor
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Mar. 17, 2011 Ya gotta have Hart
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