Short of holding Michael Richards down, tying him up and hiding him for a few hours tonight, there seems to be little the Owen Sound Attack can do to stop the Kitchener Rangers captain.
And there is certainly nothing the Attack can do about one trait Richards, who was named Ontario Hockey League player of the week yesterday after recording nine points in the first three games of the Western Conference semi-final against the Attack, shares with four of his teammates.
Nearly two years after Richards, David Clarkson, Adam Keefe, Evan McGrath and Andre Benoit raised the Memorial Cup in Quebec City, the experience of capturing the most prestigious team award in junior hockey resonates.
"They play with a confidence and swagger because they all have rings," said Rangers general manager/coach Peter DeBoer, whose team can complete a four-game sweep of the Attack tonight at the Memorial Auditorium in Kitchener. "I think it has been invaluable for this year because we have such a young team. What we lack in quantity, we make up in quality, because our veteran guys have won a Memorial Cup."
The Attack finished the regular season with a club-record 90 points, seven more than the Rangers' 83. Many were expecting the Attack, which consistently was ranked in the Canadian Hockey League top 10 during the regular season, to meet the London Knights in the conference final. Barring a miracle comeback by Owen Sound, it won't happen.
Richards played one of the best games by a junior-aged player in recent memory Saturday night when he scored three goals and had three assists in the Rangers' 6-5 overtime win in Owen Sound. But Richards, who added a world junior gold medal to his resume this past winter when he was captain of Canada's team in North Dakota, has not been a one-man show for Kitchener. Benoit is the top offensive defencemen in the OHL, McGrath was seventh in scoring this past season and Clarkson and Keefe perform with such intensity one wonders how they haven't yet skated through the end boards.
Richards, who is as fine a person off the ice as he is the player on it, is proud of all of his teammates. But he's aware of the bond he shares with Clarkson, Benoit, Keefe and McGrath.
"In playoff hockey, you can't really explain how much experience you draw on from past years," Richards, a 2003 first-round pick by the Philadelphia Flyers who has not signed, said.
"We have a lot of character in our room. Keefer and Clarkie out there trying their hardest, I think it rubs off on everybody. We set ourselves up really nice, but we know Owen Sound isn't going to give up."
Some players float through their junior careers with no true appreciation of what it takes to win a championship. Clarkson would give his right leg to once more have that feeling of euphoria that comes with winning the last game of the season.
"We are hungry for (another shot at an OHL title) again," Clarkson, a Mimico native, said. "You're not happy with winning one Memorial Cup when you play in the OHL. You come in at the beginning of the season and see a bunch of young guys and you don't know what it's going to be like. It's just like the year when we won the Cup, when we had Derek Roy, Gregory Campbell and Steve Eminger leading the way. I think we are trying to do what they did."