NEW YORK - He has played for and won a Stanley Cup and has been in the Olympics, but Brad Richards knows heís about to experience a different kind of excitement.
Finally on the verge of making his long-awaited home debut as a Broadway Blueshirt, the veteran centre says he knows what heís getting into, a big reason why he signed the nine-year, $60-million US deal with the team on July 1.
ďThis will have a different feel for 41 games than what Iím used to for home games,Ē Richards said Thursday as he was the toast of a jammed Rangers dressing room, redone from top to bottom as part of the Madison Square Garden makeover. ďIt will be a great experience in my life and my career. I canít wait to start.Ē
Nor can the fans, weíre guessing.
Since signing the deal, ending a bizarre free-agent courtship from several teams, including the Maple Leafs, the anticipation of his impact on the Rangers has been building. Though he has struggled at times on the teamís seven-game road trip to open the season, the Rangers feel Richards is ready to handle the lead role in a market that can be hard on its star players.
ďThatís why he wanted to come here,Ē Rangers coach John Tortorella said of the 31-year-old star. ďHe wants that challenge and everything that comes with the city. Itís a great city, itís a great sports town. There are different pressures here and accountability that comes when you come into a market like this. But thatís why Brad Richards is Brad Richards. He wanted this. And thatís why we want him.
ďThis is a great situation. I donít worry about him. I think heís going to settle other players down.Ē
The Rangers survived that road journey to Sweden plus three Western Canadian provinces with a solid 3-2-2 record. Now they begin a six-game homestand they hope will set them up to be a force in the Eastern Conference.
Richards, for one, canít wait to get on with the show that can be one of the great home rinks in the league.
ďItís a great feeling when you have a fan base that gets behind you like that,Ē Richards said. ďIt makes you feel a little bigger, a little faster. You know what kind of fans New Yorkers are in general for their sports teams. I just canít wait to be on the ice with them behind me, putting on the jersey and getting out there.
ďThereís a lot of history here and Iím honoured to be a part of it.Ē