Richards set for New York debut

Rangers forward Brad Richards skates during the warmup before playing against the Flames at the...

Rangers forward Brad Richards skates during the warmup before playing against the Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alta., Oct. 20, 2011. (AL CHAREST/QMI Agency)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:37 PM ET

NEW YORK - He has played for and won a Stanley Cup and has been in the Olympics, but Brad Richards knows he’s 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 he’s getting into, a big reason why he signed the nine-year, $60-million US deal with the team on July 1.

“This will have a different feel for 41 games than what I’m used to for home games,” 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. “It will be a great experience in my life and my career. I can’t wait to start.”

Nor can the fans, we’re 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 team’s 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.

“That’s why he wanted to come here,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said of the 31-year-old star. “He wants that challenge and everything that comes with the city. It’s a great city, it’s a great sports town. There are different pressures here and accountability that comes when you come into a market like this. But that’s why Brad Richards is Brad Richards. He wanted this. And that’s why we want him.

“This is a great situation. I don’t worry about him. I think he’s going to settle other players down.”

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, can’t wait to get on with the show that can be one of the great home rinks in the league.

“It’s a great feeling when you have a fan base that gets behind you like that,” Richards said. “It 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 can’t wait to be on the ice with them behind me, putting on the jersey and getting out there.

“There’s a lot of history here and I’m honoured to be a part of it.”


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