Richards eager for London return

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

Chris Pronger's hometown of Dryden is just an hour's drive away, but Kenora's hockey heart still belongs to native son Mike Richards.

"The Edmonton train has rolled through, though," said Richards, the 21-year-old Philadelphia Flyers forward. "A lot of people here are cheering for the Oilers (in the Stanley Cup final)."

Richards is also interested to see who London hockey fans root for when the Flyers take on Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in an NHL preseason game Sept. 24 at the John Labatt Centre. It's Philly's third game at the Global Spectrum-run arena after playing Washington in 2003 and Atlanta in 2005.

The Flyers lineup is sure to include Richards, who once engaged in a memorable playoff punch-up with ex-London star Corey Perry, while the Pens are expected to dress the phenom Crosby, whose previous London excursion ended in his Rimouski Oceanic dropping last year's Memorial Cup final to the Knights.

"I know a lot of people in London and have a lot of friends who went to Western, so it'll be nice to go back," Richards said. "It's always great to go back to places like London, Toronto and Montreal, where everyone's talking about hockey."

Among his London buddies is Flyers pal Jeff Carter, another good bet to play in the JLC contest. Richards and Carter were teammates of Crosby at last month's world championship in Latvia. Canada didn't win a medal.

"Jeff and I got to know each other pretty well since we were drafted," Richards said. "We played together (for the AHL champion Philadelphia Phantoms during the lockout) and then came up together (with the Flyers) this year. It helps to go through something like that with somebody else. You're not doing it alone."

Not like Crosby, who lost his boss, Mario Lemieux, to retirement early in his rookie season. Richards appreciates what Crosby was able to do under the microscope in his first NHL campaign.

"He's so strong on the puck -- he's hard to knock off it," Richards said. "I don't know how he does it. I guess it's his leg strength. He's very good on his skates."

Richards, who had 11 goals and 34 points in a solid first season in Philly, was disappointed by the Flyers' first-round exit to Buffalo.

"I don't want to make excuses, but we had some key guys banged up. Pete (Forsberg) was hurt. We had some defencemen who were hurt. We're hoping to come back next year stronger."

Though critics felt the Flyers were hindered by the NHL's new rules and standard of officiating, Richards enjoyed the revamped game. He saw extra time on the penalty kill and power play, which were both plentiful in big-league hockey this year.

"I like the way the rules are now, especially with the clutching and grabbing out of it. When we went to the worlds, you really noticed the clutching and grabbing come back into the games. It takes the skill out of it."

NHL EXHIBITION

Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

When: Sunday, Sept. 24 at 6 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre

Tickets: On sale starting Monday at 10 a.m. at the JLC box office, by phone at 1-866-455-2849 or online at www.johnlabattcentre.com.


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