June 11, 2012
Richards proves his nobility
By Steve Simmons, QMI Agency
LOS ANGELES - Forty minutes after he held the Stanley Cup for the very first time, Mike Richards went back and grabbed it once more.
A moment he seemed to need on the crowded and celebratory ice of the rather loud Staples Center.
He found a patch of ice where no one stood, slowly skated a half lap by all himself, just he and the Cup. He enjoyed his own personal moment in a sea of hugs, tears, family and still more tears.
“This is amazing,” Richards yelled to no one in particular, his arms in the air. “It was a frustrating year,” he said a few minutes later. “A lot of ups and downs, a lot of highs and lows. but this, this is the best experience I’ve ever been a part of.”
His summer began with his heart being metaphorically ripped out. He was captain of the Philadelphia Flyers, captain of one of the really meaningful teams in the National Hockey League, and he was traded to the rather insignificant Los Angeles Kings for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was his character. The Flyers weren’t sure they could win with him anymore. And they weren’t sure if they could live with the talented centre. And they decided to go in another direction if they wanted to win a Stanley Cup. And the Kings, they were just another team that never wins anything.
And there was Richards Monday night, holding the Stanley Cup high, not far from his former Flyers mates now Kings, Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne, two of them at least shipped out of Philadelphia for reputation damaging concerns,
“All year was a journey,” said Richards, whose acquisition changed so much about the Kings. “There was a lot of good, a lot of bad. But we got through it. This is the most resilient group I’ve ever been a part of.”
And that’s saying something. This Stanley Cup makes Richards just about the winningest player in all of hockey. Like his teammate, the superb defenceman Drew Doughty, he now has a Cup to go along with his Olympic gold medal. But Richards has championships from the Memorial Cup, the world junior championship, the American Hockey League. And now he has the biggest of them all.
The Kings won the hardest trophy to win in sports, won as an eighth seed that didn’t get its ass kicked in the first round, won in almost dominant fashion. Los Angeles breezed past the Vancouver Canucks, then the St. Louis Blues, then the Phoenix Coyotes before dismantling the New Jersey Devils. They won 16 and only lost four in the post-season in one of the most commanding victories in recent years. And in their four wins in the final, they outscored tight New Jersey 14-3, cashing in with three first-period power-play goals on one five-minute major penalty Monday night to win the Cup with a 6-1 trouncing of the Devils.
It started with Mike Richards making plays that led to the first two goals, making it 2-0. He and Doughty assisting on one goal. He and Dustin Brown assisting on Carter’s first of two. After that, it was just a matter of when the celebration would end.
“It started with our captain tonight,” said Richards. “He (Brown) was unbelievable. Every time we needed a big game, a big play in the playoffs, he made them. You can’t say enough about him.
“I love this team. The camaraderie we have. We got better every series, every game. It was just awesome. I’m just so happy for everyone. So happy for everyone who’s been a part of this.”
The Kings were almost no one’s pre-season pick to the win the Cup and an afterthought when the playoffs began. Eighth seeds usually are. But when Richards joined the Kings, and then it was followed by a trade for his pal, Carter, and when Darryl Sutter replaced Terry Murray as coach, something changed. A one-line team that couldn’t score became a two-line team that could. A team with suspect leadership turned to Brown and smooth centre Anze Kopitar and the guy who does nothing but win, Richards. If there were doubts about him before, they have to disappear now.
“Who cares what happened before?” said Doughty. “We won the Stanley Cup and that’s all that matters.
What happened with the team. Why it happened. Doesn’t mean anything now.
“This,” he said, looking around, “This is what matters now.”
“I’m just so happy,” said Mike Richards, his beard making him look like so many of his teammates. I can’t say enough about everybody. This year has been amazing. We’re going to remember this forever.”