In September of 2008, after Philadelphia let defensemen Jason Smith go, the Flyers Captaincy was left void. To that point; Keith Primeau, Derian Hatcher, Peter Forsberg, and Smith all dawned the “C” on their jersey in a 4-year span. For an organization known to change coaches and goalies on the fly, there needed to be some sort of stability.
Enter Mike Richards.
A year earlier he signed a fresh 12-year contract that would keep him in Philadelphia until 2020. At the green age of 23, Richards was named the 17th Captain of the Philadelphia Flyers, and as a result, was the new face of the franchise.
Richards was well liked and well respected within the locker room; and on the ice he was an offensive player known to willingly do the little things for the greater good of the team. If he had to kill penalties he would, if he had to play defensive hockey he would, if he had to drop the gloves he would. He was a perfect fit for a hard nosed city like Philadelphia.
There are Captains in the NHL today like Jarome Iginla, Sidney Crosby, or Vinny Lacavalier that are exceptional offensive players; but when the going gets tough, other players have to step in to protect them. Here in Philly, we would not stand for that. Our franchise needs to be led by a hard-nosed player who is not afraid to get his hands dirty.
May 24th, 2010 Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Philadelphia: The Flyers were on the verge of making their first Stanley Cup appearance since 1997, the city was ready. They were in an early 1-0 hole and on the penalty kill when this happened…
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That’s a play you need from your leader in that moment.
As we all know, from that point on in the game, the Flyers rolled Montreal and captured the Prince of Whales trophy. Years after his career is over, people will point to that play when describing the type of player Mike Richards was.
Fast forward to Friday night in Pittsburgh. Facing the Penguins for the third time in this young season, the heated rivals split the previous two contests, each being of the chippy variety. This was a team that knocked you out of the playoffs in two of the past three years. This was a team that forced GM Paul Holmgren to trade current players, future players, and future high draft picks to obtain the gritty Chris Pronger. This was a team that many had picked to hoist the cup in 2011. The Flyers needed someone to step up and show these Penguins that we are the defending Conference champs and you will not intimidate us.
It took all of six seconds for the Captain to make a statement. He dropped the gloves with the pesky Matt Cooke and set the tone for the Flyers 3-2 win.
It's these moments that make Richie a different kind of Captain. He doesn't only talk the talk, but he also walks the walk. Enjoy the ride Philadelphia, because players like Richie don’t come around too often.