Sometimes, success comes down to one of two choices. For 35-year old Chicago Blackhawks center, Brad Richards, at the 5:15 mark of the 3rd period in the 6th game of the 2015 Stanley Cup final he was left with such a choice: taking the shot or making the pass.
His team was up by a goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning, so far shutting out the Bolts in the game. But the Lightning weren’t about to let the Blackhawks win this game lying down. When they came out of the dressing room for the last period of play, they looked like a team determined to score. They had scoring chances too, but the Blackhawks’ goalie, 30-year-old Corey Crawford, continually shut them down, making incredible saves — standing on his head — as hockey fans often say of goalies who refuse to let the puck pass. The Lightning had momentum, buzzing the net. It looked like they would score.
And then, something happened.
In hockey, changes happen as quick as blinks of the eye. Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn took a pass and, as he did, his stick broke, rendered useless and landing the puck on 22-year-old Brandon Saad’s stick. Saad took it out of his zone in a play that quickly materialized into a 3-on-2 in favour of the Hawks. The left-winger led the charge into the offensive zone, flanked by line mates 26-year-old Patrick Kane on the right wing and trailed by the centerman, Richards.
The Lightning goalie, 28-year-old Ben Bishop, was doing his job, hugging his net’s corner against Saad as he came flying in on his right. When Saad made a drop-pass to Richards, who had just crossed the blue line behind him, Bishop adjusted, but there was probably enough net the center could see to make a shot, and it looked as if he would.
Richards had options
He could make the shot and it would have one of four results. He might score a goal if he placed the puck right. Perhaps there would be a rebound chance if the puck hit Bishop and Bishop was unable to stop it — like the Hawks’ first goal of the game, a rebound scored by 31-year-old Duncan Keith (a play also set up by Richards). Maybe Crawford would stop it, stopping the play, which might, or might not, provide another scoring opportunity.
But Richards knew his right-winger, Kane, would have a better view of the net than he did, and, while looking like he was making the shot, he made a blind pass to his line mate, Kane, who shot it into the net for Chicago’s 2nd goal of the night. The home crowd erupted in jubilation, and although the Lightning continued to try in the remaining minutes to get a goal past Crawford, they couldn’t. Kane’s goal had been a momentum changer and it was the guarantee the team needed for the win, and the Stanley Cup.
Hockey sense, and believers
The team photo that heads this story was taken when Brad Richards was a player at the Athol Murray School of Notre Dame, a boarding school in the small village of Wilcox, Saskatchewan known for developing athletes — especially hockey players — for nearly 90 years. Richards is standing in the back row, and the second arrow points at his line mate and room mate at the time, Vincent Lecavalier, another NHL player.
According to the team’s coach Terry O’Malley, three-time Canadian ice-hockey Olympian (winning bronze in 1968), Memorial Cup winner, IIHF Hall of Famer, Richards had an uncanny ice sense, even as a 14-year old Bantam player in 1994. When the tryouts for the Bantam’s AAA team were going on, Richards, who eventually grew to 6’0″, wasn’t a big player. And he wasn’t as good of a skater as other boys trying out for the team. The evaluators weren’t convinced he should be chosen for the top-rated Bantam AAA team.
“I told them to think again. Each time the kid got on the ice, he created opportunities,” the 74-year-old O’Malley tells me on the phone from his home in Regina, Saskatchewan. “He had an uncanny ice sense, even as a 14-year old. Turns out, he made the team.”
It wasn’t just O’Malley who believed in Richards’ capabilities. His line mate, Vince Lecavlier, had a big influence in Richards’ hockey career too. Lecavalier left Notre Dame after two years at the College, to play Junior hockey for his home-province’s Rimouski Oceanic. He knew his team could benefit from having a player like Richards on the team, so he convinced the owners and scouts to make the trip way out west to Wilcox to watch Richards play a game with the Notre Dame Hounds’ Junior “A” team.
“The Rimouski guys, in their fancy clothes, everyone knew they were there,” O’Malley tells me. “Richards knew it too, and he put on a show. I think he got 3 or 4 points that night.” Rimouski put him on their team.
In the 1998 NHL Entry draft, the Tampa Bay Lightning drafted Lecavalier 1st overall, and by the third round, he was able to convince the Lightning to take his long-time team mate, Richards, who was drafted 64th overall in the 3rd round. The two of them helped the Lightning win the team’s first Stanley Cup – in 2004, and Richards won the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship as well as the Conn Smythe Memorial Trophy for being the MVP.
Credit where credit is due
As for credit, O’Malley says it’s not on him, or Lecavalier, even though both have played a part in Richards’ career.
“I give all the credit to his parents,” O’Malley says. “They’re lobster fishermen from Murray Harbour, Prince Edward Island — salt of the earth people. I’ve been out there, and I went out with his parents, Glen and Delight, lobster fishing. It’s not easy out there in the Northumberland Strait. You need courage and determination and the ability to make quick decisions to be a fisherman — the only job they gave me was putting elastics on the claws. Looks like they gave those qualities to their son.”
And that’s exactly what it took for Richards to make the pass, and win the Cup.