Mike Richards' Leadership No Longer in Question
When Team Canada took home the gold medal at February's Olympic Games in Vancouver, many fans around Philadelphia witnessed how that win benefited them and the captain of their hockey team.
Flyers captain Mike Richards took home the gold, along with fellow Canadian and teammate Chris Pronger, and after that achievement, the two came back home and had a new-found outlook on the season.
Richards, 25, was going through a media battle at that point in the season that trickled down into the city. It wasn't a secret that their captain was in constant battle with the team's media, so a trip to Vancouver might have been a saving grace.
CSNPhilly's and 610WIP's hockey legend Al Morganti spoke with me in length about Richards and his leadership for this respected Flyers organization. An organization he's been around for over 25 years.
"I'm not sure if the Olympics played a major role in the leadership, I just think it's because he's such a great and gritty player," said Morganti.
"I almost think he's underappreciated by the city and fans, that they don't realize how good this guy is. He proved how valuable he was through the second half of the season and for sure in the playoffs."
Morganti touched on a good point when he brought up the underappreciated aspect of Richards. In some cases Richards is, but a lot of that is media-driven.
The 25-year-old out of Kenora, Ontario, ran into some issues with the media in the middle of the season due to mixed words and an article in The Hockey News that Richards thought was taken out of context.
That conflict is all but forgotten since the Flyers' improbable Stanley Cup run.
"Richards proved what kind of star he was through those playoffs and Stanley Cup," said Morganti. "He willed this team through so much and you can always study a leader by how the team follows suit when he's off the ice, and they obviously did."
No longer will you hear questions about the captaincy on this club. Pronger, to whom everyone handed the "C" when he got here, has said countless times that Richards is the right guy for the job.
When a future Hall-of-Famer like Pronger says something like that, it means you're doing something right.
"I mean, the thing that happened with Pronger in the beginning of the season really pushed him as a leader, I think. He's a proven star now," added Morganti.
Moganti believes that the only thing Richie has to improve on, if anything, is his non-stop motor.
"If there's one thing he has to learn, would be play the game in neutral. He's always go-go-go, never takes a shift off, and is always full speed. He just has to learn how to not go overboard on a play that isn't there, or try too hard to make the perfect play.
"He's such an amazing player on the ice, always knows where the play is at and never takes a play off. He uses the his body and puts the team on his shoulders every night, so how can you not respect and love that?" added Morganti.
In the beginning of last season, the captaincy of Richards was seriously questioned. However, since the Flyers' historic run to the Cup before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks, Flyers fans unequivocally appreciate their captain more than ever before.
With respect comes expectation in this league. After what the Flyers just accomplished, the fans of this hockey team will expect nothing less than another Stanley Cup run from this hockey club.
For that to happen, the Flyers will have to lean on their captain to find ways to get them back for another chance at immortality: Philadelphia's first Stanley Cup title since 1975.
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