By Chris Emma-
CHICAGO (CBS) — Many memories had come from Blackhawks center Brad Richards’ first 999 NHL games. The 34-year-old has won a Stanley Cup and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2004, represented his native Canada in the 2006 Winter Olympics and is closing in on 500 career points.
Sunday night at United Center had greater significance for Richards. It was his 1,000th NHL game, but that’s not why it was so special. This was the first game for his one-month-old son, Luca, and the proud father got to share the moment with his newborn.
Richards grew up wanting to be a goaltender for the Blackhawks, as he idolized Eddie Belfour. But his father, Glen, wouldn’t let it happen. The two shared the experience of watching Chicago’s games together, with each national anthem at the old Stadium serving as something to cherish.
For anthem No. 1,000, Richards stood at center ice with family. His wife, Rechelle Jenkins, whom he married in August, was to his right. Luca was in his arms. And Glen was there, too, smiling the entire time.
“It’s something I’ll always remember,” Richards said.
This particular night at United Center became a celebration of Richards’ accomplished career. A video tribute played during a first-period timeout, bringing the sellout crowd to its feet.
At times, it felt as if Richards had played 1,000 games with the Blackhawks, not 18. But he’s just a natural fit with Chicago’s talented roster.
“He’s a great veteran presence,” Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane said after his team’s 6-2 win over the Stars. “He’s been around a while. A thousand games is pretty special.”
Richards has enjoyed a successful career, and he has been paid as such. His annual salary rose from $975,000 as a rookie all the way to a $12 million mega-deal with the New York Rangers in 2011, making him a key piece of a team that would reach the Stanley Cup Final.
Signing with Chicago last offseason wasn’t about money — he’s making $2 million on a one-year deal — because Richards was ready to settle down and start a family.
“I had a family I had to move,” Richards said. “A baby that had to be born, a wife that’s from Australia that didn’t know a doctor here. You’re worried about all that.”
In Tampa Bay, Richards rose from promising talent to rising star. As a Dallas Star and an established name, he had the added incentive in the form of a contract to fight for. New York paid him handsomely, but the Big Apple spotlight and large paychecks brought added duress to be great.
The shift to Chicago was about Richards raising a family, not a rising career.
“Some of the older transitions, I was pretty high paid, high profile, a lot of pressure,” Richards said.
Pressure followed Richards to Chicago, but in a different form. He’s expected to be a key contributor — centering the Blackhawks’ second line — but not the star.
Game 1,000 displayed exactly what Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman had hoped for in the summer signing. Richards kept Chicago’s offense flowing. He finished with two assists, the first coming on a cross-ice pass to Kane, the second on a feed from the boards to Kris Versteeg, who blasted a slapshot by Kari Lehtonen.
“His best game of the year,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Richards has three goals and eight assists in 18 games, and his 11 points are good for fourth on the team. Things started slowly for Richards, who didn’t record a point until his fifth game as a Blackhawk.
The early struggles came from a different pressure than Richards was used to — balancing personal expectations while starting a family. He took a new approach to the game.
“Just relax, kind of say, ‘To hell with it’ and go play hockey the way you always played,” Richards said.
A thousand games in the NHL would seem to suggest Richards has the right mindset. He has balanced the demands of being a star in his career and been rewarded with some of hockey’s greatest honors. What a run it has been thus far for Richards.
This new chapter is different. Richards is playing for his family, not himself.
Sunday’s special moment offered the opportunity to reflect on 1,000 games, countless memories and what’s to come for a new family.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.