NHL Bloodlines: Tom Richter

Tom Richter was born in the year 2000 and his dad Mike Richter wrapped up his NHL career in 2003, so unfortunately he doesn’t have many memories of his playing days.

Tom would have been around three years old when his dad officially called it career after 14 years spent with the New York Rangers, so you can forgive him for relying on second-hand knowledge when it comes to his stint in the NHL.

“Growing up, I got most of my information about his career through stories since I was too young to remember,” said Tom. “Him being a goalie, the guys on my team would want to talk to me about goalie things, but I’m not a goalie, so I’d have to tell them ‘Guys, I’m sorry but I won’t be a big help here. I don’t even know how to play goalie.'”

For Mike, he appreciates the time he got to spend with Tom at the rink, but after his career ended due to a series of serious injuries, he was left wanting more when it came to his kids getting the chance to watch him play.

“That’s one of my biggest regrets,” said Mike. “I wish I could have played longer and had the kids there a bit more. It’s so much fun when you’re playing and able to bring the little kids in and skate with them afterwards, all that stuff that I watched the older guys on my team do when I first came in. The guys are usually really good with them. It’s fun for the adult, but also fun for the kids.”

Mike was a world-class goalie with the Rangers as well as on the international stage. Before he played his first NHL game, he played for Team USA in two World Junior Championships, the senior World Championships, as well as the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, Alta. He went on to play in two more Olympics during his career and led the U.S. to a World Cup title in 1996. In the NHL, we was an all-star three times during his career and won a Stanley Cup championship in 1994 with the Rangers, but according to Tom, there was no chance he was following in his dad’s footsteps in the crease.

“How our house league team was setup was that everyone rotated positions,” said Tom. “I started in net, but then I had to play forward one time and I scored a goal and then never went back to goalie.”

Tom was born in Greenwich, Conn. and grew up playing hockey in the area. According to his dad, it wasn’t difficult to get him on the ice at a young age.

“When I retired, we were at Quinnipiac University and we used to play on the little twin rink there,” said Mike. “A buddy of mine down the street had a kid the same age and we could just rent the ice out and go skate ourselves. We’d do everything. We’d skate, we’d do skills, but we’d also just screw around.

“It was always just fun, which is how you get kids interested in the sport. If they’ve got a smile coming to the rink and leaving the rink, it’s been a good day. They’ll figure out how to work hard and do what they need to do as they get more interested and older, but it starts with fun.”

After playing minor hockey for years, Tom graduated to play for several prep schools on the east coast, including Brunswick School, Mid-Fairfield Rangers and Salisbury School. During his final season at prep school last year, Tom finalized his commitment to play NCAA Division I hockey at Union College. Making an important decision like that is never easy, but he had an advantage having someone so close to him to rely on for advice.

“My dad has been around the game so long, so it’s such a great asset having him to talk to about getting to the next level,” said Tom. “I first came into contact with Union at least a year-and-a-half before deciding to commit there. It was a slow process, but it was definitely good to do it that way in order to find a great spot. I’m very happy with my decision.”

“As much as we want to be protective as parents, you have to let them live their lives and experience the successes and failures that come their way,” added Mike. “I could tell you right now where I would pick to go to college, but that may not be the same as any of my three kids. They have to be the driver of that thing as much as possible. You guide them where you feel comfortable and where you can help them, but part of becoming an adult is making that decision yourself.”

With his commitment in hand, it was time for Tom to move on from prep school and make a decision on where to play before heading off to college, which is how him and his family first got to know the BCHL.

“It’s a great developmental league,” said Mike. “You have to come prepared or else you won’t be getting much ice time. Whether you’re in this league a year or two or three, you’re going to walk away better for it. I think hockey is a lot more competitive than when I was coming out of high school in 1985. There’s just better competition from all around the world.

“For Tom, I just think it’s an unbelievable opportunity. It’s a beautiful part of the world and the skill level is really high, but I’ve been most impressed with the teaching abilities. Each team has really good teachers. This is a developmental league and you walk away a hell of a lot better than when you came in.”

Moving to the other side of the continent on your own should have been a difficult thing for a 19-year-old, but the inclusive atmosphere of the team and city as well as the support the Spruce Kings get from the community has made it an easy transition for Tom.

“The whole organization has been so welcoming to us new guys, as well as the town,” he said. “It’s a smaller town, so everyone has so much support for you and is trying to help out.”

“Tom’s billet family are incredible people,” said Mike. “They’ve taken him in as family. As a parent, that’s the thing you really want to look for. It’s up to him to perform on the ice. You can’t go out there and play for him, but you want to put him in an environment where he can grow and Prince George has been unbelievable in that regard.”

With Mike being in B.C. a lot more often to watch his son play, it’s brought up some old memories for some die-hard hockey fans in the local markets. As most hockey fans in B.C. know, his Stanley Cup championship in 1994 came at the expense of the hometown Vancouver Canucks and he played a key role in breaking the hearts of many of the team’s supporters across the province.

“Every year, it seems like the people giving me crap for it are a lot older,” said Mike. “There’s always a little jab here and there about it, but, I love Vancouver. That was my favourite city to visit when I played. Western Canada is just so beautiful. I think it’s so valuable for Tom as a person to experience that beauty. Seeing how close the communities are has been a really cool experience for him.”

Before Mike turned pro and signed with the Rangers, he spent two years at the University of Wisconsin where he played hockey and started his post-secondary education. This proved to be an important time in his life as he did his best to continue working at completing his degree by taking more classes during the offseason while still playing professional hockey.

“I was pretty far away from a degree, so I chipped away in the summertime when I came back east,” he said. “I went to Cornell and Columbia in New York when I lived in Manhattan, but once I started to have kids, it was full-time hockey and kids, that’s it.

“In the end, I still had a couple years to complete even with all of that. When you’re playing, you know it’s going to end at some point and it’s going to end earlier than you want it to. You’re all in when you’re playing and then you’re all out and you’ve got to figure out a new life and a new way of doing things.”

After retiring, Mike started taking classes at Yale University and eventually finished the degree he had started back in 1985. This emphasis on education is something that’s clearly important to him and he has managed to pass that notion on to his son.

“You can only play hockey for so long,” said Tom. “After hockey, you need to do something and having an education is such a useful tool in life. As much as anyone would like to play hockey for their whole life, unfortunately, it’s a temporary thing. Everyone tries to play for as long as possible, but having a good education for after your career is always a positive.”

Tom and the Spruce Kings have clinched a spot in the BCHL playoffs as they will look to repeat as champions after winning their first Fred Page Cup in the team’s history last season. While Mike has been able to watch most of the team’s games on HockeyTV, he says there’s no way he’s missing out on watching their playoff run in person.

“I’ll make it out for the playoffs for sure,” said Mike. “I love that Rolling Mix Concrete Arena, I love the town, the people are great. It’s so exciting. Every hockey game is better live than on TV. It’s a great place to watch a game and I love the community.”

For Tom, it will make the postseason extra special having his dad in the stands watching him play.

“He’s been so supportive throughout my whole hockey journey so far,” said Tom. “This year, I haven’t gotten to see my family a ton, so when he comes out, it’s always great to see him and my brothers and my mom. I love that he comes out, despite it being a very long trip. It’s always great to have that family support.”