Richardson ready for challenge of leading Blackhawks in new era
It's been nearly 35 years, but new Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson will never forget the nerves he felt leading up to his NHL debut.
Just an 18-year-old kid at the time, Richardson's Toronto Maple Leafs were set to open the season at the Stadium against the Blackhawks.
The morning of the game, roommate Eddie Olczyk took Richardson out for breakfast and tried to prepare the rookie for what lay ahead.
"What a great mentor he was both on the ice and off the ice. His personality is so bubbly," Richardson said Wednesday at his introductory news conference at the Blackhawks Store on Michigan Avenue. "He was (saying), 'Just make sure you're ready for that national anthem. Just make sure you're ready.'
"It didn't matter how many times the players said that -- I was not ready. I was definitely intimidated with the big team, loud crowd and that organ.
"Chills on the back of my neck."
Now it will be up to Richardson to settle plenty of nerves -- as well as to coach up a slew of up-and-coming talent -- for a rebuilding Hawks organization. With the first baby step taken, let's examine Five Things we learned from Wednesday's 30-minute Q&A with Richardson and GM Kyle Davidson.
1. Perfect fit?
The initial interview with Hawks brass lasted 4½ hours, although Richardson said "It didn't seem that long." Everyone in the room made the 53-year-old feel extremely comfortable as they talked about hockey, the organization and his philosophies.
Richardson returned a week ago for a second interview, which was held under a much more informal setting. The group went to a restaurant, watched a game of the Stanley Cup Final and talked about certain situations on the ice and how they'd be dealt with.
"Kyle said, 'I think we're going to meet one more time tomorrow morning,' " Richardson said of the Hawks' leadership team. "I walked back to the hotel thinking, 'Well, that's got to be good.' ... Then I started overthinking and I go, 'Maybe they're going to call me in and say, 'Thanks very much for coming. See ya next time.'
"But it worked out and Kyle presented it to me in a way that I felt was the right fit -- not a good fit -- it was the right fit."
2. Can he go 'sideways'?
Calm, cool and collected. That's how Richardson -- a defenseman who played in 1,417 NHL games over 21 years -- is described by players he has coached.
But can he go "sideways," as Olczyk told us last weekend?
"Usually the referees do that to me," quipped Richardson, who drew a large laugh.
For the most part, however, Richardson will pick his spots.
"You always have to stick to, 'What would I respond to?' and get back to that," he said. "I played in an era with a lot of old school coaches. I got through it. Not all players will be able to do that.
"You have to learn your personnel and the personalities on your team. ... Some players can take a little bit more, maybe harshly at times, and blunt. And some players you maybe have to back off and realize, 'OK, I'll attack that tomorrow or after the game, because I can tell they're already upset. They're not going to ingest anything I'm bringing to them right now.' "
3. I think I can, I think I can
Montreal's unlikely run to the Stanley Cup Final last season was due in part to Richardson's ability to seamlessly take over as head coach after Dominique Ducharme went into COVID protocol. Richardson led the Canadiens to a semifinal series win over Vegas and was at the helm in Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against Tampa Bay.
For many it proved Richardson was ready to be a head coach.
Including Richardson himself.
"It starts with communication and trust and honesty with the players, and it resonates when you put your game plan around them," said Richardson, whose first coaching job came as an Ottawa Senators assistant in 2009-10. "Making adjustments with them on the fly is huge, and there's no quicker time you have to do that than that time of the year.
"So to win that semifinals series against a really strong team in Vegas and go to the Finals was a great experience for me. I always wanted to (coach) and I thought I could do it, but I think that solidified that I know I can."
4. 'Do it for Daron'
Luke and Stephanie Richardson lost their 14-year-old daughter, Daron, to suicide in November 2010. The Richardsons created a foundation that helps young people going through a mental health crisis.
They speak freely about Daron and their mission whenever asked -- and that included Wednesday.
"It was devastating, obviously, for our family," Richardson said. "But we wouldn't be here today, the three of us, without the hockey community -- guys like Eddie O reaching out and his wife Diana. Our house was full of people that I played with (and) coached with. ... That's the only way we got through it.
"And that's the way I believe that a hockey team survives. It's family and it's support. So I coach like that. I've learned tough lessons in life that really support that. That's the only way to come through the hard times and stay together through the good times."
5. Odds and ends
• Davidson said the Hawks are working with former coach Derek King to see if King might play a role going forward. "We're looking to bring high character people into the organization and Derek is that," Davidson said.
• It sounds like the Hawks are listening to all offers for players who do not have no-movement clauses (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Seth Jones all do). "It's incumbent on us to listen to what's out there, what the interest it," Davidson said. "If that can help us moving forward, that's what we'll do."
• There will be a lot of losing in the coming years, so Richardson was asked how the Hawks keep the fan base from slipping away.
"We have to take proper steps and I hope people see those steps," he said. "The effort and the excitement is going to lead to positive things. ... Obviously sports is a tough business; it's a win-loss business, and you get there with your play.
"When? I'm not sure. I can't give a timeline on that, but I know that we're going to be working toward that every day, and I think that will resonate and show in the product on the ice."