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|Taproot singer Stephen Richards, center, and drummer Nick Fredell, right, are big sports fans.|
Stephen Richards learned to skate when he was 3 and drum when he was 4, so it's only natural the Taproot frontman considers himself equally versed in hockey and music.
Throw him into the company of his hockey friends and Richards can guarantee they'll want to discuss his craft as much as the rocker does theirs.
"All my pro hockey buddies are definitely wannabe rock stars just like I'm still definitely a wannabe hockey player," he says.
At times the two intertwine, allowing Richards to chase his dream rather than simply live vicariously through his puck pals or his beloved Chicago Blackhawks. But given the time that's passed since his music career grabbed topped billing, Richards dedicates himself to the stage rather than the ice.
Taproot's sixth album and first in two years, "The Episodes," will be released April 10. The album, conceived six years ago by Richards and guitarist Mike Dewolf, includes "No Surrender," a single with a music video shot at Chicago's Logan Square subway station.
Through his music, Richards' inner hockey persona is evident. His willingness to leave the stage and mosh with fans in the pit is a glimpse into the aggressive personality that led to him being drafted by junior hockey clubs before Taproot took off.
As established as Richards has become in the music world, staying connected with fellow rink rats remains a priority. He played in a celebrity game prior to the 2010 Frozen Four in Detroit and found himself seated next to former Detroit Red Wings star Darren McCarty, now the lead singer for Detroit-based rock band Grinder.
Also among Richards' personal top 10 is an on-air mention by ESPN's John Buccigross, who during a broadcast uttered, "Jaromir Jagr is to the Pittsburgh Penguins as Stephen Richards is to Taproot."
But love of sport within Taproot isn't limited to Richards. Drummer Nick Fredell considers himself a full-fledged NFL and fantasy-football geek while bassist Phil Lipscomb dabbles in mixed martial arts.
Richards has drifted into MMA fandom and can hold his own in a football conversation with Fredell, who considers his omnipresent Detroit Tigers' cap a badge of honor despite living in enemy territory.
"I'm one of the few people who move to Chicago and don't decide to like a Chicago sports team," Fredell says. "I'm surrounded by that. There's so many people from Michigan in Chicago, and somehow they all become Blackhawks fans."
Technically, Richards doesn't fall into that camp. Born in Chicago, he grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., the college town Taproot still calls home. Although Richards helped Fredell gravitate toward a hockey interest, he remains the band's lone dedicated puckhead.
"We'll all talk sports, but when it comes to hockey, I'm usually stuck talking to the Internet," Richards says. "So I'm kind of hung out on that one."
Jeff Arnold is a freelance writer for Sports Media Exchange, a national freelance writing network.