Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Updated: November 23, 10:15 AM ET
Good deeds nothing new to Richards
By Katie Strang
It had been a pretty bleak few weeks for Matt Long. He and his wife, Mary, had their home in Breezy Point, Queens, completely ruined by Superstorm Sandy.
The two were then forced to move to a one-bedroom apartment in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, while their new home in Belle Harbor was under construction.
Knowing the Breezy Point community -- a small, tight-knit group that pulls together in times of crisis -- Long was more than happy to coordinate a team to help clean up the area.
He also called on a friend, who was particularly eager to help: New York Rangers alternate captain Brad Richards.
Richards met Long, a former New York firefighter who suffered serious injuries after being struck by a bus in the transit strike of 2005, at Rangers' team events and had previously offered to partner up. With the amount of devastation incurred from Sandy -- not to mention the Nor'Easter that sucker-punched the area shortly after -- Long took Richards up on his offer.
Richards brought along a few of his teammates -- Marian Gaborik and Steve Eminger -- and a crew of 10 to 12 volunteers got to work.
No press, no ceremonial hard hat or autographed jersey gimmicks. Just hard work with nothing expected in return.
"There were no cameras, no one was watching. It was just Brad Richards, down there getting dirty, ankle-deep in water, pouring garbage out of 100-year-old houses," Long said.
Richards helped tear down and gut several houses in both Belle Harbor and Breezy Point, one of which belonged to Long's brother, Chris.
|Brad Richards has also done philanthropic work in Dallas, Tampa and Prince Edward Island.|
Chris and his wife, Carrie, who is expecting in early March, moved into a new home in Belle Harbor three days before the storm's arrival. It ended up taking in 10 feet of water.
Matt said his brother, a diehard Rangers fan, was thrilled when Richards showed up to help out.
"It was the first time he smiled since it happened," Long said.
The good deed was one of many Richards, a 32-year-old center, has been responsible for in recent weeks. Richards, whose philanthropic efforts have been well-documented in Dallas, Tampa and his native Prince Edward Island, also raised $17,000 during a guest bartending stint in Breezy Point, coordinated and hosted a charity skating clinic for kids in Staten Island last Friday and is one of the headliners for an ensemble effort among NHL players to raise money through a charity game in Atlantic City, N.J., on Saturday.
While the NHL and NHLPA try to forge a new collective bargaining agreement, Richards refuses to stay idle. Instead, he has channeled his lockout frustration into something positive by giving back to his adopted town.
"We're doing it because we can. We're in a position to do it and it's fun for us," Richards said. "A lot of us don't like talking about it. We want awareness for it because we want to get the numbers up, [but] guys do a lot of this stuff and it goes unnoticed.
"We just want to be part of the community. It's a tough time for these guys."
Drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1998, Richards helped bring the franchise its first Stanley Cup in 2004 and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the postseason.
His legacy in Tampa goes well beyond that championship run.
Four and a half years since he was traded to Dallas, Richards' is still renowned for the work he did in the community and the indelible mark he left on the area.
"If there was a kid in the Tampa Bay area that was diagnosed with cancer, he knew their family," said one Tampa Bay employee, who requested anonymity because of the work stoppage. "It was unbelievable."
Richards was tireless in his efforts to help pediatric cancer patients in the Tampa Bay area through the Brad Richards Foundation. It was a cause that ran deep with Richards, whose cousin and childhood friend, Jamie Reynolds, died of cancer when Reynolds was 7. That provided the impetus behind "Richy's Rascals," a program where he purchased a suite for entire seasons at a time to welcome patients and their families to games.
There were no cameras, no one was watching. It was just Brad Richards, down there getting dirty, ankle-deep in water, pouring garbage out of 100-year-old houses
-- Former FDNY firefighter Matt Long
And it always went beyond a simple handshake and a hug.
Holley Wade can still remember the time Richards popped into her son Daniel's hospital hotel room for an impromptu hello back in 2003. Daniel had a brain tumor and wasn't feeling the best, but Richards was dogged in his pursuit to get him to a game.
With Daniel's cancer came several complications and frequent stays in the hospital, but Richards never gave up. Eventually Daniel was able to make one of the Lightning's playoff games against the Flyers.
"Daniel was sick as a dog, but he was not going to miss that game," Wade said.
And the friendship began.
The two finally met when Richards held a Stanley Cup party for his "Rascals." Richards noticed Daniel, who was using a wheelchair because of his impaired motor skills, sitting off to the side.
Richards came right over, asked how Daniel was doing and knew all about his illness, his siblings, everything.
Wade was blown away, and she has kept in touch with Richards even since her son's passing in 2006.
"Hockey players can get a bad rap. People say, 'Oh, they're all 5-8, missing their front teeth and all they do is fight,' but Brad was by far the most genuine, warm and caring individual that I've ever come across in any professional athlete," Wade said.
"What you see him doing, it's from the heart."
The rapport Richards has with children is natural, never forced, said the Lightning staffer. It was a quality that made him "pretty damn special."
"Some guys have a hard time sitting down and interacting with kids. Brad has never had that problem, even from a young age," the employee said. "He's always had it and he's always been able to connect with them. Sometimes, he's more comfortable in those settings than I think he is in some social settings.
|With a crew of volunteers, Brad Richards helped tear down several houses in Belle Harbor and Breezy Point that had be destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.|
"He's going to be a really great father one day."
That ease was on display last Friday, when he hosted a group of 110 kids at Staten Island Skating Pavilion. Whether it was snaking along the boards in front of the kids in a game of follow-the-leader, pulling out a lucky kid for special instruction or helping one of the little tykes up after an overzealous goal celebration, he was in his element.
It wasn't just Richards who whipped the kids into a frenzy, either, as he managed to round up nine of his teammates -- on less than a week's notice -- as well.
Richards was able to wrangle some of the team's brightest stars -- team captain Ryan Callahan, Gaborik and Marc Staal, among others -- to add to the excitement of the event.
"That just shows the type of guy he is," Callahan said of Richards' initiative.
Richards isn't the most effusive type and he can be rigid in his adherence to daily routine -- even coach John Tortorella has called him, endearingly, a "mental case" -- but he is the sort of leader every team wants.
At various points throughout his first season with the Rangers, he was candid about the difficulty of the transition. Change wasn't easy for him, he always said, and the acclimation process wasn't seamless.
The bright lights of Broadway and intense scrutiny that comes along with the nine-year, $60 million contract he inked to become a Blueshirt took its toll at times, but Richards slowly began to adapt to his new city. Instead of isolating himself in his Tribeca loft, he became entrenched in the community by lending a helping hand.
"In Tampa, I was there for so long, being part of the community was big. It makes you feel comfortable in everyday life," Richards said. "When you're comfortable in everyday life and your surroundings and what you're doing, that carries over to what you're doing on the ice and how you're going to the rink and your mood and all that stuff."
|Brad Richards brought smiles to the faces of many who lost their homes because of Hurricane Sandy's damage.|
Whether it was reaching out to his friend NYPD 1st precinct community affairs officer Steven Rose to collaborate on the idea of the Staten Island skating clinic or calling up Long to see how he could be of use, Richards has made the most of his time during what can otherwise be a pretty soul-sucking work stoppage.
And now New York has taken on new meaning.
"It's a year under my belt, but it's a whole different feeling now living in New York than it did last summer moving here and coming in with a million different things coming at you," Richards said. "The quicker you get adapted to the way things work here, the better it is for you."
Rose, who first met Richards when the Rangers visited the 1st precinct for a 9/11 event, said he knew Richards was a solid, down-to-earth guy the first time they met. Richards gave him his contact information and suggested they grab beers sometime.
Rose, a native of Brooklyn, was pretty sure then this wasn't an athlete that was merely biding his time for the remainder of his contract. This was someone who had become invested in the place.
Richards has proved him right.
"He's just a regular guy and he's assimilated to New York incredibly," Rose said. "He's really embraced the idea of being a New Yorker."
|Brad Richards participated in an event organized by Rangers coach John Tortorella to help shelter dogs.|