Wild’s Mr. Ev­ery­thing

Third-year for­ward Ryan Richards has evolved from bat­tling for ros­ter spot to lead­ing scorer

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - SPORTS - BY JA­SON SIM­MONDS

Ryan Richards’ ca­reer with the Kens­ing­ton Wild has come full cir­cle.

The in­dus­tri­ous for­ward has pro­gressed from an ag­i­ta­tor bat­tling for a ros­ter spot to serv­ing as an as­sis­tant cap­tain, play­ing on the top line and lead­ing the New Brunswick/P.E.I. Ma­jor Midget Hockey League team in scor­ing, all while en­dear­ing him­self to Wild fans, on and off the ice.

“When he came here, his first year was kind of a sur­prise,” said Wild head coach Kyle Dunn. “He was not as pol­ished a player, or may not have had the skill set of other play­ers, but we will take a guy that works hard over ta­lent any day.”

It’s that blue-col­lar ap­proach Dunn cred­its for Richards’ suc­cess.

“He pushes the pace all the time in prac­tices and games, he’s got­ten bet­ter ev­ery year and con­tin­ues to work harder,” said Dunn. “He’s the kind of guy who wears his heart on his sleeve ev­ery day. He puts the work in, and plays his heart out.”

Richards ad­mits his devel­op­ment with the Wild has been a process.

“My first year I started off a lit­tle slow,” he ac­knowl­edged. “I was a small lit­tle guy try­ing to cre­ate havoc on the ice, chirp­ing peo­ple and mak­ing sure our top play­ers could do what they needed to do to score.

“My sec­ond year, they moved me into an of­fen­sive role play­ing with Frankie Fortin and Colby MacArthur. This year, Colby and I have picked it right up where we left off in the play­offs, and Dixon MacLeod has fit right in on the line.”

Richards, who had 19 points in 33 reg­u­lar-sea­son games in his rookie sea­son and 34 points in 35 con­tests in Year 2, has eight goals and 16 as­sists for 24 points in 12 games this sea­son.

“The puck is go­ing in the net, and it doesn’t mat­ter how it’s go­ing in – hit­ting off my hel­met, the back of my pants – it’s work­ing,” said a smil­ing Richards. “Hope­fully, we can keep go­ing.”

Al­though Richards’ of­fen­sive pro­duc­tion has grown, he un­der­stands he will al­ways be known for his ag­i­tat­ing style.

“I’ll never stop chirp­ing,” said a chuck­ling Richards, who sat out a four-game sus­pen­sion early in the sea­son. “I’d like to slow it down a bit, and I want to fo­cus on putting the puck in the net and help­ing the team win.”

Dunn un­der­stands get­ting the other team off its game is a big part of Richards’ style, but notes the key is not to go too far.

“He gets un­der your skin, and that’s his game and what makes him ef­fec­tive,” said Dunn. “Guys zero in on him, and it gives him ex­tra mo­ti­va­tion.”

Richards’ im­pact with the Wild also ex­tends well be­yond the ice.

“I’ve had him out help­ing run a cou­ple of Kens­ing­ton mi­nor hockey prac­tices, and the kids just love him,” said Dunn. “The par­ents love that and have sent me text and Face­book mes­sages about how great he is with the kids. . .

“He’s a dif­fer­ent guy off the ice, he al­ways has a smile on, is not a chirper, is very po­lite and friendly to peo­ple. He’s a fan favourite for sure.”

The op­por­tu­nity to give back is some­thing Richards en­joys and takes se­ri­ously. He has launched Ritchie’s Ras­cals – a pro­gram where two young fans are in­vited to games, and given the op­por­tu­nity to meet the Wild and visit the dress­ing room.

“I don’t want to be re­mem­bered by just my on-ice play,” said Richards. “I want to be re­mem­bered that he was a great kid off the ice.”

JA­SON SIM­MONDS/JOUR­NAL PI­O­NEER

Kens­ing­ton Mon­aghan Farms Wild for­ward and as­sis­tant cap­tain Ryan Richards looks to cut out front of the Fredericton Caps goal while be­ing pur­sued by Chris­tian Sheen dur­ing a re­cent New Brunswick/P.E.I. Ma­jor Midget Hockey League game at Credit Union Cen­tre in Kens­ing­ton.

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