FULLTILT LEGENDS: MIKE RICHTER
“SAVE BY RICHTER!!” These three words are etched into the memory of all Rangers fans. When Sam Rosen made the call of Mike Richter stopping Pavel Bure on a penalty shot in the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals, it became the signature moment of Richter’s career. By making that game and momentum saving stop, Mike Richter became a Rangers’ legend.
The Flourtown, PA native joined the Rangers for their playoff run at the end of the 1989 season. Richter had already been impressive in his brief career as a netminder having backstopped in the World Junior Championships representing Team USA (1985-87), The University of Wisconsin Badgers (1985-87), The World Championships (Team USA 1988), & Team USA in the 1988 Olympics in Calgary. He made his Ranger debut in the playoffs vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins and all world center, Mario Lemieux. Even though he did not win in his debut (the Rangers were overmatched against the high powered Penguins), the Rangers knew they had someone special. Just how special was something they would soon grow to appreciate and marvel at.
The Rangers already had an established goaltender in John Vanbiesbrouck when Richter joined the team. Richter would apprentice as VBK’s backup during his rookie season. In 23 games, Richter posted modest numbers with 12 wins, 5 losses & 5 ties with a 3.00 GAA & .904 save percentage. It was during this time though that Richter & VBK would start to form one of the most impressive goaltending combos in the NHL.
Over the next 2 seasons, Richter would split time with VBK and put up some impressive results. In 86 games over that time, he posted a record of 44-25-9 with a 3.11 GAA and .902 save percentage. His stellar netminding along with that of VBK helped elevate the Rangers to contender status.
In 1991-92 the Rangers won the President’s Trophy as the top team in the league backed by the tandem. Coach Roger Neilson continued his habit of rotating goalies through the playoffs as he had in the regular season. Unfortunately, the Rangers ran into what was a dynasty in the making as they were upset in the second round of the playoffs again at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Things were looking up for the Blueshirts as they entered the 1992-93 season but as it turned out, it was not meant to be. That season proved difficult for Richter and the Rangers. Neilson was fired after losing out in a dispute with Captain Mark Messier on what type of style the team should play. Injuries (specifically Brian Leetch) and just overall poor play were the main culprits. Richter suffered form his own poor play as he posted a record of 13-19-3 in 38 games with a 3.82 GAA & pedestrian .886 save percentage. He briefly spent some time in the minors with the Binghamton Rangers to help get his head straight. While there he posted a record of 4-0-1 with a sparkling 1.18 GAA & .964 save percentage.
Meanwhile the Rangers became the first team to have ever won the President’s trophy and then failed to make the playoffs the following season. Needless to say it was a complete and unmitigated disaster of a season.
The 1993-94 season would prove to be a year of redemption not just for Richter but the Rangers themselves. Under new head coach Mike Keenan, the entire roster had something to prove.
Over the summer, the Rangers had traded the rights to VBK to the Vancouver Canucks (obtaining a key Cup component in Doug Lidster in the process) and by doing so handed the number 1 goaltending job to Richter. Keenan had a history of riding one goalie for long stretches during the season and in reality had little or no use for the number 2 netminder.
To look at his history one had to look no further than Ron Hextall, Pelle Lindbergh & Ed Belfour to see how he envisioned his goalies to play and how much. They would play and play a lot and Richter was up to the challenge.
Keenan’s goal wasn’t to just make the playoffs, it was to win the Stanley Cup. He used the early season to weed out the players he didn’t like or didn’t fit his style and he preferred an up tempo physical style. This suited his thoroughbreds Messier, Leetch, Kovalev & his strongmen Beukeboom, Graves & Nemchinov alike. He rode Richter hard as Mike appeared in 68 games posting a career high in wins with 42. He lost 12 games and also recorded 6 ties with a 2.57 GAA & .910 save percentage. It was a season that the Rangers dominated from start to finish as they won their second President’s trophy in 3 years. It was in the playoffs however that this team was built for and where Richter was at his finest.
Richter and the Rangers were the favorites going in the playoffs and they were matched up with their longtime rival, the New York Islanders, in the first round. In a series dominated by the Blueshirts from the first drop of the puck, the Rangers dismantled the Islanders in a 4 game sweep. Richter was brilliant as he shut the Islanders out in Games 1 and 2 and allowed only 3 goals in the 4 games. He was the proverbial brick wall.
The second round opponent was the Washington Capitals, another team that had broken Rangers fans hearts over the years. Again Richter was stupendous as the Rangers stormed out to a 3-0 series lead. Richter won 7 straight games now and had shut out the Caps in Game 3 for his 3rd shutout of the playoffs. With a chance to clinch the Rangers fell for the first time in the post season as the Caps managed to hold on to a 4-2 victory forcing a Game 5 in MSG. In a tightly contested game, the Rangers edged out Washington and wrapped up the series on a late goal by longtime teammate Brian Leetch. New York now advanced to the Conference Finals against the New Jersey Devils. In 9 playoff games through 2 rounds, Richter had posted a mind numbing record of 8-1 with 1.67 GAA.
The matchup with the Devils was a back and forth series for the ages. The Devils won Game 1 4-3 at MSG in double OT on a goal by Stephane Richer. Mark Messier imposed his will in Game 2 from the onset, crushing Scott Stevens on the opening shift, and scoring the first goal en-route to a 4-0 Ranger victory. The series shifted to NJ for Game 3 and in another double OT thriller, Stephane Matteau scored to give the Rangers a 3-2 victory & 2-1 series lead. In all 3 games, Richter was spectacular and was matched save for save by Martin Brodeur.
Game 4 however was a head shaker, as at one point Keenan became completely dissatisfied with the Rangers effort and basically stopped coaching. He benched his stars (Messier & Leetch) and pulled Richter in favor of backup Glenn Healy. As the scene shifted back to MSG for Game 5, Richter was back in between the pipes. Richter stood on his head atoning for his play in Game 4 but the Devils smelled blood in the water and were relentless. When the night was over the Devils had won 4-1 and were on the verge of eliminating the Rangers with Game 6 back at home in NJ.
Game 6 – with the backdrop of “Messier’s guarantee” – would prove to be a watershed moment of Richter’s career. The Devils came out storming. They applied pressure on the Rangers at every turn and eventually broke through and led 2-0. It was at that point that Richter slammed the door shut. Making save after save when the next goal could be the kill shot the Devils needed, Richter kept the Rangers in the game.
Kovalev scored the first and then Messier would score a hat trick but if it wasn’t for Richter the season would have been over. Game 7 returned to MSG and it was an epic battle. The Rangers led 1-0 until 7 seconds were left in the game when Valeri Zelepukin would score off a scramble in front. Richter was incensed as he argued with the referee to no avail. One OT turned into 2 OT’s as both Richter & Brodeur stood on their heads keeping their team’s hopes alive. As fate would have it, Matteau would score his second double OT game winner of the series and the Rangers were East Conference Champs. Richter had out dueled the up and coming Brodeur in a battle of the ages.
The Stanley Cup Final is something all hockey players aspire to play in. For Richter, who had grown up a Flyers fan during the Broad Street Bully Stanley Cup winning days, this was no different. Vancouver jumped out to an early 1-0 series lead as Greg Adams scored the deciding goal in OT. The Rangers and Richter would even the series at 1 with a 3-1 victory at home in Game 2 and a dominating 5-1 victory in Game 3 in Vancouver.
Game 4 would be a defining moment not only for the Rangers, but for Richter and for Stanley Cup lore. In a tightly contested game, Brian Leetch – in an effort to defend Pavel Bure – would trip up the “Russian Rocket” on a breakaway. Referee Terry Gregson awarded him a penalty shot. Mano-a-mano on Richter.
As Richter prepared for the penalty shot, he reflected back to a similar instance in the All Star game several months earlier at MSG where Bure was awarded a penalty shot against Richter. Bure would have wished he had remembered as he tried the same move and ended up getting the same result – SAVE RICHTER!!
Buoyed by Richter’s heroics, the Rangers went on to victory 4-2 and were on the verge of a championship. Game 5 was at MSG and it was rocking. The Canucks stormed out to an early 3-0 lead but the Rangers were able to tie the game thanks to the stellar goaltending of Richter. However, it was not meant to be. The Canucks were finally able to solve Richter that night and scored 3 unanswered goals to bring the series back to Vancouver trailing 3-2. With their playoff lives on the line and their last home game of the season on tap, the Canucks controlled play from the onset and downed the Rangers 4-1 to set up a deciding Game 7 at MSG.
The Rangers jumped out to an early 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Leetch & Adam Graves. The Canucks answered with a SHG from Captain Trevor Linden, early in the second period. The Rangers would answer that goal late in the second period, when Messier would pot one off a goal mouth scramble for a power play goal giving the Rangers a 3-1 lead. Linden would net a power play goal just less than 5 minutes into the third and then it was nail biting time.
Richter made point blank saves on Nathan Lafayette & John McIntyre. Sergio Momesso, Geoff Courtnall and Linden again would all have chances and Richter snuffed them out. In addition, a few posts were also hit. After several questionable icing calls were made in the waning minutes, it came down to one last faceoff to the right of Richter. The puck was dropped, MacTavish won the draw back to Larmer who had it against the boards and the waiting was over!
The dream had come true! Richter and the Rangers were Stanley Cup Champions! Richter had posted some marvelous numbers during the playoff run. In 23 games he was 16-7 with a 2.07 GAA and .921 save percentage with 4 shutouts. Conn Smythe material that’s for sure but that went to Brian Leetch who was even more spectacular.
Richter would not come near the success in the playoffs again in his career as he did in 1993-94. The Rangers were not as good after that season and injuries started taking their toll on him as well. There was one brief shining moment in 1996-97 though, where the Wayne Gretzky- Mark Messier Rangers made a surprise run to the East Conference Finals. There they got beaten down by the Flyers’ Legion of Doom Line led by Eric Lindros. Richter did his utmost to keep them alive as he posted a record of 9-6 with a 2.11 GAA & .932 save percentage with 3 shutouts.
Sadly, injuries to his MCL, ACL, a fractured skull and multiple concussions over several seasons ended Richter’s career prematurely. When all was said and done he posted a record of 301-258—73 in 666 regular season games sporting a 2.89 GAA & .904 save percentage along with 24 shutouts.
In the playoffs, he posted a 41-33 record in 76 games with a 2.68 GAA & .909 save percentage to go along with 9 shutouts. He also amassed numerous honors to go along with his Stanley Cup Championship of 1994. He was a silver medalist in the 2002 Olympics, winner of the inaugural World Cup of Hockey in 1996 for Team USA, where he was all named MVP of that tournament. Richter also captured MVP honors of the 1994 NHL All Star Game.
He was a 3-time NHL All-star (1992, 1994, and 2002) and a Lester Patrick Award recipient in 2009. he was enshrined into the US Hockey Hall of Fame alongside his Rangers & Team USA teammate Brian Leetch in 2008. Lastly, his uniform #35 hangs in the rafters in MSG, retired on February 4, 2004.
After retiring from hockey in 2003, Richter went back to school and earned his degree in Ethics, Politics & Economics with a minor concentration in Environmental Policy from Yale University. He is also a founding partner at Healthy Planet Partners which is a sustainable power finance and consulting group and also Environmental Capital Partners, a Private Equity Fund whose focus is on resource efficiency.
Richter serves on the Board of Directors for Riverkeeper, the Board of Trustees for the Adirondack Nature Conservancy and sits as a member of the National Advisory Council for the Sierra Club. He also works with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in an effort to bring the best ecological practices to the sports industry.
Richter also helped launched Athletes for a Healthy Planet, an organization dedicated to fostering an understanding of the connections between environmental issues, human health, economy, social justice, and well-being. In addition, he is also the chairman of the Aspen Institute’s Sport and Society Program dedicated to improving the quality and quantity of athletic participation in society.
Lastly, he serves as the NHL Ambassador to Beyond Sport, an NGO chaired by Tony Blair, whose mission is to use the power of sport to promote social change. He is also a member of the 2010 class of Aspen Institute Catto Environmental Fellows. Most importantly though, in giving back to the city where this was all made possible, on December 12, 2012, he participated in the 12-12-12 concert benefit, answering calls from viewers wishing to donate to victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Mike Richter is a legend on the ice for his heroics between the pipes for the New York Rangers. With all he has done and continues to do for world around him, he is well on his way to become one off it as well.