A Family Affair
Richards Brothers on their way to the NHL
The tale of a hockey player spending years in the minor leagues with the hopes of making it to the National Hockey League some day is not an uncommon one. Truth be told, the American Hockey League is not just a development level for those on the ice. The league has been a springboard for coaches, broadcasters and front office employees alike. Add equipment manager to the list as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Head Equipment Manger Teddy Richards and his brother and assistant, Josh, have both found their way to the NHL this summer.
It was not the typical journey for the elder Richards, a former football standout at GAR High School in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Richards’ father, Tedd, was the first full-time bus driver for the Penguins when the team took the ice for its inaugural season in 1999-2000. It gave the opportunity for the younger Richards, then a high school junior, to volunteer in the locker room with the head equipment manager at the time, Mark Dumas.
Richards’ initial foray into the life of an equipment manager was not all glitz and glamour, but it allowed him to learn the craft.
“I started off by going to the rink after the games, around 11 o’clock at night, helping out folding towels. That just allowed me to get the doors open,” said Richards.
After graduating from GAR in 2001, Richards’ time with the Penguins went on hiatus as he attended Mansfield University on a football scholarship. There, he suffered a knee injury - the third of his playing career – and decided to hang up his cleats.
Though Richards’ football days had come to an end, his path toward a hockey career began with another opportunity with the Penguins. An assistant position was available with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Richards put his college pursuits on hold for the chance to work full-time with the team.
For four years, Richards learned the intricacies of the job while working under the tutelage of Dumas.
“Mark brought a lot of knowledge to the table. He had 20 years of experience in the game,” stated Richards. “What I learned from him was the way to conduct yourself in the locker room and how to behave. He was great at talking to players [when they were upset] and take their minds off things.”
When Dumas was hired by the Boston Bruins in 2006, Teddy took over the head job. Even though Richards had a wealth of experience in the locker room already, his first year was admittedly a tough one. Not only did he have become accustomed to the nuances of his new position, but the numerous logistics associated with several road trips via plane during the season also provided a stiff challenge.
Richards made it through the 2006-07 season just fine and, six years later, an opportunity presented itself. As Wilkes-Barre/Scranton began its foray into this year’s Calder Cup Playoffs, Richards received a call that an opening on Pittsburgh’s equipment staff may be coming available. Soon after the postseason runs for both Penguins’ teams came to an end, his phone rang again.
“It was a Sunday night at dinner time. I got a phone call asking, ‘Do you want to come to Pittsburgh?’”
Richard jumped at the chance and so begins the next chapter of his life, joining the Penguins staff as an assistant equipment manager. His family has already located to the Pittsburgh area and Teddy’s first official duties with the NHL club came during the Penguins’ Development Camp last week.
Whereas in summers past, Richards would return to Wilkes-Barre to begin preparing for the upcoming AHL season, now he’ll remain in Pittsburgh to ready himself for his first year in the NHL.
As if one story of a local kid making it to the big leagues wasn’t enough, a second tale came along a week later.
Teddy has worked side-by-side with his younger brother Josh for the last six years. Josh’s first official duties with the Penguins actually came seasons earlier. Just 13 years old at the time, Josh worked as a stick boy in January of 2001 as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton took on the Philadelphia Phantoms.
What started out as a job helping out on game nights five years and many games ago grew into a full-time position. Having turned 18, Josh would join his brother Teddy when he was named assistant equipment manager. The two brothers have been a mainstay in the Penguins locker room ever since.
“It is definitely an honor to be able to work with a family member,” commented Richards. “I don’t think I’d see him as much if we didn’t. I think it helps us out. Obviously we bash heads because we’re brothers, but I think it’s for the better. He trusts me and we know each other’s routines.”
Perhaps it is fitting that as one Richards brother would move on to greener pastures, the other would soon follow.
The news that Pittsburgh had hired the elder Richards was barely days old before Josh became aware of an assistant equipment manager position available with the Dallas Stars. The wheels turned quickly as Richards was brought down to the Lone Star State for Stars’ Development Camp. Not only were the players on the ice looking to make an impression with the team, but Josh had his own “try-out” during the week as well.
Which prospects make the roster for Dallas this season may still be up for debate, but Richards nailed his audition and now joins his brother in the NHL ranks.
The odds that not one, but both Richards brothers were hired by NHL teams within a week of each other are probably the same as hitting the jackpot during a weekend in Vegas. Their good fortune brings an end to an era this summer for two brothers that literally grew up the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins organization.
As a result, the Penguins became home for Teddy and Josh, both literally and figuratively. Wilkes-Barre is where they were born and bred, but the rink was the place where they spent countless hours almost every day for the past six years.
It grew into so much more than a second home. It became family. When Tedd passed away due to a heart attack just before the Penguins were off to meet the St. John Flames in the 2001 Calder Cup Final, the start of the series was delayed so that the entire team could attend his viewing.
It began with their father driving the team to their road games and continued with his sons handling the equipment needs for the hundreds of players that have passed through the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton locker room. Now they will do the same for at the highest level of the game for the best players in the world.
In the days leading up to their departure, both Teddy and Josh Richards expressed their gratitude for all the team has given them over the years.
In truth, it is Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins who are indebted to the Richards brothers for all that they have done and wish them luck as they prepare for the next chapter of their hockey careers…
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