FROM THE CREASE with BRUCE BERLET

bruce mug shot 1BY: Bruce Berlet

Brad Richards met the New York media for the first time Wednesday as the newest member of the Rangers and showed why his on-ice prowess isn’t the only reason he was signed to a nine-year, front-loaded, $58.5 million contract.

Richards retained his low-key personality by not having a lavish press conference and quietly skated onto the Madison Square Garden training center ice in Greenburg, N.Y., for the Garden of Dreams Foundation’s “Dream Week” with a friendly smile. Talk about a terrific entrance without a lot of airs for one of the NHL’s premier – and richest – players.

But Richards also realizes the responsibility, burden and expectations of playing in the World’s Most Famous Arena in the No. 1 city on earth.

“This is a different animal,” said Richards, presented a Rangers jersey with the No. 19 previously worn by former Tampa Bay Lightning teammate Ruslan Fedotenko, who will switch to No. 26 that had been worn by center Erik Christensen, now No. 40. “I know that, I realize that. That will be in my preparation. I’ll talk to some people and get an idea what to expect.”

Richards already has some idea what to expect after signing a five-year, $39 million deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2006 before being dealt to the Dallas Stars with former Hartford Wolf Pack goalie Johan Holmqvist for goalie Mike Smith, center Jeff Halpern, wing Jussi Jokinen and a 2009 fourth-round pick on Feb. 26, 2008, three hours before the trade deadline.

“My last contract was a big contract, too,” Richards said. “I think I learned a lot from that. I think I struggled a little bit the first part of that, but I’m five, six years older. I’ve got a lot more experience now.”

That includes being named Conn Smythe Trophy winner after leading the Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004 when Rangers coach John Tortorella was behind the bench. Richards also previously played with the Rangers’ Sean Avery in Dallas and unsigned Vinny Prospal in Tampa Bay.

“He went over the team, what the needs are, what certain players are like and what he’s expecting of me,” Richards said of his talks with Tortorella. “He said many great things about the city. His big thing was winning here will be bigger than ever.”

Richards and Fedotenko were teammates on the 2004 championship team and said Fedotenko wouldn’t be receiving any compensation for changing numbers. But Richards said he wanted to do something for his Lightning-turned-Rangers teammate as a way of thanks.

“What do you mean, cash in?” Fedotenko said. “We won the Cup together, and he was 19. He really wanted it. We have good guys in the locker room – if you start bargaining and selling, what’s next? Every time I give you a pass, you’re going to give me $500 for it? Come on. It’s hockey, it’s a team sport.

Richards said he is working on finding a place to live and hopes to move to New York in August after spending some time working out in Tampa.

Moving is easier when you’re single like Richards, who drew a “Bachelor Brad” headline in one New York paper.

“All’s I need is a bed and a TV, I guess,” Richards said. “We’ll figure all that out in the next few days and hopefully that can happen. I have a lot of friends in the area that can be up here, if I need to be up here, doing stuff and getting help with it. I’ll know more by the time the weekend’s over.”

On the hockey side, Richards had 28 goals and 49 assists last season for the Stars, who are in some turmoil with ownership problems, one of the reasons that Richards left the team. Richards will be centering for Marian Gaborik, who struggled last season with injuries and without a steady center.

Richards has nearly a decade to straighten out that problem but isn’t concern.

“I’m not even thinking about nine years from now,” he said. “My two best seasons have been my last two years. I’m gonna try and keep building on that. I don’t know where it’s all gonna go. I can’t sit here and tell you that. If some day I can’t play, I can’t play. I gotta walk away, (but) I don’t consider turning 31 to be too old. I’ve got a lot of years left.”

Fedotenko said Richards’ transition to a new city will be negligible and that he will have an extraordinary impact on the Rangers.

“I think he will fit perfectly in the locker room,” Fedotenko said. “I was extremely happy (he signed). I was very excited about that. He’s a key player in any situation, especially on the power play he’ll help. He’s great at setting up. He’s a great player. He’s a great professional. On and off the ice, he’ll be a great example for the younger guys.”

Richards demonstrated that in a sit-down with New York Post columnist Steve Serby, especially when he told a comical tale about his favorite Tortorella moment from winning the Stanley Cup.

“In the finals, when we got spanked pretty bad (by the Calgary Flames) and he took all the attention off us for a few days by going on a rant,” Richards recalled. “There’s lots of days I remember where it was miserable to be around him, too. He made us drive around (New York City) on a bus one year … in our equipment for no reason (smiles). You’d have to be part of the team to understand why. It was well-deserved. It was a way of teaching us a lesson.”

And what did Richards do with the Cup when he brought it home?

“I put it in my mom and dad’s bed,” Richards said. “I didn’t go to bed. We put it in with them so that when they woke up they could go do some stuff with it.”

Talk about winning Brownie points with the folks!!!!

Richards then got serious about all the charity work that he has done, starting with establishing a foundation in honor of cousin Jamie, who died of cancer at 7 when Brad was 9.

“He was my best friend, my buddy, we grew up across the street from each other,” Richards said. “He didn’t understand why I couldn’t hang out with him that much anymore, but that was about it. At that age, you’re not really in tune of what a brain tumor is or what it’s doing to the kid.

“To see him pass away at an early age; he didn’t really have an impact at that age. Now it’s impacted me a lot more than I ever would have imagined. It’s amazing how I see it still with all the kids I deal with. They never complain, they never frown, it’s hard to imagine what they’re going through. He still tried to do everything every day. His parents had to hold him back from doing stuff because it just wasn’t going to be healthy for him.

“It’s how I got involved with charities and why I started a foundation in his named in PEI (Prince Edward Island) at the children’s cancer wing of the hospital, so it’s gonna be a legacy we can create for the rest of hopefully my life and continue on.”

Richards also got involved in the Autism Society because he has a cousin whose two youngest of three boys have autism. So he paired with the Children’s Wish and Autism to host a benefit golf tournament.

And while in Tampa Bay, Richards formed Taskforce 19, which brings military troops to every home game as a thank you, and Richy’s Rascals in which he bought a suite that cancer kids and their families can use.

“We had three or four families every game, and we called them Richy’s Rascals so they could bring their siblings in,” Richards said. “We re-did the suite into kind of a playland. Some of them obviously weren’t hockey fans, but it was something for them to do, get out of their house so there were other things for them to do. I would meet with them after the games.”

A bachelor might have more free time, but you can’t find much better use of it than the way Richards filled it. His contract might seem out of line, but his off-ice work is priceless. Welcome to New York, Brad.

LIGHTNING SIGN FORMER WOLF PACK FORWARD

The Lightning signed former Wolf Pack forward Tom Pyatt to a one-year, two-way contract on Wednesday. Pyatt, a fourth-round pick of the Rangers in 2005, had two goals and five assists in 61 games with the Montreal Canadiens last season. In his two seasons with the Canadiens, he had four goals and eight assists in 101 regular-season games and two goals and two assists in 25 playoff games.

On June 30, 2009, the Canadiens acquired Pyatt, Scott Gomez and former Wolf Pack defenseman Michael Busto for former Yale center Chris Higgins, former Springfield Pics defenseman Doug Janik, defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who split last season between Hartford and New York, and Whale defenseman Pavel Valentenko. … Former Wolf Pack defenseman Dean Arsene is the latest former Rangers property to join the Phoenix Coyotes. Arsene, defenseman Nathan Oystrick and forward Matt Watkins were signed to one-year, two-way contracts by Coyotes general manager Don Maloney, the former Rangers assistant GM and Wolf Pack GM. Arsene played with the Wolf Pack in 2002-03 and helped the Hershey Bears win the Calder Cup in 2006 and 2009. … The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired center Ryan Russell from the Canadiens for right wing Mike Blunden. Russell, 24, the Rangers’ ninth-round pick in 2005 and the identical twin brother of Blue Jackets defenseman Kris Russell, had 10 goals, 11 assists and was plus-17 in 65 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs last season. He also had seven goals and two assists in 20 playoff games as the Bulldogs reached the Western Conference finals. Bluden, 24, has two goals and two assists in 51 career NHL games with Columbus and Chicago. A third-round pick of the Blackhawks in 2005, Blunden has 52 goals and 68 assists in 240 AHL games with Springfield, Syracuse and Norfolk.

RAMSAY JOINS DINEEN WITH PANTHERS

Craig Ramsay, who has nearly four decades of NHL experience as a player and coach, returned to the Florida Panthers on Thursday as an assistant to new coach and former Hartford Whalers right wing/captain Kevin Dineen. Ramsay spent last season as the coach of the Atlanta Thrashers but was not retained after the team was sold and relocated to Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“It is great to be able to rejoin the Florida Panthers organization and come back home again,” Ramsay said in a statement. “I look forward to working with head coach Kevin Dineen, the entire coaching staff, our management team and all our players as we strive to reach our goals and objectives. Having previously served as associate coach during the team’s first two seasons, I have seen firsthand the passion that the South Florida community has for hockey and I look forward to being part of it once again.”

Ramsay worked under the tutelage of former Rangers coach Roger Neilson during his first stint with the Panthers. He’ll now provide a veteran influence behind the bench as the 47-year-old Dineen embarks on his first season as an NHL coach.

“I am thrilled to add Craig to our coaching staff,” Dineen said in a statement. “He brings an in-depth knowledge and experience to the Panthers organization which will be an invaluable resource for our players to draw from. He is one of the most respected and well-liked individuals in the game and will fit in perfectly on our staff with Gord Murphy and Robb Tallas. He will be a great addition to the environment that we aim to create within the Florida Panthers locker room.”

Before working in Atlanta, Ramsay served as an assistant coach/associate coach with the Boston Bruins for three seasons (2007-10). Ramsay’s coaching resume also includes the associate coach in Tampa Bay (2001-07), as well as an assistant coach in Philadelphia (1998-00). Ramsay was named interim head coach of the Flyers in February 2000, guiding the team to a 16-8-1-0 mark while claiming the Atlantic Division title. The Flyers then came within one win of appearing in the Stanley Cup finals.

Before joining the Flyers, Ramsay was an assistant coach for Ottawa (1996-98) and the Panthers (1993-95). He began his coaching career with the Buffalo organization where he served as an assistant in the 1986-87 season and took over as interim head coach late in the year. Prior to leaving the Sabres in 1993, Ramsay also served as the team’s director of player personnel and assistant general manager.

Ramsay was drafted by Buffalo in the second round in 1971 and spent his entire NHL playing career with the Sabres, notching 252 goals and 420 assists in 1,070 games. He appeared in 776 consecutive games from 1973-1983, which ranks as the fourth longest consecutive games streak in NHL history. He was also named the recipient of the Frank J. Selke Trophy in 1985, given annually to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.

AHL RECOGNIZES NOTABLE FOURSOME

Congratulations to the winners of four major AHL awards for excellence and service to the league that were announced their the annual Board of Governors meetings in Hilton Head Island, S.C. Got to give the AHL brass for knowing a good place to convene – and have some fun, I’m sure.

Worcester Sharks president received the James C. Hendy Memorial Award as the AHL’s outstanding executive last season. The award is named for the late Jim Hendy, a Hockey Hall of Famer and longtime AHL statistician and historian who won four Calder Cups as general manager of the original Cleveland Barons.

A member of the San Jose Sharks organization for the last 10 years, Mudd oversaw significant growth in ticket sales and corporate sales during his first season as team president, including a league-leading 38 percent increase in group-ticket revenue. Mudd also ensured the Sharks’ future in Worcester by renegotiating the team’s arena lease at the DCU Center, and he continues to grow the team’s presence and positive impact on the Worcester community. He also has successfully taken a leadership role in all key areas of AHL hockey and business operations of the Sharks and is an alternate governor on the league’s board of governors.

True North Sports & Entertainment chairman Mark Chipman was honored with the Thomas Ebright Award for career contributions. The award honors is named for the former owner and governor of the Baltimore Skipjacks and Portland Pirates who died in 1997.

Chipman’s impact on the AHL began in 2001 when he played an influential role in bringing six cities from the former International Hockey League into the AHL, including his own Manitoba Moose. A highly respected member of the AHL’s board of governors for the past decade, Chipman was the driving force behind the construction of the state-of-the-art MTS Centre in downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba, and under his direction and with his financial and emotional commitment to the team and the city, the Moose were consistently among the AHL’s leaders in attendance and revenue over their last 10 seasons, leading to the Atlanta Thrashers moving there last month.

The San Antonio Rampage and Oklahoma City Barons defenseman Bryan Helmer were named winners of the President’s Award, given to an AHL organization for excellence in all areas off the ice and to an AHL player in recognition of his outstanding accomplishments in the past year.

The Rampage averaged 6,411 fans per home game last season, an increase of nearly 19 percent over the 2009-10 season. The Rampage continued to be one of the AHL’s model organizations in terms of group ticket sales practices and theme nights, drawing crowds of more than 10,000 for the team’s annual Military Appreciation Night and for its first Pink in the Rink Night to support breast cancer research.

Helmer achieved several milestones after starting last season on the sidelines until a tryout with the Barons. On Jan. 13, he notched his 520th career point to become the AHL’s highest-scoring defenseman, and on Feb. 18, he appeared in his 1,000th career game, becoming only the 10th player to reach that plateau. A native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and a three-time Calder Cup champion, Helmer signed with the Barons to play his 19th pro season in 2011-12.

Finally, Mike Cosentino, director of business operations for the Toronto Marlies, was named winner of the Ken McKenzie Award, which honors the founder and longtime publisher of “The Hockey News” and the NHL’s first publicity director, as well a 1997 honoree by the Hockey Hall of Fame as the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award winner.

Recognizing the important role played by team management in building a successful franchise, the award is presented to an AHL team executive who most successfully promotes his or her own team. Under Cosentino’s guidance, the Marlies enjoyed one of their most successful seasons in ticket and corporate sales, marketing and public relations in 2010-11, including significant growth in sponsorship revenue, group sales, web traffic and social media platforms. As the team’s top business executive, Cosentino was instrumental in executing the Marlies’ new marketing campaign, which focused on the role of player development in the AHL and which correlated to increases in ticket sales and media coverage.

AHL president and CEO David Andrews also announced winners of the league’s annual Team Business Service awards, recognizing outstanding achievements in a variety of categories. The AHL honored one team from each conference for top revenue growth in four areas during last season: season-ticket sales, San Antonio (Western) and Hershey (Eastern); group-ticket sales, San Antonio and Worcester; overall ticket sales growth, San Antonio and Providence; and corporate sales growth, Abbotsford and Bridgeport.

Teams from each conference also were selected for excellence in areas of community service and fan experience. Hamilton and Charlotte earned the nod for exceptional community efforts, and Lake Erie and Hershey were cited for outstanding fan experience at home games.

Finally, the AHL recognized several team and individuals for their efforts at the league’s marketing meeting in Springfield. The Chicago Wolves were named the sponsorship sales department of the year, the Grand Rapids Griffins the ticket sales department of the year and the Texas Stars for the most unique promotion or sales package, a partnership with the University of Texas’ sports management program in which students developed collateral materials and sold group tickets to a Stars game in November.

Congratulations to one and all.

PLENTY OF AHL PLAYERS HEADED TO EUROPE

Former Wolf Pack/Whale forwards Jeremy Williams and Francois Lemieux, former Wolf Pack and Rangers wing Nigel Dawes, former Wolf Pack captain Andrew Hutchinson, who won the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s top defenseman while with the Wolf Pack in 2007-08, and former Wolf Pack defenseman Ethan Graham are among several dozen of the league’s former players to sign with European teams for the 2011-12 season.

Williams, who led the Wolf Pack/Whale last season in goals (32) and was second in points (55) and an All-Star for the first time, signed with EC Salzburg in the Austrian Elite League, and Lemieux joined Heilbronner Falken in the German Division 2 League. Dawes, whose 41 goals last season with the Wolves and Bulldogs were one behind Wethersfield native Colin McDonald of the Oklahoma City Barons, and Hutchinson, who played with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season, signed with Barys Astana in Kazakhstan in the Kontinental Hockey League. Graham, who played at Michigan State with former Wolf Pack defenseman Corey Potter and split time between Charlotte of the AHL and Florida of the ECHL last season, signed with AS Ritten/Renon of the Italian A League.

Others headed overseas include Stratford native/defenseman Jamie Sifers (Adler Mannheim in German Elite League), former Sound Tigers forwards Jesse Joensuu (HV71 in Swedish Elite League), Robin Figren (HC Linkopings in Swedish Elite League) and Rob Hisey (EHL Linz in Austrian Elite League), former Rangers center and AHL MVP Jason Krog (HV71) and forward Alexander Vasyunov, who is returning to Lokomotiv Yaroslav in the KHL, where he used to play with former Wolf Pack and current Rangers center Artem Anisimov. Thanks of hockey maven/expert Gerry Cantlon of Waterbury for this info that’s always interesting to fans and others involved with the game. … The ECHL’s Trenton Devils will suspend play starting with the 2011-12 season. The New Jersey Devils are restructuring the organization’s player development system to be more in line with other NHL teams as Trenton was the only ECHL team completely owned by an NHL team. The Devils purchases a majority interest in the Titans on Sept. 21, 2006. The team continued to be affiliated with the Philadelphia Flyers for the 2006-07 season before the Devils took over as their ECHL affiliate and changed the name to the Trenton Devils. Since then, the team was plagued by declining attendance at the Sun National Bank Center, finishing last in 200-11 with an average attendance of 2,390 in a building that holds 7,605 for hockey. The team has lost money every season since the Devils assumed ownership, thus the shutdown for now.

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