Unless you were an opponent of his, who in the Hudson Valley doesn’t love Mike Richter? You know, No. 35 for the Blueshirts, the New York (Freakin’) Rangers, the ones who went 54 years without winning The Cup. They’re the same ones who, in Game 4 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals, faced a do-or-die penalty shot after Brian Leetch tripped Pavel Bure from behind. Like it was yesterday: Richter… Bure… the deafening crowd at Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver… the unbearable tension. Then, the save!
Richter’s rejection of Bure’s penalty shot seemed miraculous while setting up the Rangers’ date with destiny: Game 7, which Ranger captain Mark Messier guaranteed they’d win. Turning away 28 shots on goal, Richter helped make Messier’s prediction a reality — and an indelible piece of history, garnering the Blueshirts their first Stanley Cup Championship since 1940 (they haven’t won one since).
If you’re ever allowed back into Madison Square Garden, look up: No. 35 hangs from the rafters. Richter is also in the United States Hockey Hall of Fame. He won a gold medal at the 1996 World Cup, a silver medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics, and if all that weren’t enough, the NCAA Division I annual award for the best goaltender in men’s ice hockey is named the Mike Richter Award.
In 2003, during a game against the Edmonton Oilers, Richter took a knee to the forehead and suffered a concussion. It followed an incident only months earlier, in which Richter took a rising slap shot to the face mask, which fractured his skull.
And just like that, it was over.
“The retirement decision was taken out of my hands. The doctors wouldn’t clear me to play,” says Richter, who lives in Fairfield County, CT. “You know, if it was a knee or a shoulder [injury], I might have tried to come back, but not this and not at 38.”
So, what were the options for a champion athlete and New York hero whose career was cut short? The broadcast booth? The autograph circuit? A job coaching and hollering at refs?