A day ago, on this site, a debate emerged in the comments section of the story we ran about Mike Richards return to Philadelphia: When Richards was introduced to the crowd at the Wells Fargo Center Saturday night, would he be cheered or booed?
Richards, after all, left behind a complicated legacy in Philadelphia. He was the face of the Flyers organization for much of his six seasons in orange and black. His jersey, No. 18, was a perennial best-seller. He led the team to within two wins of the Stanley Cup.
But Richards was also known for his contentious relationship with the media. Criticisms about his captaincy were about as frequent as rumors on the Internet about his nightlife. Plenty of fans honestly believed he just didnt give the 110 percent effort on the ice that was expected of him.
Los Angeles, however, got such an effort out of their new center in Saturdays 3-2 overtime win (See story). Richards, who wears No. 10 as a King, had an assist on Jack Johnsons game-winning goal. He was physical, won 68 percent of the faceoffs he took and contributed on the backcheck, too.
He was hitting guys and making plays, Matt Carle said, and thats what he brings to the table.
But, as many have been speculating, Richards admitted feeling a bit of anxiety ahead of the game. He tried hard to play it off Thursday in Newark and Friday at practice even insisting again after Saturdays win that he just considered it another game against a tough opponent.
It was easy once we touched the ice, I think, Richards said. During warm-ups and before the game, maybe I was a little nervous or something. But it is what it is. I got on the ice, and you feel comfortable after that. You just play hockey. Its nice to see us get the win.
Hockey tends to not get much attention through the fall, considering the length of the NHLs season and the dominance of the Eagles (and, until recently, the Phillies). But its been impossible to ignore the attention given to Saturdays game, a date circled on the Kings calendar and, no doubt, circled on the Flyers.
It wasnt a big deal to me, Richards said. I think from a media standpoint, you try to blow things up a little more than it is. And for me, it was just another game in a road arena. Ive been booed everywhere, Ive been cheered in a couple places. You just go out there and play once the puck is stopped. I think its the easiest thing to do, just go out there and play hockey.
Whether he knows it deep down or not, Richards return to Philadelphia was a big deal at least to the fans who supported him during his time here. Walking around the concourse before the game, No. 18 jerseys were everywhere. Two fans both young women behind the Kings bench taped signs up against the glass.
Richie you will always be a Flyer in our hearts, read one.
Mike Richards always my captain, now my King, read the other.
Richards centered the Kings first line, playing alongside Dustin Brown and Dustin Penner. Selected to start the game, Richards name was announced last over the P.A. before the puck drop. Fans responded when they heard his familiar name and mostly with cheers.
About five minutes into the game, fans were directed to look to the Jumbotron where a thank-you message to Richards thanking him for his contributions and service to the Flyers was broadcast for about a minute. This time, fans stood up to cheer, and only a handful of boos could be heard.
Richards, taking a faceoff in the Kings' zone, was aware of the message, but tried not to think about it.
Once the pucks dropped, youre focused so much on the game and what youre doing out there, you cant be distracted for a second, Richards said. Thats when bad things happen on the ice. I was just trying to stay in the moment. I did notice it a little bit. It was nice. But at the same time, I was just worried about winning the faceoff and not getting killed out there.
In the action that followed the thank-you message, however, the crowd booed every time Richards touched the puck.
Perhaps complicated doesnt even begin to describe how Flyers fans truly feel about Richards.
Flyers captain Chris Pronger put it best.
He spent six years here and was the face of the franchise and any time guys like that come back, theres always going to be a buzz in the air, Pronger said. Fans get a chance to see him again. Its with the other team, but still a chance to see him. I think the fans showed their appreciation, and then they got over it quickly.
E-mail Sarah Baicker at email@example.com