When it comes to being a hockey fan, there are many dreams that we all have.
We all want our teams to win the Stanley Cup. We want to be able to touch hockey’s Holy Grail, and lastly, we all want to hang out with our favorite player.
During the strike-shortened 1994-95 NHL season, I had the unbelievable opportunity to do the latter. It was then that I had my ultimate hockey fan experience: getting to spend time with my then favorite goaltender and hockey idol Mike Richter of the New York Rangers.
This is something that I have written about many times before for a few different hockey blogs/outlets. With that said, it never gets old and being able to share it with the readers of We The People Sports is a real treat as we all love being fans.
Back then, I was a Pee-Wee goaltender. At the time, I had been a netminder for five years and had modeled my game after Richter.
While I knew how to cut down the angles, control my rebounds, and play the puck behind the net, there was one area of my game that I was inconsistent with. It was stopping breakaways, which leads me to the whole point of this story.
I did not learn how to stop a breakaway from the usual suspects. Was it from a goalie coach? No. Was it from summer hockey camps? No again.
Essentially, I was stuck. I was looking for guidance from someone, somewhere.
That all changed on March 10, 1995. It was then that I learned how to stop a breakaway from Richter, who at the time, was one of the best goaltenders in one-on-one situations
That day, my father and I—he being the then-lawyer for former Rangers head coach and current NHL senior VP and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell—were going to be travelling with the Rangers to Montreal. The team was scheduled to take on the Canadiens the very next night at the great Montreal Forum.
When we got to John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens, NY, I introduced myself to the players. I mingled, as any hockey-obsessed kid would, with the likes of Mark Messier, Adam Graves and Brian Leetch.
While that was all good and dandy, the real person I wanted to talk shop with was Richter. As such, I took a walk around the airport and was able to find him in a small magazine shop.
Star-crossed, I introduced myself to the lifelong Blueshirt and told him my problem when it came to stopping breakaways. I knew he was a nice guy, having met him before, so I was confident he would have some valuable tips, but what I didn’t know was what that he was going to explain it all for me.
Richter looked at a nearby shelf and grabbed two small 3 Musketeers bars, a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and a Snickers. At first, I assumed he was being courteous and buying me some candy, but then he took to the ground and started setting up the chocolates.
In the middle of the shop, Richter used the two 3 Musketeers bars as the net, the peanut butter cup as the goaltender and the Snickers as the shooter. With each candy bar having assumed its respective role, Richter demonstrated what I needed to change.
He told me that my best bet was to do everything possible to stay with the shooter and let him make the first move. He continued, showing me how to play the correct angle and not start backing into my crease until the shooter was the perfect distance away.
Since that day, I have been a changed man when faced with an opponent on the break.
After always coming up on the losing end in penalty shot situations prior to Richter’s lesson, I went five-for-five to close out the season. In later years, I continued to excel, winning breakaway competitions at the high school level and in men’s leagues.
Looking back, it’s safe to say I owe at least part of my ability as a goaltender to to the best teacher I ever had.
*Photo: New York Daily News