Before last night’s game the Flyers honored their former captain and raised the #16 banner, again. With the Spectrum in the middle of its slow end, the Flyers wanted to honor Clarke a second time. Last night the Flyers had Bobby Clarke night at the Wells Fargo Center and raised his banner to the rafters. Each fan received a replica of the #16 banner.When he was named as the third Captain in the franchise’s history, he became the youngest player in the NHL to ever hold that honor. He was the leader and best player of the legendary Broad Street Bullies and is known as the greatest Flyer ever. There is a current player on the Flyers roster that has drawn comparisons to Clarke. The reason for the comparisons is not just because of the goals he scores but the way he plays the game. Current Flyers Captain Mike Richards plays the game with an old school style; he plays with a lot of skill but also with a toughness that is rarely seen from the current NHL stars.
Mike Richards was drafted by the Flyers with 23rd overall pick in the 2003 NHL draft. Both Richards and current teammate Jeff Carter joined the Phantoms late in the 2004-2005 seasons. They had spent the year playing with their Canadian Junior teams; once their team was eliminated they joined the Phantoms. With the help of Richards and Carter, the Phantoms won the Calder Cup Championship in front of a standing room only crowd at the then called Wachovia Center. Richards made his Flyers debut and scored his first career goal on October 5, 2005 against the New York Rangers. During his first two seasons with the team, while he showed the grit and toughness he has become known, he failed to have a major statistical impact. In the 2005-2006 season he finished the season with 34 points and he followed that up with a 32 point effort in 2006-2007.
In 2007-2008 Richards tough play began to transition into the stat book. He led the Flyers that year with 75 points. On December 17, 2007, he was rewarded with a 12 year $69 million contract extension. This will essentially keep him in Orange and Black for the rest of his career. Before the start of the 2008 season, Richards was named the 17th Captain in the history of the franchise. Over the next few years Richards continued to draw the comparisons with #16. He won the Bobby Clark Award (Team’s MVP) in both the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 seasons.
In the Eastern Conference Finals of last season Richards showed why he has drawn the comparisons to Clarke. It was game 5 and the Flyers were leading 3-1 in the series. The Canadians had a 1-0 lead early in the 1st period and were looking for another while on the power play. A puck was floated out of the Flyers zone over the defense, and the Canadians Goalie tried to come out and play it. Almost simultaneously Richards, the goalie Halak and a defender dove towards the puck. Somehow Richards and the puck avoided the bulk of the collision. Richards quickly regained his composure, got to his skates and buried the puck into the back of the net. This tied the game and the Flyers never looked back. They went on to win the game 4-2 and win the series 4-1.
Number 18 can do almost anything on the hockey rink. He can play the tough gritty game if he needs to. But he has the skill and talent to skate around defenders. In addition to his scoring ability, he is a great defensive forward. Richards is a key part of the team’s power play and is one of the best penalty killers in the game. He has a knack for scoring shorthanded goals when the team desperately needs them. In fact he is so good on the penalty kill that he has the record for most goals ever by a player while down 2 men.
Richards has something that does not always show up in the box score, it is something that you can’t teach. He is a natural born leader and would be a leader in any profession he would have chosen. Luckily for Philadelphia fans, he chose to play Hockey. Richards plays the game in the style that Philadelphia fans love. He has a way of mixing his great skill but doesn’t forget how hockey should be played. It is a game that was meant to be played with a tough aggressive style. It was the way Bobby Clarke played, and it is the way that future Flyers should continue to play for the years to come.