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Words of wisdom from within

Self-evaluation leads to Brad Richards' ongoing improvement.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 7, 2003

BRANDON -- Lightning center Brad Richards could not think of the exact words, but he remembered the concepts.

Richards enjoys reading books about sports history and great athletes. It is a passion kindled by his father, Glen, who believed it was just as important to nurture in his son an appreciation for the history of hockey as to develop his physical skills.

Asked what he has read that could apply to Tampa Bay's recent struggles, Richards recalled something he learned from the biographies of Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.

"They could tune everything out," Richards said. "This game, in January and February, it's huge to be so focused."

Thinking through another permutation, Richards added, "Everything is team, but individually you can only take care of yourself. Everyone has to prepare for their own games and then trust your teammates."

Richards, 22, has been one of the Lightning's most reliable players, even as the team's fortunes have tended toward the uneven.

The native of Murray Harbor on Prince Edward Island is second on the team with 39 points and entering Monday was tied for second in the league with 31 assists. In his past 18 games, he has a team-high 22 points on six goals, 16 assists.

He also has improved his winning percentage on faceoffs from 41.2 percent last season to 49.2. Fifty percent is considered good.

Strict self-preparation and evaluation have given Richards a critical eye on his game that he does not close when away from the rink.

Ask Richards about gaining points in 15 of the past 18 games, and he talks about how inconsistent he was through the previous 20.

Ask him about a dynamic spin move he made in the offensive zone to avoid a Rangers defender and the pinpoint pass that led to Martin St. Louis' goal, and Richards speculated that earlier in the season he would have thrown the puck away.

Ask him about his minus-7 (he is minus-4 in his past three games), and he acknowledges his defensive positioning needs work.

"He has a maturity level that is beyond his age," coach John Tortorella said. "He's a student of the game and a tremendous professional at such a young age. We'll help him out here and there, but he understands it so well and respects the game so well that he doesn't get too low or too high in the good times. That's the key for him. It's maturity."

"He's a very good player talent-wise, but there are a lot of talented players in this league," captain Dave Andreychuk said. "What puts him ahead of everybody is his passion for the game, his knowledge of the way the game should be played."

Richards said that knowledge has been enhanced by listening to stories told by Andreychuk, who at 39 is in his 21st season, and associate coach Craig Ramsay, who has played and coached a combined 2,003 games.

The hands-on stuff has made the players about which Richards had read, and the lessons he took from them, come more alive.

"I don't really know who some of these guys are but when Dave talks about a guy in the early '80s, I can relate to that," Richards said. "And when Rammer talks to me about some of his stories, I'll recognize some of those guys.

"That's why I read those books. If you can learn one little thing from a book about these guys, it will help you."

Glen Richards, who for Christmas bought his son a book about the NHL's greatest players, likes to hear that.

"For a young kid, it makes him more mature about the game," Glen said. "It's like a teaching guide to let him know what the game is about."

No one has to explain the importance of tonight's game against the Red Wings at the St. Pete Times Forum. The Lightning has lost three straight and is a point out of first in the Southeast and two points from being out of the East's top eight.

"We've got to get out of this," Richards said. "This is a great opportunity. It's going to be a high-tempo game, fast. It's the kind of game we like to play."

Richards hopes the result makes good reading.

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