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A good example for Richards

As the touted forward tries to make the Lightning, he looks to best friend Vinny Lecavalier.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 10, 2000


BRANDON -- Don't be intimidated.

That's pretty much all the advice Lightning star Vinny Lecavalier has given Brad Richards about training camp since Richards, fresh from juniors, moved into Lecavalier's Tampa apartment.

"He says to play my game and not to look up to anybody," said Richards, best friends with Lecavalier since their days at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame, a boarding school in Wilcox, Saskatchewan. "(He said to) just put it in my head that I can play here with these guys."

Richards took a big step in that direction Saturday when he earned praise from general manager Rick Dudley after two hours of intrasquad games at the Ice Sports Forum.

Truth be told, Richards already knows how to play with the big boys. Richards and Lecavalier, both 20-year-old centers, are avid golfers, and, Richards said, "We've had some battles."

The key to beating Lecavalier, he said, is getting him to bet on the match: "Every time we put money on the line, he chokes." "That's true," Lecavalier said, laughing. "Over 18 holes, I always choke."

But not on the ice, which is why Richards, drafted 64th overall in 1998 -- 63 spots behind his friend -- could not have a better teacher as he tries to get a feel for the NHL.

Richards has a daunting task. Lecavalier said that in juniors a player sometimes can have up to three seconds to shoot after accepting a pass. In the NHL, it's bang-bang. The jump is so huge that Lecavalier, widely regarded as the NHL's next superstar, took almost two seasons to break out.

Richards will follow closely.

"When things don't go exactly like Brad wants them to, all he has to do is look at his buddy and say, "What can I do in this situation?' " Dudley said.

Terry O'Malley, who coached both players at Athol Murray College, said it was readily apparent Lecavalier and Richards could do just about anything they wanted on the ice.

As a 16-year-old, Lecavalier, from the Montreal suburb of Ile Bizard, had 122 points in 22 games. Richards, from Prince Edward Island, had 101. O'Malley said Richards would have had more but the coach moved him to defense to fill a need.

Their styles are different. Lecavalier, at 6 feet 4, 205 pounds, has a long reach, is a smooth skater and sees the ice exceptionally well. O'Malley said the 6-1, 187-pound Richards is more "tricky" in his attack and is at his best when creating for teammates.

"Just like Vinny," Lightning coach Steve Ludzik said. "It's God's gift to pass."

Lecavalier's picture hangs on Athol Murray College's wall of fame. O'Malley said Richards' will hang next to Lecavalier's when he gets a picture of Richards in a Lightning uniform.

"It's a delight to see them back together again," O'Malley said. "It's a rewarding thing because they worked so hard for it. You feel a real sense of pride."

His pride would have swelled Saturday. Lecavalier played with wings Michael Johnson and Todd Warriner and showed he is ready to pick up where he left off last season. Ludzik called Richards "one of the three or four best players on the ice."

Richards, last season's leading scorer in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, was paired with Fredrik Modin and Wayne Primeau and consistently got them the puck in position to shoot. "I think he did well," Modin said. "He had some really good passes and showed some good moves. It's still early, but he did very good."

"He's just a great player, and he makes a lot of nice passes," Lecavalier said. "He's gotten better and better every day."

Richards' only disappointment was that his team did not face Lecavalier's. That should happen today.

"I can't wait to see him," Richards said. "Obviously, he's a top center. I can't wait to play against him."

Expect a different outcome than on the golf course.

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