Richardson finds early success as AHL coach

Ask any member of the Binghamton Senators about their rookie head coach and the most common adjective you’ll hear is “awesome.”

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — Ask any member of the Binghamton Senators about their rookie head coach and the most common adjective you’ll hear is “awesome.”

Of course, it would be a lot more interesting if a player were to say the exact opposite, say, “The guy doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

But you’re not going to hear anyone say that about Luke Richardson. The players can read the record book: A 21-year NHL career, with never even one game in the minors, gets your attention. Richardson knows what he’s talking about.

But it’s not just that.

When Richardson started his career in 1987, just after being picked seventh overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs, his first coach was the fiery John Brophy, who had a knack for filling his sentences with four-letter words.

Four years later, when Richardson was traded to the Edmonton Oilers, his coach was Teddy Green, another tough defenceman who never took a step backwards.

These were the days when coaches ruled through fear and intimidation. That approach, however, doesn’t get you anywhere today, except eventually fired.

The modern player doesn’t like to get yelled at. He wants a coach who understands, but, most important, listens to him. That what the baby Senators they have in Richardson.

“The player-coach relationship has shifted a lot from what it was in the past,” said defenceman Patrick Wiercioch.

“A lot of the coaches who have had success in the NHL have had good relationships with their players, and I think that’s why we’re having success right now. A lot of the time, when you think you’re the only one going through something, and you talk to (Richardson) about it, he can relate to it and tell you stuff he did to get through certain weeks, certain months.

“You take it to heart more when you see what he did, because to have the career he did is something we all want.”

As he sat in his office this week and talked about his first few months as a head coach, Richardson, 43, said he often thought about the type of coach he’d be if he ever got the chance, but he eventually realized that you can’t turn on a switch and be someone else.

“I like to create relationships and have fun with the guys and have them feel comfortable that they can joke with me and talk to me about everyday stuff,” he said.

“But when I’m on the ice and I blow the whistle and I’m a little huffy, I have to have their respect and they have to listen to me. And even if they’re a little upset with me, that’s normal, that’s fine. But the next day I’m going to be over it, and hopefully they’re over it. And if they’re not over it, then it’s not my problem, it’s their problem.

“They can come and talk about a situation that we disagree about, and we still may disagree even after we’ve talked, but at least we’ve talked about it,” he said. “And I think that relationship has been good, so far.”

This opportunity to coach the Senators has come at just the right time of his life, personally and professionally.

It is just over two years since his daughter Daron committed suicide at the family home in Ottawa. Being here in Binghamton allows Richardson and his wife Stephanie to be close to daughter Morgan, who is just up the road playing hockey at Cornell University.

Stephanie attends all of Morgan’s games and this weekend is missing Binghamton’s games so she can watch Morgan and Cornell play at Harvard and Dartmouth.

Professionally, it gives Richardson a chance to start a new chapter in his hockey life while it’s still fresh in his mind what it’s like to be a player.

Plus, his four years as an assistant coach with the Senators have already given him a relationship with most of the players here. They knew him as a teaching coach before he arrived.

“As a guy who plays a physical, defensive game, he’s taught me a ton,” said Mark Borowiecki. “It’s pretty easy to respect a guy like him. He sort of commands authority.”

Richardson said the job of being a head coach is pretty much what he thought would be, but he considers himself very lucky to have assistant coach Steve Stirling, who has vast college, AHL and NHL coaching experience, and video coach Matt Meacham, who is in his fifth season with the team.

They help him with all the finer points of coaching in the AHL, from getting players to the bus on time to telling him which refs he can’t yell at.

“In the NHL, there are lot of people around to look after the players and get them where they need to be,” said Richardson. Down here, you have to do all that.

“And the players are younger, too, so you have to remind them more. They’re almost like teenagers. It’s not just coaching.

“Steve and Matt have been unbelievable.”

Richardson knows he’s made mistakes in his early days here and knows he’ll make many more.

But he’s not in a rush. He’s at a good point in his life, being close to his family and enjoying early success as a head coach.

“I joked with my players at the beginning of the year, ‘I think I’m the only one here that doesn’t want to get out of here,’” he said.

“Everyone wants to get to the NHL at some point, but I’m not even thinking about that. I’m in no rush.

“I’m trying to help these players reach their goals and dreams as fast as they possibly can, and if they’re willing to put the work in, I’m willing to help them get there.”

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