KENSINGTON – Ryan Richards’s career with the Kensington Wild has come full circle.
The industrious forward has progressed from an agitator battling for a roster position to serving as an assistant captain, playing on the top line and leading the New Brunswick/P.E.I. Major Midget Hockey League team in scoring, all while endearing himself to Wild fans, on and off the ice.
“When he came here, his first year was kind of a surprise,” said Wild head coach Kyle Dunn. “He was not as polished a player, or may not have had the skill set of other players, but we will take a guy that works hard over talent any day.”
It’s that blue-collar approach Dunn credits for Richards’s success.
“He pushes the pace all the time in practices and games, he’s gotten better every year and continues to work harder,” said Dunn. “He’s the kind of guy who wears his heart on his sleeve every day. He puts the work in, and plays his heart out.”
A quick glance at Ryan Richards:
Team: Kensington Wild.
Parents: Darren and Tracy Richards.
Sister: Rachel, 13.
School: Grade 12 at Bluefield.
Quote: “The Wild has been the best organization I have played for. (Owner) Mike (Gallant) makes sure it is run perfect. The last three years have been the closest teams I have ever played on. We are the best of friends.”
Richards admits his development with the Wild has been a process.
“My first year I started off a little slow,” he acknowledged. “I was a small little guy trying to create havoc on the ice, chirping people and making sure our top players could do what they needed to do to score.
“My second year they moved me into an offensive role playing with Frankie Fortin and Colby MacArthur. This year, Colby and I have picked it right up where we left off in the playoffs, and Dixon MacLeod has fit right in on the line.”
Richards, who had 19 points in 33 regular-season games in his rookie season and 34 points in 35 contests in Year 2, has eight goals and 16 assists for 24 points in 12 games this season.
“The puck is going in the net, and it doesn’t matter how it’s going in – hitting off my helmet, the back of my pants – it’s working,” said a smiling Richards. “Hopefully, we can keep going.”
Although Richards’s offensive production has grown, he understands he will always be known for his agitating style.
“I’ll never stop chirping,” said a chuckling Richards, who sat out a four-game suspension early in the season. “I’d like to slow it down a bit, and I want to focus on putting the puck in the net and helping the team win.”
Dunn understands getting the other team off its game is a big part of Richards’s style, but notes the key is not to go too far.
“He gets under your skin, and that’s his game and what makes him effective,” said Dunn. “Guys zero in on him, and it gives him extra motivation.”
Richards’s impact with the Wild also extends well beyond the ice.
“I’ve had him out helping run a couple of Kensington minor hockey practices, and the kids just love him,” said Dunn. “The parents love that and have sent me text and Facebook messages about how great he is with the kids. . .
“He’s a different guy off the ice, he always has a smile on, is not a chirper, is very polite and friendly to people. He’s a fan favourite for sure.”
The opportunity to give back is something Richards enjoys and takes seriously. He has launched Ritchie’s Rascals – a program where two young fans are invited to games, and given the opportunity to meet the Wild and visit the dressing room.
“I don’t want to be remembered by just my on-ice play,” said Richards. “I want to be remembered that he was a great kid off the ice.”
The Kensington Wild returns to action on Saturday against the Saint John Vitos.
Puck drop at Credit Union Centre in Kensington is 7:30 p.m.
It’s the Wild’s first home game since Oct. 20.
Kensington enters weekend play in second place at 11-2-1 (won-lost-overtime losses), three points back of first-place Moncton (13-1-0). Saint John is third at 8-6-1, six points back of the Wild.
This will be the third meeting of the regular season between the Wild and Vitos. The Wild holds a 2-1 edge after a 6-5 overtime win in Kensington on Oct. 13 and a 6-3 road win on Oct. 19. The Vitos posted a 6-4 victory on home ice on Sept. 14.
The Wild has won six games in a row and 10 of 11.
The Wild has scored a league-high 93 goals in 14 regular-season games. Forwards Lucas Parsons and Dixon MacLeod are tied for the team with 10 goals each. Ryan Richards has a team-high 16 assists while MacLeod leads the Wild with five power-play goals.
Kensington will visit the Charlottetown Pride (6-6-1) at the Bell Aliant Centre on the UPEI campus on Sunday at 1:45 p.m.
The Wild will host the Notre Dame Argos from Wilcox, Sask., in an exhibition game on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Both teams will be playing in the Monctonian tournament that starts on Thursday.