Late daughter Daron inspires Canadiens coach Luke Richardson

When Chris Therien lost his sister in 2006, Luke Richardson was one of the first people there for support. Therien repaid that in 2010 when Richardson’s daughter Daron died by suicide at the age of 14.

“That broke my heart,” Therien said. “It broke a lot of guys’ hearts because we knew the character of a guy like Luke Richardson and what he meant to us as teammates and people.”

Therien was one of many to attend a memorial ceremony for Daron Richardson in Ottawa, an event that showed how much Luke Richardson mattered to the hockey community near and far. Eleven years later, Richardson has taken over as acting coach in Montreal and has the Canadiens a handful of victories from the Stanley Cup, with Daron on his mind and countless people around the sport glad to see him getting this opportunity.

“He’s always thinking of others, always thinking about how to better the situation,” said Toronto forward Nick Foligno, who knew Richardson for years before playing with and for him in the NHL. “There’s no surprise as to how his career has unfolded as a coach and how many people care about him. He’s a guy that I think every player that played for him or with him absolutely loved.”

The 52-year-old Richardson was thrust into running Montreal’s bench for Game 3 of the NHL semifinals against Vegas last week after interim coach Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus and went into isolation. After a thrilling comeback victory in overtime, Richardson tapped the DIFD heart pin on his lapel that signifies the Do It For Daron youth mental health program he and his wife, Stephanie, started in their late daughter’s memory.

“Daron is always in my heart and in our hearts,” Richardson said. “I just thought it was a perfect time to pay a little tribute to her because we definitely miss her.”

Richardson played almost 1,500 NHL regular-season and playoff games as a defenseman and went immediately into coaching after hanging up his skates. How he and his family managed the grief of Daron’s death in November 2010 and beyond showed other players and coaches Richardson’s strength and willingness to put others first.

“I still don’t know how he handled it as well as he did because to have something like that happen, it shook everybody,” said Toronto’s Jason Spezza, who like Foligno played with and under Richardson in Ottawa. “He was very stoic about it, tried to share a little bit with us but also just tried to keep business as usual.”

Richardson and his wife turned their pain into public good through Do It For Daron at the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health in the hopes of supporting children dealing with mental health concerns. More than 21,000 students have gone through the “Is It Just Me?” program, and Royal Ottawa Foundation interim president and CEO Cynthia Little said over $4.2 million has been raised over the past decade for youth mental health initiatives.

“It took on a life of its own,” Little said. “The community just rallied together and put their arms around embracing mental health.”

Richardson said his family’s hope was to “break through that barrier of stigma so young people don’t feel isolated” and to listen and help as much as possible.

Helping those around him is what Richardson has always done. Therien played with Richardson for five seasons with Philadelphia and considers him one of the top three teammates from his entire career.

“When you start getting yourself into that realm with me, you’ve left an impact,” Therien said. “He really, really left an impact on a lot of people in this league.”

That continues in coaching. Ducharme called Richardson a “true person and “the best teammate you can have.”

“He was always there for his teammates, and he’s the same way in life, or within the staff,” Ducharme said. “He’s got really good hockey knowledge, but also he’s that kind of guy you want to be going through adversity or facing obstacles, you want a guy like that on your side.”

Montreal’s Ben Chiarot said he and his fellow defensemen would “all go through a wall for Luke, and I think that’s the best compliment you can give a coach. We’d go through a wall for him because we know he’d go through a wall for us.”

Foligno learned that from a young age. He and his family moved in with Richardson in 1991 when dad Mike was traded to Toronto, and their rapport evolved when they became teammates in 2007 with the Senators.

Richardson was the no-nonsense wily veteran who would also host Super Bowl parties and other team gatherings at his house. Foligno fondly recalls dinners with Luke, Stephanie, Daron and their other daughter, Morgan, that helped him adjust to life as a pro.

“He was just so good to me,” Foligno said. “He’s able to relate with a 19-year-old and a 35-year-old. I think that’s why he’s such a good coach. He’s somebody that understands both those dynamics.”

Those dynamics are on display now after Richardson added up the experience of seven seasons as an NHL assistant sandwiched around a four-year stint as head coach of Binghamton in the American Hockey League.

“Experience always helps,” Richardson said. “I’ve been through pretty much every scenario other than probably getting to the finals of the Stanley Cup in this league.”

Two more victories in the semifinals would get Richardson and the Canadiens there. After Richardson figured his first game as an NHL head coach would be in the preseason not the third round of the playoffs, many former teammates hope this is a springboard to a job of his own.

“I just kept thinking as I see him there, ‘This guy should probably be running his own bench somewhere eventually in the NHL,’” Therien said. ”His time will come, I’m sure.”

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    Golden Knights take 2-0 lead in Stanley Cup Final with 7-2 win over Panthers

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
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    LAS VEGAS – Jonathan Marchessault scored twice and started an early blitz that chased the NHL’s hottest postseason goalie, and the Vegas Golden Knights seized control of the Stanley Cup Final with a 7-2 victory over the Florida Panthers in Game 2 on Monday night.

    Adin Hill continued his stellar play in net with 29 saves for the Golden Knights, who grabbed a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

    “We finished some plays,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It’s a good performance for us. Our guys were ready to play.”

    Marchessault also had an assist to finish with three points. His 12 postseason goals set a Golden Knights record, with all coming after the first round.

    Brett Howden scored twice for the Knights, who also got goals from Alec Martinez, Nicolas Roy and Michael Amadio. Six players had at least two points for Vegas, all 18 Knights skaters were on the ice for even-strength goals and their nine goal scorers through the first two games are a Stanley Cup Final record. The Knights’ seven goals tied a franchise mark for a playoff game.

    It was too much for Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who was removed 7:10 into the second period down 4-0. It was the fifth time in 12 games the Knights have chased the opposing goalie.

    “We can be a little better in front of our goaltender,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “I got him out to keep him rested.”

    Matthew Tkachuk and Anton Lundell scored for Florida.

    Teams that take a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final are 31-3 in the expansion era. The Panthers will try to buck history beginning with Game 3 on Thursday in Sunrise, Florida.

    Hill once again brought his feistiness as well as his A-game. He stopped Carter Verhaeghe on a breakaway in the first, and later that period hit Tkachuk, who was in his net, with his blocker and then slashed him with his stick.

    “He’s been unreal for us,” Vegas forward William Carrier said. “He’s been unbelievable.”

    The Knights were dominant early, taking a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from Marchessault and Martinez. It was Vegas’ third game in a row with a power-play goal, its first such stretch since Christmas week.

    The Panthers lost their biggest, toughest defenseman early in the game when Radko Gudas was injured on a hit by Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev. Gudas left 6:39 in and did not return.

    That was one of several big hits by Barbashev, the Golden Knights’ biggest trade-deadline acquisition, a Stanley Cup champion with St. Louis in 2019. Barbashev broke the sternum of Colorado defenseman Samuel Girard during the playoffs last year, also on a clean hit.

    Vegas had its own scare late in the second period when Jack Eichel was nailed in the right shoulder by Tkachuk. Eichel returned in the third and set up Marchessault’s second goal for his second assist of the game.

    “We did a good job managing momentum tonight,” Eichel said. “And we got some timely goals.”

    Ducks hire former Leafs, Islanders assistant Greg Cronin as head coach

    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks have hired veteran NHL assistant and AHL head coach Greg Cronin to be their new head coach.

    Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek announced the decision to hire the 60-year-old Cronin, who will be a first-time NHL head coach.

    Cronin has 12 years of experience as an NHL assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs and in two stints with the New York Islanders. The Massachusetts native has been the head coach of the AHL’s Colorado Eagles since 2018, and he spent six years as a collegiate head coach at Northeastern.

    Verbeek called Cronin “the ideal fit” to take over a young, rebuilding team.

    “I felt we needed a teacher of the finer points of the game, and someone who has worked extensively over time with talented young players, helping them develop into successful NHL players,” Verbeek said. “Greg has done all that and more.”

    Cronin replaces Dallas Eakins, whose contract wasn’t renewed in April after the Ducks finished their fourth consecutive losing season of his tenure. Anaheim finished in last place in the overall NHL standings at 23-47-12.

    The Ducks never finished higher than sixth in the Pacific Division during Eakins’ four years in charge. They’ve missed the playoffs in a franchise-record five straight seasons, and Anaheim was the NHL’s worst defensive team of the 21st century by several measures during the just-completed season.

    Cronin takes over a struggling team that is still loaded with young talent, including the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft and a wealth of farm prospects seemingly ready to break into the NHL. Anaheim has a solid long-term base with playmaking center Trevor Zegras, two-time All-Star Troy Terry and promising forward Mason McTavish.

    Cronin has never led an NHL bench, but he interviewed for the Boston Bruins’ vacancy a year ago.

    He becomes only the Ducks’ fourth permanent head coach since Henry and Susan Samueli bought the franchise from Disney in 2005, joining Randy Carlyle, Bruce Boudreau and Eakins.

    Canadiens sign Cole Caufield to 8-year, $62.8 million extension

    David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

    MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens signed Cole Caufield to an eight-year, $62.8 million contract extension.

    The deal, which will pay the 22-year-old winger an average annual salary of $7.85 million, runs through the 2030-31 season.

    Caufield scored 26 goals and added 10 assists in 46 games in 2022-23 before he underwent season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in February.

    Despite missing nearly half the season, Caufield led the Canadiens in goals for the second consecutive season, tied with Nick Suzuki.

    Montreal selected Caufield in the first round (15th overall) of the 2019 draft.

    Since making his NHL debut in 2020-21, the forward has 84 points (53 goals, 31 assists) in 123 NHL games.

    Vegas Golden Knights come back to beat Florida Panthers in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS – Back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in five years and trailing the Florida Panthers less than 10 minutes into Game 1, the Vegas Golden Knights sent a very clear message.

    “We were ready,” Jonathan Marchessault said.

    Ready and dominant. Vegas rallied from an early deficit, got the go-ahead goal from Zach Whitecloud with just over 13 minutes left and arguably the best save of the playoffs from Adin Hill and beat Florida 5-2 Saturday night to take the lead in the best-of-seven series.

    “We kept out composure, and it was good,” said Marchessault, one of six original Knights players left from the start of the franchise in 2017 who scored the tying goal in the first period. “We just wanted to play the right way and be disciplined, and tonight we were able to be the better team.”

    Whitecloud put Vegas ahead, a crucial penalty kill followed and captain Mark Stone scored an insurance goal that was reviewed for a high stick and confirmed. Reilly Smith sealed it with an empty-netter to make the score look more lopsided than the game.

    The combination of that offense and Hill’s 33 saves put Vegas up after a feisty opener between Sun Belt teams who wasted little time getting acquainted with big hits during play and plenty of post-whistle pushing and shoving.

    “It’s exactly what we expected,” said Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore, who scored his first goal of the playoffs and ended a 27-game drought dating to March 7. “That’s how they wanted to play. We were just trying not to play into it.”

    That stuff is just beginning. Game 2 is Monday in Las Vegas.

    Before the Panthers even get a chance to respond, they ratcheted up the physical play late after falling behind by two. A handful of penalties resulting from a fracas with 4:24 remaining left the Florida bench well short.

    The outcome was determined long before that.

    After falling behind on a short-handed goal by Eric Staal that sucked the life out of the crowd of 18,432, the Golden Knights rallied for their ninth comeback win this playoffs. Marchessault – known since arriving in Las Vegas for scoring big goals – answered before the end of the first period.

    Early in the second, Hill made a desperation stick save to rob Nick Cousins of what would have been a sure goal. The save was reminiscent of the one Washington’s Braden Holtby made against Vegas – in the same crease – five years ago.

    “That’s an unreal save – it’s a game-changer,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “You need those saves at key moments.”

    Giving up a tying goal to Anthony Duclair with 10.2 seconds left in the second did not slow the Golden Knights’ momentum much. Whitecloud’s goal, with two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky screened and unable to see, fired up fans once again.

    Bobrovsky, in the final for the first time, downplayed any reason for concern after stopping 29 of 34 shots and losing for just the second time in 12 games this postseason.

    “I played a good game,” Bobrovsky said. “I played a solid game. They created some good chances other than goals. They had lots of good scoring chances, and that was fun.”

    Part of the fun came when play was stopped.

    Less than 10 minutes in, Hill was none too happy about Nick Cousins crashing into his crease and gave the agitating Panthers winger a jab that incited a handful of scrums. During the second period, Matthew Tkachuk let Vegas’ Nic Hague know he wasn’t thrilled about a hit in the corner on Cousins and a collision with Brandon Montour after the whistle.

    “If guys are going to come in my crease and try to push me around, I’m going to stand my own ground,” Hill said. “I’m not going to do anything too crazy or get too wild, but, yeah, I’ve got to stand up for myself.”

    Florida coach Paul Maurice, back in the final for the first time since 2001, displayed a similarly calm demeanor as he did all the way back in the first round, when his team fell behind 1-0 then 3-1 to NHL-best Boston before winning in seven.

    “It’s going to be tight,” Maurice said. “Everybody breathe.”

    The Golden Knights are in the final for the second time in six years of existence, five years after making it in their inaugural season. Vegas won the opener in 2018 and lost the series to Washington in five games.

    The Panthers are back playing for the Cup for the first time since 1996. Florida got swept by Colorado in that final 27 years ago, 18 months before Tkachuk, the team’s leading scorer this playoffs, was born.

    It’s the 66th different matchup of teams in the Cup final in NHL history and the 46th since the expansion era began in 1967-68. This is the first time since Washington-Vegas and just the third time since the turn of the century in which the final features two teams who have never won the league’s championship.