Luke Richardson has had no shortage of unique and memorable experiences on the international stage.
In 1987, as a 17-year-old, Richardson was a member of Canada’s National Junior Team at the IIHF World Junior Championship, a tournament that ended with the infamous Punch-up in Piestany, a bench-clearing brawl with the Soviet Union that led to the disqualification of both teams.
Seven years later, the defenceman – following the seventh of his 20 NHL seasons – helped Canada win gold at the 1994 World Championship, ending a 33-year drought for the country.
He added a silver medal at the 1996 worlds, but has had to wait two decades for his next Team Canada experience – after serving as an assistant coach at the Deutschland Cup in November, Richardson is behind the bench as head coach of Canada’s entry at the 2016 Spengler Cup.
“It’s been great,” Richardson says on the phone following a Team Canada practice. “I had a little experience last month at the Deutschland Cup as an assistant coach (Canada went 2-1 and finished in second place).
“These tournaments happen very quickly. You have a lot on your plate over a few days and you have to make changes on the fly. You’ve just got to be ready for that and I was lucky enough to have the experience at the Deutschland Cup and I think that has really helped me here in my first time as a head coach with Hockey Canada.
“I’m really enjoying it. (On Tuesday night) the atmosphere was great. We beat the hometown Davos club and kind of quieted the enthusiasm in the rink, which was great for us.”
Richardson played more than 1,400 NHL games between 1987 and 2008 with Toronto, Edmonton,
Philadelphia, Columbus, Tampa Bay and Ottawa before embarking on his coaching career.
From 2008-12, he spent parts of four seasons as an assistant with the NHL’s Senators and then spent four full seasons as head coach of the AHL’s Binghamton Senators, Ottawa’s top farm club.
At the Spengler Cup, Richardson is working alongside associate coach Dave King and assistant Gordie Dwyer.
The Ottawa native played for King when he was head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the early 2000s and the pair worked together at the Deutschland Cup, where King was head coach and Richardson an assistant.
“He’s a very instructional coach, he teaches the game very well,” says Richardson of King. “I was fortunate to play for him for a year and I have a relationship with him, which is great. For me to be on his staff at the Deutschland Cup was great. In talking to Hockey Canada, they wanted to give me a shot at being a head coach here and that’s what I wanted and I thought it was just natural to keep Dave on as an associate coach to help me with his experience, not just with international hockey but specifically this tournament.
“He has been here many times as a coach and as a guy that’s put together teams for Hockey Canada. It’s been invaluable experience for me.”
There are plenty of unique challenges with the Spengler Cup, not the least of which is assembling a team of Canadians playing with various clubs throughout Europe and North America.
This year’s roster is made up mostly of players from the KHL and National League A in Switzerland, along with one player each who crossed the Atlantic from the AHL, ECHL and Canadian university hockey, and two NHL veterans with no current club team (Gregory Campbell and Mason Raymond).
There’s not much prep time for the players to learn the system nor is there much time to bond. Despite this, Richardson says Team Canada is in a great position because of the work put in by Hockey Canada management including general manager Sean Burke and hockey ops manager Shawn Bullock.
The team arrived in Switzerland a few days before Christmas and Hockey Canada has done an exceptional job of including players’ wives, children, parents, and other family members.
“It is tough,” he says. “The players are coming in in the middle of their seasons, used to playing their way over here in Europe and we’re trying to get them to play a good, old-fashioned Canadian game,” Richardson says. “It’s just a bit of a different system but one that they’ve probably all played. So it’s just getting their habits back to the way that we want them to play.”