It is a day that Mike Richter has done everything to
avoid, but this was one injury that even he couldn't overcome. Tomorrow,
the most successful goaltender in Rangers franchise history will announce that
he will retire due to the lingering effects of consecutive concussions suffered
in the previous two regular seasons. It's a sad ending to an illustrious
career, but one that has been foreseen by many and yet still a large number of
his fans hoped he would some how once again overcome the seemingly impossible.
Richter was the model of perseverance and had a legendary
off-ice work ethic that allowed him to come back from knee reconstruction on
both of his knees (1999-00 and 2000-01) and then a concussion sustained off of a
Chris Tamer slap shot as the 2001-02 season wound down. The injury left
the Rangers netminder with a fractured skull and lingering effects that lasted
over eight weeks after the fracture was sustained. A seemingly innocuous
collision with Todd Marchant's knee in a goal crease scramble during a game the
Rangers were winning easily, turned out to be the final blow, for the soon to be
37 year old Richter. He dressed as a backup for one final game, before
finally admitting in practice that things weren't quite right...a situation that
remains to this day.
It was obvious to many that #35 would wait as long as he
could before finally calling it a career, but with training camp less than two
weeks away, and the uncertainty of his injury still looming over his head,
Richter finally has done what is best for Mike Richter, admit that nothing will
be gained by returning to the game he loved.
Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Richter evolved into
perhaps the best goaltender that the United States has ever produced. His
career accomplishments included being a key player in the Rangers run to the
Stanley Cup in 1994, anchoring a surprising gold medal winning performance by
the US in 1996 and then coming back from consecutive knee injuries to help the
US to a silver medal in the 2002 Olympics held in Salt Lake City.
Richter finishes his career as the all time leading Ranger
goaltender for Games Played (666), Wins (301), and Minutes Played (38182), but
perhaps more importantly he was part of the 1994 team that lifted the curse and
brought the Stanley Cup to New York. It appears that it will only be a
matter of time before #35 will join Giacomin's #1 and Gilbert's #7 in the
rafters at Madison Square Garden, a fitting tribute to a fan favorite both on
and off the ice as well as one of the best goaltenders of his time.