“He’s a real nice guy” said the cabbie, as we left MSG after a Rangers game a few years ago. “He was a perfect gentleman, very polite”, he went on to say, as we discussed the current state of the Rangers at the time. A few years later, Richter became a “real nice guy” with 300 NHL victories to his credit, the nineteenth NHL goalie to pass the mark and the first to record that number with the Rangers.
Still, things could have easily been different for Richter. Two straight season ending injuries to his knees, followed by a fractured skull last season could easily have ended his career. But with a work ethic second to none, the career Rangers goalie battled back to do what no other NHL goalie has done…play again in the NHL.
Born in a suburb of Philadelphia, Richter grew up in Pennsylvania and New York where he attended Northwood Prep High School in Lake Placid. While playing for the school, Richter was selected to the US national team competing at the World Junior Championships. He let in 6 goals in just 43 minutes of play, but the Rangers took a gamble and selected him 28th overall in the 1985 draft the earliest that New York had ever drafted a goaltender.
He played the next two seasons with the Wisconsin Badgers of the WCHA and earned rookie of the year honors in his first season and selection to the second team all-stars the following year. Richter followed his two year college career splitting time between the US National team as an amateur, and then a stint with the Colorado Rangers of the IHL after becoming the starter for the 1988 Olympics.
Returning again to the IHL for the 1988-89 season, Richter finally got the call to the NHL in the 1989 playoffs with a one game cameo appearance against the Pittsburgh Penguins which he lost 4-3 in game four of the best of seven series. Mike would play just 18 more minor league games in his career after that game and formed a strong pairing with John Vanbiesbrouck as the Rangers became one of the most competitive teams in the league.
A solid effort in the 1991-92 season for the best team in the east gave Richter his first NHL all-star selection. He would make further appearances in 1994, where he was voted MVP and again in 2000, only to injure his knee while competing in the skills competition.
In June of 1993 his fellow Ranger netminder was sent to Vancouver before the impending expansion draft and Richter assumed the starting role for New York in what would turn out to be a career year. Richter’s 42-12-6 performance in 68 appearances earned the Rangers the best record in the East, but it was his efforts in the post season that finally earned the team the ultimate reward.
A 16-7 record in the post season and a .923 save percentage including a huge stop on a Game 4 penalty shot by Pavel Bure in the finals, gave the Rangers and their fans what they so desperately wanted…their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. Richter was nothing short of amazing as he registered four shutouts, including two straight to start off the playoffs against the New York Islanders, so often the Rangers bogeyman.
The players strike of 1994 seemed to put the Rangers out of synch as they struggled, along with Richter through the next two seasons. He did however manage to bounce back in 1996-97 with 33 victories and career bests in save percentage (.932) and goals against average (2.11), as he helped lead a surprising New York team to the Eastern Conference championships. This would be the last taste of playoff action for some time as the Rangers began to show their age.
Still Richter did have success on the international stage. In 1996 the US team was a surprising winner of the World Cup on the back of Richter’s 2.00 goals against average. Again in the Olympics of 2002, Richter proved that he still had some gas left in the tank on the way to a Silver Medal and the best performance by a US Olympic team since 1980.
But it hasn’t been all good news for Richter, who at 36 is now entering the last stages of a productive NHL career. Five seasons without the playoffs, three straight season ending injuries and a lackluster team in front of him have all conspired to bring out the detractors. Only games like last Saturday’s victory against Toronto remind us, that Richter has unfinished business and isn’t quite ready to throw in the towel.
And perhaps another strong playoff performance will be enough to get him into the Hockey Hall of Fame and maybe get his jersey retired by the Rangers. After all, besides being a great goalie, he truly is a nice guy.
WCHA Rookie of the Year 1985-86
WCHA second team all-star 1986-87
NHL all-star game 1992
NHL all-star game 1994
NHL all-star game MVP 1994
Won Stanley Cup 1993-1994
Ranked 2nd best goalie in Sporting News Hockey Yearbook 1994-95
World Cup winner 1996
World Cup all-star team 1996
NHL Player of the week 1/24/2000
NHL all-star game 2000
NHL Player of the week 12/3/2001
Silver Medalist at the Olympics 2002
Olympic all-star team 2002