Q&A: Blackhawks' Luke Richardson sits down for 1-on-1

/ by Charlie Roumeliotis
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

The Chicago Blackhawks formally introduced Luke Richardson as their next head coach on Wednesday at the team store on Michigan Avenue, officially becoming the 40th bench boss in franchise history.

But before that, Richardson sat down with NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle for an exclusive 1-on-1 interview to discuss his playing career, making his NHL debut at the old Chicago Stadium, what kind of defensive zone structure he might run, the identity he wants his teams to have and much more.

You can listen to the interview on the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast or read the full Q&A here:

Boyle: In your 21 year career, do you remember a moment or time where it hit you and you said, I want to give coaching a shot?

Richardson: I don't know if I remember the one moment, other than I was lucky enough to start as an 18 year old early. I had a lot of experience early, so I guess games played, years played, coaches and organizations counted on me to be a bit of veteran, mentor and maybe play with the younger guy. But it was probably close to my same age as me, but it seemed like a younger guy and I did a little bit of mentoring on and off the ice. My wife, Stephanie, and I and our family always kind of were open. We bring the new guy to town, the young guy out of town, they live with us for a while because we know what it's like. It's a tough world, not just playing hockey, but just moving away from home at a younger age and a new city. So I think we've probably had eight to 10 guys over the years like live with us for either extended periods of time through either just training camp to get used to it. We always took pride in that and I think all of that kind of combined into me forming as a coach even before I stopped playing. So it was just natural when I stopped playing to get into coaching.


Boyle: During the interview process, did you sense a connection with (general manager) Kyle Davidson and how they wanted to build this team and this franchise?

Richardson: I did. But, you know, everybody asked me how the interview go and I'm like, 'Well, I thought it went well.' You never really know how the other side feels. But I did have a feeling that it was a good connection, good conversations, and I didn't really have to search for answers. I kind of have a lot of experience and obviously we went to the Stanley Cup final two years ago as an assistant coach, but I also had to take over for six games during those playoffs, which was real exciting but also on the developing and building. I was in the American League for four years as an assistant coach and did some player development early on and primarily working with young defensemen my first few years as an assistant coach. But also just young players in general, giving them hints and some ideas on how to survive in the NHL and excel at the same time. I think our message was crossed and blended. And, you know, obviously when I came back for the second interview and then they asked for me to come back in the next morning for a third, I was really like, I don't want to get ahead of myself here, but I think that's good. But then I started overthinking it that night saying, Well, maybe they're just going to have me in and say, 'Thanks very much, you know, better luck next time.' So I just tried to keep it real and flow with it, enjoy it. And I felt comfortable and they really created a comfortable environment for me to be myself. And I think they they must have liked what they saw.

Boyle: You look at where you started your career in Toronto. You look at playing in Philadelphia, being an assistant in New York, assistant in Montreal. I mean, those are the toughest places to either play or coach. Don't you feel that in a way that really suited you well for this opportunity? The Original Six franchise, but you played in the Mecca of hockey and coached there as well.


Richardson: I think it really, definitely helped me and built my character for this moment. You know I'm not afraid of a good challenge. I like it and to be in sports, sports it's either a Saturday night feeling or a Monday morning feeling. Like you're at the highest of the high or the lowest of the low. I want to be Saturday night every day and be excited and everybody's talking about the team in town, not in a small market where people don't even know that you're playing. To me, that's not professional sports. Excitement and expectations and high demands, that's what professional sports is about. And I grew up in that and I love it.

Boyle: Have you allowed yourself to think about that first night at the United Center where you're on the bench and the organ strikes and the anthems are played and how that compared to your first NHL game back in 1987 at the old Chicago Stadium?

Richardson: I still have chills in the back of my neck from that. I'll never forget that moment. And every time I come back to the stadium, I think of that first time that I was there. At the United Center, I think of that first time being back at the stadium. I want our players to feel that and use that as not an intimidation factor, but a motivational factor. We want to play with the enthusiasm of the national anthem and the Chicago fans and take that into our game plan and have a step up on the other team before the game even starts. I know what it's like to be on the other side, it's intimidating. You're hoping your team is ready and not overwhelmed by what they just listened to and they and they're not off track on their game plan. So you want to use it both ways, against the other team -- which I know what it feels like -- and to our advantage. That's just something that I'm really looking forward to, hearing the national anthem, to feel that feeling and then resonate it right into our game plan with our team.

Boyle: I know you've only had this job for a few days and you're just getting settled. Have you had an opportunity to reach out to Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews so far, via text or anything?

Richardson: Nothing yet. I just actually got their numbers last night from Kyle and that's kind of next on the list. It's been a whirlwind the last few days. I'm really excited to be a part of this organization and and players like that. They're Stanley Cup winners, they're Hall of Fame players in the future. To create a relationship that we can grow and work together, but also maybe spread the wealth of what they've learned and what they've gone through to to the other players on the team is going to be a huge plus for us this year.


Boyle: We all know that this is a rebuild and it's early in the process. What are the biggest challenges that this presents to you as a new head coach?

Richardson: I think there'll be different challenges every day. I think you have to be open and ready for change, ready for things to be adjusted. I think that that's something that I've learned as a coach. You can't say this is the way we're going to play, this is how we're going to do it and that's it. I think that's old school thinking. I think you have to roll with the changes and adjustments and work to the benefit of your team. So we're going to have different style of players. I think we can have a game plan, but I think we have to have a game plan within the plan for certain players. Everybody plays a little different. You got a big physical guy or a real skilled guy that's not as big and not as physical. But we can still play the same game plan and just make sure they understand the differences each player is expected to do for us to be successful. I think there is going to be ups and downs. I want our ups to last longer and are down to the last lower. And I think that's going to be a key for a winning organization.

Boyle: D-Zone coverage has been a big topic in this town the last several years. Do you have a specific coverage that you would like to play or are you waiting to see the players you have and you'll fit the system to that?

Richardson: I think a bit of both. I know there's a couple of different systems that are really good to play. I think what you have to do is see what our our personnel is and how we're built and really kind of build it towards that, goaltending out. I think what we have to do is make it an easier job on our goaltenders, keeping things to the outside. Every team wants to get hard and get people to the net and I think we just have to get harder to make it happen for them, make it difficult and then be ready to transition to the offense. If we can learn to play defense faster, we can use more energy on the offense. It's going to help. People talk about we're going to be a better defensive team, doesn't mean you're in your defensive zone all night and you're good and you're blocking shots. I think what it is, is learning to play faster defensively and demanding execution and killing plays and transitioning into offense. Then we have more offensive energy and it just works so well together. But it's work and it's a lot of repetition, and that's what we're going have to work for on day one.


Boyle: I look back at that Flyers team that you were on and a lot of stars obviously in that room with (John) LeClair and (Eric) Lindros and (Mark) Recchi, (Rod) Brind'Amour, (Craig) Berube, (Rick) Tocchet, now you... all head coaches in the National Hockey League. Have you talked to any of those guys about this next jump, about being a head coach in the NHL?

Richardson: I've talked to Rick Tocchet many times and he's been a real good help and influence in my coaching coaching career and helped me along the way. We always have good chats when we bump into each other in the ranks. I haven't talked to him recently in the last week or two, but definitely some great guidance from Rick over the years. He's had some really good success, so a lot of tapping into him and over the summer because he's kind of gone through that process when he was with Arizona, a similar situation to here. He did a great job there with the younger team and built it up to a real competitive team. That's definitely someone I'd love to speak with. I chat with Rod every once in a while, throws a text out there every once in a while. But he was obviously so busy in the last year with a great team that they've built there in Carolina. It's definitely another resource I would love to chat with for sure over the time. And Craig Berube is a great guy. We had such good fun playing together and same just keeping in touch with each other. It just feels like we're right back to 2000 and playing together again. Hockey players have that bond, it's lifelong. You can not see or talk to each other forever, but you can jump right back into it with one call.

Boyle: You've had several coaches throughout your 1,400-plus games. You've coached now with many and I'm sure you take a little bit from everyone, but if there were two or three that maybe have been the backbone or you align with most as a coach, who might they be?

Richardson:  I think just communication wise and teaching. Teaching the game, not just defense, but I think teaching the forwards, you know what the defense are doing. Craig Ramsay was such a smart mind and he was a smart player when he played, but he was really great, influential, and I had a chance to play for him a few times. I've kept in contact with him, he's still coaching over in I think Slovakia and running their programs over there and doing a great job. If I can combine his thought process of teaching the game, really teaching the game and showing you in practice and the enthusiasm of a Ron Low. Like what a great character, great motivator, great coach, not not the X and O's guys, but he knew that and he was smart enough to have some assistance that did that. So I think putting guys like that together were great. Like Billy Barber, really close friend of mine, a Hall of Fame player from Philadelphia. Same thing like that motivational guy, he's smart enough to have a guy like Mike Sellers, real good X's and O's guy behind him because he had that presence of a winner and he knew what it took to play in a tough market like Philly. So I think you have to have some smarts, some enthusiasm and some really good teaching aspects in your game to be a good coach these days.


Boyle: You were a physical player in your career. How would you like this team to to bring physicality on a nightly basis?

Richardson: Just watching the Stanley Cup Finals this year, everybody's talking about the speed and the skill of these two teams, especially Colorado. But watch how they play. They play hard. They play hard. They have their star players just stepping in front of guys. So physicality is different for everybody. And your star players, if you can get them to step in front of someone and just bump their hands, slow them down and they have to go around you, lose their momentum. Well, that's going to help your defense break out and get you as a star player the puck back. Just explaining that to players that aren't as big, get in their hands. You don't have to run them over and put them in the fourth row. But that's okay too. I like that. So we'll have a little bit of both, I think. We want the puck. So if we want the puck, we're going to have to be physical in different areas and that means different ways for different players.

Boyle:  What have you seen from Seth Jones' game from afar?

Richardson: I really remember him. We played against Columbus quite a bit in the past, so I've seen him more there than I have here this year because I think when we played him, he was might have been out with COVID this year for one of the games at least, but what a great player. Growing up in a professional lifestyle with his father obviously helped and he's got that probably pro-aspect demeanor in him. He's got the frame as a big, rangy defenseman that can skate the puck and lug a lot of minutes and shoot the puck. I think that's somewhere where we really have to make sure his confidence level is on a high. Like you're watching him like (Cale) Makar and I'm not trying to compare them. I'm just saying, like the confidence that he is given to play his game and make sure he doesn't do too much in the trouble areas that could put you in danger. But to use your strength and joining rushers at the right times, not every time. That just gives you more energy to play a lot of minutes in the crucial situations because that's that's what he is. He's a number one defenseman in this league and I'm really excited to work with him.


Boyle: Last one. What do you hope the identity of this Blackhawks team will be under you?

Richardson: Kind of what I said before, we want to play with energy, some heart and then add the skill level that we have into that. So if I can envision this team playing with the passion of of our Chicago fans with that national anthem and starting the game like that and learning how to sustain that energy and that buzz all the way through a game, which is a lot to ask for, but we'll take steps of getting there. That's what I would really love to see.

Click here to follow the Blackhawks Talk Podcast.

Download MyTeams Today!