banner (about Mike Richter)
Mike Richter is a retired professional ice hockey goaltender. One of the most successful American-born goaltenders in history. Richter played for the University of Wisconsin–Madison from 1985–1987, and the Rangers made him the 28th overall pick in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft. He again represented the U.S.A. in the 1986 World Junior Championships, as well as the World Championships and the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, before making his NHL debut in the 1989 playoffs. Though he lost the one game in which he played, he was soon a regular member of the Rangers, posting 12 wins against 5 losses in his rookie season as the club’s backup goaltender. Over the next two seasons, Richter split goaltending duties with the Rangers’ veteran starter, John Vanbiesbrouck, and was selected to play for the U.S. in the 1991 Canada Cup tournament.
Vanbiesbrouck was selected by the Florida Panthers in the 1993-94 NHL expansion draft. Richter then had his first campaign as the team’s number-one goaltender. He posted a career-best 42 wins and 2.57 goals-against average as the Rangers won the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top regular-season team for the second time in three years. He was also named Most Valuable Player of the NHL All-Star Game, which the Rangers hosted at Madison Square Garden that year. In the playoffs, he ramped up his play, becoming the eighth goaltender to post four shutouts in one playoff season. The Rangers reached the Stanley Cup Finals against the Canucks, and Richter earned a career highlight in Game 4, famously stopping Vancouver sniper Pavel Bure on a penalty shot. The Rangers defeated the Canucks in seven games to win their first Stanley Cup since 1940.Over the next few years, Richter would be consistently ranked among the world’s top goaltenders. He led the United States to victory in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, with his efforts earning him tournament Most Valuable Player honors. Injuries plagued much of his career with everything from MCL sprains, ACL sprains and concussions. At some points they occurred together, but he worked hard to rehabilitate his injuries to always make the return to the ice.
Richter’s style of play was very acrobatic and quick. For a small goalie he made himself look big by using his lightning quick reflexes to make saves. He was rarely out of position and always square to his shooters. He was known for making plenty of desperation and sometimes unbelievable saves using his focus, flexibility, and athleticism. Longtime teammate and Hall of Fame Ranger defenseman Brian Leetch once said this about Richter:
“I have never seen anyone more focused than he was. As the game got tougher, he got better. If a goal was ever scored on him I was always surprised.”
His last appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs would be 1997, as a series of knee injuries and a string of mediocre Ranger teams saw his personal statistics suffer. Nevertheless, he was selected as the top goalie for Team USA in the 1998 and 2002 Olympics, winning a silver medal in the 2002 Games. A year later a skull fracture and concussion forced him to retire, but not until after he became the first Ranger to record 300 wins. He finished his career as the Rangers all-time leader in wins, later surpassed by Henrik Lundqvist.
Richter’s jersey (#35) became the third number retired by the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on February 4, 2004. Though he played his entire career for the Rangers, he twice changed teams between seasons due to a quirk in the NHL rules of free agency, returning to the Rangers each time. Upon his retirement and having played his entire career in New York, the Rangers posted the quote of “Once a Ranger Always a Ranger” from everything to posters, websites, bill boards and arenas. The phrase is still seen all over the place in and near Madison Square Garden.