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Brad Richards faces Rangers for first time since signing with Chicago

Brad Richards of the Chicago Blackhawks skates against

Brad Richards of the Chicago Blackhawks skates against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014 in Uniondale, New York. Credit: Jim McIsaac

CHICAGO - Reunions often are notable occasions in the NHL, events that can add a splash of personality and an edge of extra intensity to a game.

Fired coaches, if they are fortunate enough to be re-hired, eventually direct teams from the visitors' bench in a familiar building, to applause or disdain. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault did so when he coached the Blueshirts in Vancouver and Montreal last season.

But more often, the reunions involve traded players. Many enjoy catching up with friends who now are former teammates, sometimes having dinner the night before a game.

And players who have been shipped out have a little more desire to prove, at least for one game, that their former front office made a mistake.

Some of those scenarios will unfold Sunday night at United Center when Blackhawks center Brad Richards, the veteran who played three years for the Rangers before being bought out of the final six years of his nine-year, $60-million contract last summer, faces his former mates for the first time.

Richards, 34, who signed a one-year, $2-million contract with the Blackhawks, has done all right. He now is married, with a son, and has nine goals and 23 assists. He has averaged about 14:45 a night in 62 games with the Blackhawks, who are headed for another playoff berth in the Western Conference.

In Richards' last two full seasons with the Rangers, his game tailed off as the season rolled on, but his impact was undeniable. Center Derek Stepan recalled Saturday that Richards "sat next to me in the next stall here [at the team's practice complex] for those years and I learned everything. He taught me so much."

Richards organized practices during the NHL lockout that wiped out the first half of the 2012-13 season, and when Rangers captain Ryan Callahan was traded to Tampa Bay last April, Richards stepped in as the de facto captain. His leadership helped guide the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1994.

"He came early, stayed late and definitely loved being at the rink with these guys and talking, not just hockey stuff, there was other stuff going in their lives," defenseman Ryan McDonagh, the current captain, said Saturday.

"He just really tried to show his passion for the game, his love and his work ethic, something you definitely can't teach. You either have it or you don't, and you just try to spread that throughout the room so guys can all buy in and make sure they're that much more prepared and that much more focused for a game."

New York Sports