It’s been one nostalgic spring in Manhattan, and with good reason. The New York Rangers can reach the final with a victory over Montreal at Madison Square Garden tonight, 20 years after they ended a 54-year Stanley Cup drought in one of the most memorable title runs in league history.
Retired goaltender Mike Richter, 47, appreciates the win just as much today, if not more. Bring up the 1994 Cup and he says he can talk about it all day. He ain’t kiddin.’ Ask him one question about that season and he answers your next four in one vivid sermon, recalling every detail of the season as if it was yesterday. He’s as articulate and enthusiastic an interview as you’ll find.
“You just didn’t want it to end,” Richter says. “You’re coming to that seventh game, and you realize, ‘Wow. It’s really over.’ You’ve been nose to the grindstone so long that it’s almost a sense of some relief, but also almost sadness that it’s over. We were in a really good place. You get into a rhythm, especially in a seven-game series. You play a game, you have a day off, you practice, you prepare, you go watch a movie, hang out with the guys, have a great meal, you get up, you practice, you play. That journey was really, really enjoyable. It was a rhythm where nothing else mattered in the world. and there was no place you’d rather be than right in that locker room with the guys, preparing, playing, recovering, and hitting the repeat button. That was your family, as it was all across the year. We were a really tight team. You just couldn’t wait to get to the locker room in the morning and hang out and laugh. It’s still like that when we get together.”
Richter has an uncanny ability to tell the story of 1994 blow for blow, but what makes him especially interesting is how much he’s done since then. He wasn’t content to bask in the glory days. After concussion woes ended his career in 2003, he decided he’d finish his education, which he’d started accumulating during his career as an occasional student during off-seasons. Richter went to Yale as a 40-year-old to earn a degree in ethics, politics and economics. For perhaps the first time in his life, he was a little intimidated, as most of the student population around him had a significant head start.
“It’s endlessly interesting,” Richter says. “It’s hard, because your whole life has been focused on one thing, and it quite literally changes overnight. No one is asking you to play anymore, you’re very good at a specific skill set, and where I think it applies to the rest of your life’s challenges is that you’re not one of 700 people that do something unique. And so you have to recognize that you’ve got a lot of learning to do. That was awesome.”