Mike Richter: Cup champ, Ivy Leaguer, environmentalist

Matt Larkin
Mike Richter

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.”

Richter’s Ivy League degree included a focus on environmental policy. In the age of global warming, he was increasingly concerned about how efficiently businesses used their resources. First, he became a partner in Environmental Capital Partners, a $100-million private equity fund that focused on resource efficiency. Today, Richter’s primary venture is a company he co-founded: Healthy Planet Partners. It focuses on making businesses greener by equipping or, as Richter explains it, “retrofitting” their buildings with more efficient ways to deploy their energy.

A lot of Richter’s inspiration to make free-market businesses more efficient comes from memories of his playing career. He recalls the way he and the Rangers would shake their heads at the team practice facility in Rye, N.Y. The building was beautiful, Richter says, and the movie Big even filmed scenes there, but it was in constant disrepair, full of leaks. The players would cross their fingers hoping the power would work.

“You had this really high trained and high-performance team playing in this building that doesn’t perform well at all,” he says. “The same thing can be said for a lot of the buildings around here (in Greenwich, N.Y.). I don’t know too many businesses that put up with inefficiency, yet we do it in the environment a lot. So there’s huge opportunity there. It’s a cool thing, and I like the idea of being able to make these buildings perform up to the same capabilities, and make them as high-performing as, the athletes or employees that use them.”

Improving a building’s technology can be expensive, and that’s where Healthy Planet Partners comes in, financing anything from heating to lighting and solar panels, cutting energy costs by 20 per cent or more.

“The reason we exist is most people don’t have cash laying around to do it, but can save an awful lot if they do, even with the money we take as profit. It’s cool, and it’s great people I work with, and I’m learning a ton.”

It seems Richter is just getting started. Seeing what he’s capable of now, it’s clear he was always more than just a jock. What made him such a good big-game goaltender was, above all else, ambition. His body has aged, but his desire to challenge himself is as powerful as ever.

Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blogFor more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazineFollow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin