Like any proud son of Minnesota, Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards was raised to hold any level of hockey in high regard. Olympic hockey was viewed in an almost mythical light in the birthplace of legendary coach Herb Brooks.
So when Richards was asked over the weekend to serve as an assistant coach for the United States at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, he was slightly staggered and thoroughly delighted.
“I was 13 years old during the ‘Miracle on Ice,’ ” Richards said, referring to the 1980 U.S. men’s team winning gold. “That changed lives and inspired a lot of people, and I was one of them.
“Being a part of the Olympics isn’t so much a goal for me as it was a dream, a pretty distant dream. You set goals to attain them, and I didn’t know if coaching in the Olympics was something I’d ever achieve.”
Richards’ appointment was made yesterday by USA Hockey, along with Peter Laviolette, coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, and Tony Granato, assistant coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Dan Bylsma, the Penguins’ coach, was named coach of Team USA last month.
David Poile, general manager of the Nashville Predators, is Team USA’s GM.
Richards is close with Poile and Bylsma, having worked with them during his American Hockey League days in the Nashville and Pittsburgh organizations.
“We have a knowledge of him as a person and as a coach,” said Poile, who also had a hand in picking Richards as an assistant at the 2010 world championships in Germany. “You’re looking for the right chemistry, and Todd certainly seems to have that chemistry with all of us here.”
Richards said the assistants roles have not yet been defined, but will be in the coming weeks. Team USA’s orientation camp is Aug. 26-27 in Arlington, Va. The Olympic tournament will run Feb. 12-23.
“This is a big deal to me and my family,” Richards said. “I remember in 2010 for the gold-medal game (United States vs. Canada) in Vancouver, my whole family gathered to watch it — moms, dads, sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews. I’m sure they’re going to do the same thing this time, except I get to be there.”
Richards likely will coach Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson, who was invited to Team USA’s camp and is seen as a virtual lock to play in his second straight Olympics.
The Blue Jackets could have as many as six players in the Olympics.
Four Russians — center Artem Anisimov, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and defensemen Nikita Nikitin and Fedor Tyutin — were invited to Russia’s camp on Monday.
Also, winger Marian Gaborik is a lock to represent Slovakia for the third straight Olympics.