TAMPA, Fla. — Todd Richards never looked at himself as a pioneer. But he played a part in laying the foundation for pro hockey in Las Vegas.
Richards, an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning, was an original member of the Las Vegas Thunder, which played from 1993 to 1999 in the International Hockey League. Back then, he could only dream that one day Las Vegas would be an NHL city.
“I think it’s great,” Richards said of the Golden Knights prior to Thursday’s game at Amalie Arena. “I remember with the Thunder we had great crowds at the Thomas & Mack, and the fans were great to us. But nobody was thinking of Vegas as an NHL city back then.”
Richards, a defenseman, played two seasons with the Thunder and loved his time in Las Vegas.
“I brought my boat to Lake Mead and I’d hang out with Clint Malarchuk at his ranch where he had emus and we’d ride horses,” Richards said. “We had a really good team that first year, and I’ve got nothing but great memories of my time with the Thunder.”
Thursday marked the 60th anniversary of Willie O’Ree becoming the first black player to compete in an NHL game. O’Ree, a forward, played for the Boston Bruins against the Canadiens at the Montreal Forum on Jan. 18, 1958.
“I got to meet him while I was with the Bruins organization, and he was a very impressive guy,” goaltender Malcolm Subban said of O’Ree, who is 82 and works for the NHL as its director of youth development. “My father told us stories about him when we were kids and how important he was to the game.”
Center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who met O’Ree when Bellemare was a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, said he’s proud of the work O’Ree has done to promote the game and thinks O’Ree would be proud of what the Knights are trying to do to get kids involved with hockey.
“I like how we’re trying to get into all the communities in Las Vegas and give kids a chance to try hockey,” Bellemare said. “It’s an expensive game to play, but with the ‘Learn to Play’ program and other programs, we’re seeing kids who want to play.”
No action on Carrier
The league decided not to pursue action against Will Carrier for his hit on Nashville’s Ryan Johansen on Tuesday.
Carrier leveled Johansen with a heavy check against the boards late in the second period. Johansen left the game and did not return. Carrier was not penalized.
1. Gallant’s return. Gerard Gallant was fired by the Panthers in November 2016. On Friday, he returns to Sunrise, where he’s still beloved by Florida fans. Expect a warm welcome for the coach of the Golden Knights.
2. Back to work. The Panthers return to the ice for the first time since Jan. 12, and they have lost four of their past five. They are allowing more than three goals a game and could be in for a long night, as the Knights look to get their offense cranked up.
3. Containing Huberdeau. Panthers center Jonathan Huberdeau leads the team with 44 points (16 goals, 28 assists). He is an excellent playmaker. The Knights did a good job against him in the first meeting Dec. 17, keeping Huberdeau off the scoresheet and limiting him to one shot attempt.