At the first section of the year, a TA might ask students for their name, year and major, but not their autograph.
However, the average student does not have his number hanging from the rafters at Madison Square Garden, his name on Lord Stanley’s Cup, an Olympic silver medal, or a World Cup Championship on his resume. Mike Richter — who hung up his skates for the New York Rangers last year and recently became one of the newest members of Calhoun College — has all of those things, in addition to a resumed career as an undergraduate.
In 1987, following his second stellar season at the University of Wisconsin, Richter left to join the U.S. National Team. Seventeen years later, he has returned to full-time student life in New Haven, working towards his degree.
“I’ve always planned to go back to school,” Richter said. “My injury happened at a time when I wasn’t considering stopping at that moment, but my plan has always been [to go back to school].”
Richter retired Sept. 4, 2003, after sustaining multiple concussions, ending a 14-year career in which he set nine individual Rangers’ records. On Mike Richter Night Feb. 4, 2004, he became the third Ranger in history to have his number — 35 — retired. New York had drafted Richter 28th overall in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft.
Despite the satisfaction of having arguably the greatest career of an American goalie in hockey history, the Flourtown, Penn. native was forced to look beyond the confines of the hockey rink for his next step in life.
“I tried over the course of my career to be a person first, who happens to play a sport,” Richter said. “After [playing ice hockey] for almost 30 years, you identify yourself [with it] much more than I would have thought that I did. There is a sense of loss. Your identity and a lot of things are bound up in what you do, no matter what it is.”
By taking summer classes at both Columbia and Cornell, he stayed involved in the academic world throughout his playing career. Additionally, Richter thrived in the cultural and intellectual setting of New York City.
His decision to return to school has come as no shock to those who know him.
“I believe he looks at it as a great challenge,” said two-time NHL All-Star Mathieu Schneider, who was Richter’s teammate on the 1996 World Cup Team and two Olympic teams, as well as the Rangers from 1998-2000.
Back in the Philadelphia suburbs finishing his degree was something he often discussed.
“My dad and his mom have been real good friends for over 20 years now and constantly they talked about [it],” J.J. Reydel said.
Reydel and Richter were teammates in high school at Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, Penn., where Reydel’s father taught the future NHL star.
“[During his career] Mike was renowned for being one of those guys who wanted to live in the city, because that’s where the culture was. Sometimes it wasn’t even to advance to a degree. He was an intellectual guy,” Reydel said.
After entering retirement, selecting a school was the next big decision. Numerous factors went into choosing Yale, including the happiness of his then-pregnant wife and two kids. Yale’s Special Students program also attracted the Blueshirt legend to New Haven. The Richters purchased a home in Guilford earlier this year, and his wife, Veronica Richter, gave birth to their third son this summer.
Though Richter toured the campus this past January, it was not his first visit to Yale. As a goalie for the Northwood School of Lake Placid, N.Y., he was being recruited by Eli men’s hockey head coach Tim Taylor and faced off against Yale’s junior varsity team that same year.
“He’s always been an ‘Ivy League’ kind of kid academically,” said Taylor, who went on to coach Richter in the 1991 Canada Cup. “I saw him a kid who was a phenomenal talent. He had the intellect and the brain power of a kid we could recruit.”
But Taylor could not bring Richter to Yale then, as the highly sought-after goalie ended up choosing Wisconsin
“A lot of those trips, your impression is: What does the city look like, what the arena looks like, do they have a nice opposing locker room,” Richter said. “I didn’t really get a full flavor of the University.”
Taylor had more success the second time around, but Yale sold itself, Taylor said.
“I wanted to get the best education possible, but there is the reality that I’m 37 years old,” Richter said. “It would help to go to a place that has graduate students, that’s a little bigger. Yale has a great program for returning students.”
For a man who posted a 301-258-73 record in 666 career games, the best is nothing new. In 1994, he lifted the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years with a game-seven victory over the Vancouver Canucks. Richter had 28 saves in Game 7 and made plenty of highlight reels after stoning Pavel Bure on a penalty shot in Game 4. Two years later, he displayed similar heroics for his country — one of the reasons for his enshrinement on the All-Time USA Hockey Team. In his final international competition at the Salt Lake Games in 2002, Richter won a silver medal with the U.S. team.
His performance in the 1996 World Cup showed the world his dominance, as the U.S. team defeated Canada for the championship, winning the final two games of a best-of-three series. Richter earned tournament MVP honors for one of America’s greatest hockey accomplishments since the Miracle on Ice.
“We had a very close knit group of guys, we had a lot of fun together,” Richter said.
Both teammates and opponents were awed by Richter’s play — as he maintained an incredible level of focus — though perhaps they should have expected it.
Even as a teenager at Germantown, Richter simply did his own thing to get ready for games. His preparation paid dividends, with Germantown winning a state championship in 1983.
“His big thing before games, his routine: He would sit down, be in full equipment before everyone else, [peel] two oranges and eat them, [take out his] fourth-grade level skills book, and read it,” Reydel said. “You’d leave him alone, you’d let him get focused.”
The same type of ritual preparation carried on into the NHL.
“He stretched for hours and would run around the concourse at whatever arena we were in,” Schneider said. “The first was pretty normal, but the running was a little strange, never saw that before or since. His focus was there before every game and lasted for the whole game. I don’t think that it is natural. It’s trained or learned and takes a long time to develop.”
Aside from preparation and focus, Richter constantly sought perfection.
“He and I would often be the first guy [at practice], he would plop a bucket of pucks in front of me and he would say ‘Let’s go,’” Reydel said. “Every time he gave up a goal, [he would ask] ‘did I leave something open?’”
There is no reason to doubt that his perfectionism will translate to the classroom. Richter’s attitude provides insight into his success.
“[The key is] finding what are the parameters of what I need to do,” Richter said. “If I need to study seven hours for a test to get an ‘A’, then study seven hours. Do what you need to do. Everything’s got its challenges.”
Yalies who grew up in the greater New York area idolizing Richter will not be the only students reaping the benefits of his presence on campus. Richter is looking forward to transplanting some of his hockey knowledge to Yale’s own skaters at Ingalls Rink.
He will not be an official coach, and as a full-time student, parent, and husband, Yale hockey will not be his number one priority, but that is good enough for some Bulldogs.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity,” Eli netminder Josh Gartner ’06 said. “It’s going to be awesome. Any contact I could have with him would be a great opportunity.”
Gartner’s father, NHL Hall-of-Famer Mike Gartner played with Richter in New York from 1989-1994.
“He’d very much like to stay involved with the game of hockey,” Taylor said. “I’d love to have him work with our goalies and be a counsel for them. It’s still undetermined how much time he’s going to have. The more we’re able to have him involved, the better for our program.”
Richter envisions his role on the team as an opportunity to share his experience with the Bulldogs.
“I’m not going to be stepping on toes, telling anybody what to do, but if I can share it with the kids [and give] them some of my perspective, I will,” he said.
With the recent influx of Elis into the professional game, including the early departures of Chris Higgins ’07 and Joe Callahan ’06, Richter provides an excellent illustration of the potential for commitment to academics while pursuing a career in hockey.
“He’s a tremendous example of an athlete who has committed himself,” Taylor said. “There are lots of kids who do this, who never do what he’s done. When their careers are done, they’re faced with this huge uphill climb. What saddens me is so many kids who say they’re going to [get a degree] and don’t. It’s awfully important for kids to look at what Mike’s doing and learn from it.”
Aside from being a role model, Richter is just another student acquainting himself with Yale’s campus. Like many new students, he is in awe of the campus, looks forward to two of his favorite classes, Environmental Ethics and Classics of EP&E, and thinks of Calhoun as “a little bit of an extended family.”
“I loved what I did, but I have a new challenge, and I happen to be sharing that challenge with a lot of kids,” Richter said.
Motivated, intellectual and somewhat of a perfectionist — Richter might not be that different from his new peers.