Former Yale netminder Alec Richards ’09 recently signed a two year, entry-level contract with the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks. Richards is currently in Switzerland competing for the U.S. Men’s National Hockey Team at the 2009 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship. (Christopher Higgins ’05 is also competing for the United States in the tournament.)

Richards had a school-record four shutouts this past season as he lead the team to its first ever ECAC Tournament Championship with a 19-5-1 record. He owns the school’s career save percentage record with a career .923 average, the record for career wins with 39, and his six career shutouts are the most ever by an Eli goaltender. Richards was named third-team All-ECAC, second-team All-Ivy League, and he made the ECAC All-Tournament Team, too.

Staff reporter Chris Merriman caught up with Richards after he finished practice in Bern on Wednesday.

Q What does it feel like to be headed to the NHL?

A It’s really a dream come true. I know the NHL is still a ways away, and right now I just have to focus on preparing for training camp.

Q When do you begin training? And what do you expect it to be like?

A I have been working hard ever since the season ended. Here in Switzerland it has been really great because I get to practice with the best players the USA has to offer. This has definitely given me a jump start on the summer.

Q When you were fighting for a starting spot midway through this season, could you have imagined yourself in this position at this time now?

A This entire year has been a formative experience. I was challenged every day to be better by two great goalies in Billy Blase [’10] and Ryan Rondeau [’11], and I think we all grew and became better goaltenders because of this year’s experience, but at the time I was focused on our team and the current season.

Q Prior to this season, had you considered heading to the NHL after college?

A I, like everyone at Yale, wanted to continue my hockey career after college. Luckily, I have been given the opportunity. The success of our team played an instrumental role in allowing me to continue my career.

Q What was the process of signing with Chicago like?

A It all happened pretty fast. After we finished the year, I talked with my agent, but things were basically out of my hands at that point as I have great representation.

Q You’re competing in the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship with former Yale forward Chris Higgins, how it been to experience that with another Yalie?

A I actually beat Higgy over here by a couple of days, so I had a room all to myself. He arrived and is now my roommate, and it has been a lot of fun to get to know him over the past couple of days. Yesterday we went for dinner at the famous Bern Bearpit. The bear was taking a hibernation break. The plan is to head back tomorrow to snap a few pictures.

Q How has playing with the national team been different than playing at Yale?

A It’s a little different schedule. There is a lot more freedom in the day to day operation. Other than that, hockey is hockey. Practice, meetings, meals, workouts and games. That stuff never changes.

Q What’s it feel like to represent the United States, and Yale Hockey, at the world championships?

A It’s an unbelievable opportunity. I couldn’t be more honored to be representing my country and Yale over here. We have a pretty good Ivy League contingent with Higgins, Lee Stempniak and myself. Yale has a great reputation with USA Hockey thanks to Coach [Keith] Allain and Coach [Tim] Taylor.

Q As a Minnesota native, were you a Wild fan growing up, or did you ever root for the Blackhawks?

A The Wild weren’t around when I was growing up. They started in 2000, so before that I was a fan of the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks. I had a Chris Chelios jersey and a Blackhawks Starter jacket.