by Jackie Jenson
Photography by Thru Him Photography
Tom Ward, a former assistant hockey coach for the University of Minnesota mens hockey team, once described hockey as the original extreme sport and National Hockey League Hall of Famer Wayne Gretsky, described the game as, “A unique sport in the sense that you need each and every guy helping each other and pulling in the same direction to be successful.” For Detroit Lakes High School’s Jon Richards, hockey is both, plus a whole lot more.
“I like the pace and physicality of the game,” describes Richards. “It’s fast and exciting every time.”
For ten years and counting, the DLHS senior center has been practicing, playing and perfecting his game with regards to the frozen, fast-paced sport played in arenas and on ponds across the state of Minnesota almost year round these days.
Richards was introduced to hockey in the second grade. That is when he noticed a hockey flyer posted on a bulletin board at the Becker County Fair.
“I thought it looked like fun. Most kids start when they are five or six years old, so I knew I was coming to the game a little late.”
Richards caught up fast, though, by deploying a two-pronged attack of hard work and smart play to get up to speed quickly. A second year captain, Richards’ biggest attribute says DLHS Varsity Hockey coach Todd Dwyer, is his work ethic on and off the ice.
“He knows how to battle through adversity. Not everything is gonna go the way you want [during a game]. He knows you can’t let bumps in the road get you off track to accomplishing your goal,” explains Dwyer. “Jon also has great speed and an excellent shot,” adds the coach.
Richards’ love of the game is as philosophical as it is physical. In this respect, he notes hockey is a very mental game.
“There are so many challenges with hockey. Making a shot or play work is an amazing thing to be a part of,” says the starting center. “Defense is important, not to get scored on is the goal. You get the job done on defense and work to offense,” expounds Richards.
As captain, the goal is to get everyone on the same page. Managing a season, however with homework and college applications looming, is a different kind of unification project, but one Richards is glad to take on.
“Our current team has lots of talent and we have played together for a while now. This group of seniors and juniors has the skills to do something special,” explains Richards. “We have the same passion to win and make plays. There is a lot of talent coming up too and depth is the key to winning,” adds the senior captain.
Richards notes that not only has this particular team been playing together for a while, it is comprised of basically the same set of guys that as eighth and ninth graders, took the Minnesota Youth League State Championship.
“That was probably the favorite game I’ve played in, the Regional Youth League Finals against Hopkins. It came down to our very last game. Win it, and we have a shot at state: Lose, and we go home. We got to go on.”
With aspirations of playing college or maybe even professional hockey someday, Richards knows he needs to get bigger and stronger to do so – something accomplished in the off season with cycling (road and mountain) and weight training.
“This generation of players is very big and very strong. The game is fast. To play at the college level, means I need to work on skills and get bigger, stronger and faster too.”
Currently, his college goals include majoring in orthopedic surgery and possibly playing for University of Minnesota Duluth, the University of North Dakota or the granddaddy of all college hockey teams, the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.
“Jon wants to play in college. He has set goals and I believe he will achieve them,” says Coach Dwyer.
A fan of all things hockey, some of the current NHL players Richards likes to watch are Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins and Sydney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I like Bergeron because of his unique play on defense and Crosby is very good on offense,” offers Richards. “My favorite team to watch is the Edmonton Oilers. They are full of young talent.”
A three-sport athlete, Richards runs cross country in the fall, competes in hockey in the winter and plays tennis in the spring.
Cross country is new to the mix, though. Always preparing in whatever off-season he has, Richards joined the high school cross country team this year for two very different reasons: to continue to challenge himself physically in the fall to better prepare for the winter hockey season and for the opportunity to participate in a sport with one of his brothers.
With four active boys in the Richards’ home, each son has carved out their own sports path. Jake, 22, was a cross country skier and runner in high school; Jon, 18, plays hockey and tennis; Jack, 16 is a runner and skier; and Jens, 14, is a hockey devotee.
“Because of our ages, I knew this would be my only chance to be in a sport with my brother, Jack,” explains Jon. “It was fun to be able to run with him this year. Don’t know how well I did, but I learned a lot.”
Being on a hockey team, though, is a lot like being part of a family, a family where everyone comes together to get things done. And for a hockey team preparing for a winning season that sentiment holds true. Much like a family, they need to draw on each other’s talents to “get things done”, which in this case means getting to the Minnesota State High School League Tournament.
Says Coach Dwyer, “The top teams in Section 8 this year are East Grand Forks, Thief River Falls, and of course, Warroad. We have a lot good players; we need to learn from every experience this year to accomplish our goals.”
“Our challenge will be East Grand Forks,” notes Richards who is confident his team has the ability to compete in the section and earn a state birth this year.
The dictionary definition of hockey is as follows: “A game played on ice between two teams of six skaters each, the object being to score goals by shooting a puck into the opponent’s cage using a stick with a wooden blade set at an obtuse angle to the shaft.” This definition seems very simplistic after speaking with Richards who sees the game as complex and metaphoric.
“Hockey is such a mental game. You have to be very sport minded. You have to play smart and trust each other. Hockey is always a life lesson,” says Richards. “It helps you develop as a person, through its decision making and team work,” he concludes, summing up his thoughts on the sport.