Richardson set to lead Canada’s title defence at Spengler Cup

Luke Richardson. (CP/Adrian Wyld)

The joy of winning gold for Canada at the 1994 world hockey championship remains fresh in Luke Richardson’s mind.

A veteran of more than 1,400 NHL games over 21 seasons, the victory that ended the country’s 33-year title drought at the tournament was one of the high points in the bruising defenceman’s playing career.

"You remember that feeling," he said. "It was a great thing to be a part of."

Now the head coach for Canada at this year’s Spengler Cup, Richardson is hoping to make some new memories over the holidays.

The Canadians head into the six-team showcase tournament in Davos, Switzerland, as the defending champions, but as always face a number of challenges.

The five professional clubs based in Europe and Russia also taking part in the event are in the middle of their schedules, while Canada's roster is made up of a scattered group of non-NHL players plying their trades in leagues around the world.

Canada will have one full practice on Christmas Day before opening its round-robin schedule Boxing Day against Dinamo Minsk of the KHL.

"We've put a really unique group of men together," said the 47-year-old Richardson. "Some of them have never had the chance to play for Canada and their country. That's one of the most inspiring things. You can see the passion."

Richardson, who spent four seasons coaching the Ottawa Senators' AHL affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y., decided to part ways with the organization last spring in hopes of landing an NHL gig.

"I felt really good about the job I did and felt I was just ready for the next challenge, which is the NHL," he said. "Unfortunately there's only 30 jobs, so I have to be patient with that.

"I wanted to be a free agent for the next opportunity, and Hockey Canada has given it to me."

Richardson and his family endured the tragedy of his 14-year-old daughter Daron's suicide while he was an assistant coach in Ottawa, a nightmare that shook the community and the hockey world in 2010.

With his eldest daughter graduating college and moving to Boston this fall, he felt it was time to briefly step away from the game.

"After I retired as a player I really never took a break from hockey," he said. "Not that I ever wanted or needed one, I just never had one. This year was the right moment to take a break."

Richardson agreed to be an assistant under legendary coach Dave King at the Deutschland Cup in November. King will serve as an associate alongside Richardson at the Spengler Cup, which Canada has won 13 times.

"I lean on him every day," Richardson said of King. "I was fortunate to play for him (in Columbus) for one season. I learned a lot then.

"The Deutschland Cup was a learning experience every minute of every day. The work ethic this guy has is amazing, and a real positive in a short tournament."

The Canadians have five returnees from last year's team that won gold last year under head coach Guy Boucher. They include forwards Chris DiDomenico, Cory Emmerton and James Sheppard, defenceman Daniel Vukovic and goalie Drew MacIntyre.

Former NHLers Mason Raymond, Shaone Morrisonn, Gregory Campbell and Nick Spaling are also on the roster along with Montreal goaltending prospect Zach Fucale.

"Hockey Canada goes for gold at every event," said Richardson, who also played internationally at the 1987 world juniors and the 1996 worlds. "That's where the bar's set. We know that every night everybody's trying to knock you off."