They say National Lacrosse League goaltenders get better with age. If that’s the case, the rest of the league will have its hands full with 24-year old, Stealth goaltender Tyler Richards for a long time.
When you watch Richards play, you get a sense that he is wise beyond his years as he takes control of games with the savvy of a grizzled NLL veteran. He is always cool, calm and collected with a short memory for goals he allowed earlier in a contest. He doesn’t get rattled; a trait that only the top goaltenders in the NLL possess.
But it wasn’t always that way for the man known to Stealth followers as “T-Rich”.
“I used to have quite the temper,” he says with a laugh. “I would get so mad after every goal that got scored on me and it affected the rest of my game.”
It wasn’t until he started playing junior lacrosse for the Coquitlam Adanacs that he saw the error of his ways. His coach, Dan Perreault, gave him a book to read that Richards really took to heart. It was called Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence written by noted sport psychologist Gary Mack, illustrating the importance of mental toughness in an athlete.
“I used to read it before every game, “ he says. “It really helped me realize that once something happened, it happened and there was no use dwelling on it.”
Apparently, it worked. After four years of junior lacrosse in Coquitlam, the New Westminster Salmonbellies of the Western Lacrosse Association drafted him prior to the 2008 season and he made an immediate impact. He was named the 2008 Rookie of the Year in the WLA and a first team All-Star. He went on to another All-Star season in 2009 and has helped lead the Salmonbellies to three straight WLA titles and appearances in the Mann Cup Finals.
Despite his continuous growth as a player and his WLA draft stock rising throughout his junior career, Richards still hadn’t contemplated taking his game to the NLL. It wasn’t until a month before the 2007 NLL Entry Draft that it reached the forefront of his mind. He was drafted by the Stealth in the fourth round of the 2007 draft, and spent the 2008 season on the Stealth practice roster.
In 2009, Richards got the chance to see his first action in an NLL game. He played 280 minutes his rookie year, energizing a struggling Stealth squad late in the season and sparking a Stealth run into the NLL West Division Final. His posted a 3-1 record with a 10.08 goals against average and .803 save percentage en route to a spot on the NLL All-Rookie Team. He became just the third goaltender to make the All-Rookie team since the NLL began the honors in 2001.
Richards nearly doubled his minutes in 2010, and while his numbers fell slightly to an 11.40 goals against average and .771 save percentage during the regular season, he proved to be a big-game NLL netminder in the playoffs. He played all 180 minutes of the postseason, leading the Stealth to the title with a 10.66 goals against average and .807 save percentage, including a jaw-dropping 50 save performance in the Champion’s Cup Final against Toronto.
Aside from books on sport psychology, the humble Richards gives a lot of the credit for his NLL success to his teammates and coaches, in particular fellow goaltender Matt Roik.
“We both realize that having us both around makes us better,” Richards says of Roik, the pair sharing time the past three summers with the Salmonbellies as well. “When you spend that much time with a person, you become good friends and you root for each other. We push each other to get better.”
Together, Richards and Roik won the 2010 NLL Championship and three straight WLA titles with the Salmonbellies. Richards also credits Stealth goaltender coach Dave Evans with his continued growth between the pipes – and the ears.
“Coach Evans was able to help me work on things I never would have thought to work on,” he says. “He helped me prepare mentally for games and tweaked a few things that I never would have changed.”
2011 marks a new season for the Stealth and Richards, and with that a new set of goals and obstacles. But like the great players in any sport, Richards isn’t coming into the 2011 season satisfied with what he’s already accomplished.
“[The 2010 Champion’s Cup] was the first real championship I’ve won,” he says. “It’s still hard to put that feeling into words, but I know I want to feel it again. A lot of goalies have won championships. You want to go out there and prove it wasn’t a fluke; that we deserved to be the champs.”
Which NLL player is the toughest to play against?
Richards: John Grant Jr., you always have to be aware when he is out there as he is going to shoot everytime he gets his stick free.
What is your pregame routine?
Richards: I like to get to the arena at least 3 hours early and get out on the floor and throw the ball around. After that I will sit down for a stretch with out any of my gear on and loosen up. Prior to first warm-up I like to be the last guy in the dressing room and spend some time visualizing different things about the game. Lastly is to crush a 5 hour right before going out for the game.
What is playing on your iPod right now?
Richards: I'm really all over the place but country is the main thing.
If there was a movie made about your life, what would the title be and which actor would play you?
Richards: Canadian Psycho - Mark Wahlberg...I’m sure he has been in a worse movie than one about my life...
Which Stealth player has the best dance moves?
Richards: Anyone other than Hartzell...but probably TJ (Tom Johnson)
If you could have dinner with any three people throughout history, who would they be?
Richards: Lance Armstrong because I admire his perserverance and hunger to win.
Mother Theresa because she was one of the most selfless humans to ever walk the planet and we could all learn something from her. Jeremy Piven because in the company of the other two you would need some comic relief.
If you could have any superpower what would it be?
Richards: The ability to Teleport. Who wants to waste time flying when you can get there in a split second
What's your favorite part about road trips with your teammates?
Richards: Anyone who knows me knows this answer is playing cards. I think my favorite person to play with is either Dalgarno or Beers because i always know where the money is going to end up.
The best advice you've ever been given?
Richards: Attitude is everything and everything is attitude by my Grandpa.
If you weren't a lacrosse player, what other sport would you want to play?
Richards: I think i really missed my calling at ping pong. My defense is impregnable.