Luke Richardson’s daughter is never far from his thoughts — or his heart.
The Montreal Canadiens assistant wears a pin on his lapel in Daron’s memory every time he steps behind the bench after the family lost her to suicide in 2010 at age 14.
And despite the chaotic, emotional moments immediately following Richardson’s first win as an NHL head coach Friday — a thrilling overtime victory in the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs — he made sure to gently tap and blow a kiss to the reminder on his chest.
“It feels like a long time ago,” Richardson said Saturday of Daron’s death. “But sometimes it feels like yesterday.
“I just thought it was a perfect time to pay a little tribute to her.”
The pin the 52-year-old attaches before every game is in honour of the Do It for Daron movement and its focus on youth mental health that started through the Royal Ottawa Hospital in the aftermath of his daughter’s passing.
“Important discussions that we need to have,” said Richardson, who was an assistant coach with the Ottawa Senators from 2009 through 2012. “It’s not an easy conversation, but we’re proud of what the organization has done.
“Daron is always in my heart, and in our hearts.”
Richardson stepped into the pressure-packed head coaching role for Montreal’s 3-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights after Dominique Ducharme’s positive COVID-19 test hours before puck drop. The win gave the Canadiens a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven semifinal.
WATCH | Canadiens take series lead through Anderson’s OT tally:
A difficult situation for everyone, Richardson didn’t miss a beat with the help of fellow assistants Alexandre Burrows and Sean Burke as the Canadiens recovered from a tough start — they were outshot 30-8 through two periods — to maintain home-ice advantage ahead of Sunday’s Game 4.
“It’s very inspiring,” second-year Montreal centre Nick Suzuki said of Richardson’s journey. “He’s been a great coach for me. I’ve learned a lot.”
A veteran of nearly 1,500 games as a bruising defenceman, Richardson is in his seventh season as an NHL assistant, and also spent four years in charge of the AHL’s Binghamton Senators.
He raised a glass to Daron along with his wife, Stephanie, late Friday, but the couple’s other daughter, Morgan, a high school teacher in Boston, couldn’t be there because of pandemic border restrictions.
WATCH | Habs’ Ducharme in isolation following positive COVID-19 test:
“We’re proud of both the girls,” Richardson said. “Daron in our hearts and Morgan, we’re thinking of her as well, not being able to be here. Stephanie and I enjoyed the evening and took it all in.
“It’s definitely very special.”
Ducharme’s status remains unclear
Richardson didn’t have an update on when Ducharme will be allowed to return behind the bench, but simply going by NHL and Quebec government protocols, it seems unlikely he’ll be back before the end of the third round.
“He’s missing being with us,” Richardson said. “And we miss having him.”
Canadiens centre Eric Staal, meanwhile, was impressed with how the assistant coaches managed Friday.
“If it’s going to be Luke for a while yet in that situation, we’re comfortable with that,” said the 36-year-old. “We’re all in this together.”
Fleury moving on
Marc-Andre Fleury is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender, but one moment Friday is likely to live forever on sports blooper reels.
The Vegas netminder made an inexcusable gaffe behind his net with under two minutes to go in regulation, gifting the equalizer to Josh Anderson.
WATCH | Fleury’s devastating error leads to Canadiens’ late equalizer:
The big winger then won it in OT on a 2-on-0 break with Paul Byron when the Canadiens caught the Golden Knights on a bad line change.
“Been through some of these before,” said the 36-year-old Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup champion. “The series is still young and there’s lots of hockey to be played.”
Suzuki, Caufield connection
While the Fleury mistake got most of the attention, Staal made an egregious error of his own on the Knights’ opening goal when he inexplicably fed a pass in front of his own net that was intercepted by Nicolas Roy, who in turn beat the stellar Carey Price up high.
“Mistakes happen and plays are made that you regret,” Staal said. “What makes great teams [is] the ability to keep an even keel, keep level-headed, keep playing.”
Suzuki and Canadiens rookie Cole Caufield took care of that by combining for the latter’s second goal of the post-season just 38 seconds later to even the score 1-1.
“You want to bounce back after any turnover that gets in the net,” Suzuki said. “I’m sure if it was me turning the puck over, Staalsy’s line would have stepped up.”
Life on the edge
Vegas finished second in the standings, 23 points up on Montreal, but needed seven games to beat the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the playoffs.
The Golden Knights then fell behind 0-2 to the Colorado Avalanche — the only team with a better regular-season record — before winning four straight.
But Vegas head coach Pete DeBoer was having none of the assertion his team is making life difficult for itself.
“The bottom line is you just want to keep advancing,” he said with an amused tone during a media availability Saturday. “I don’t understand where your question is coming from.
Asked for his thoughts on a roller-coaster pandemic season that included a trade from the last-place Buffalo Sabres and a memorable post-season with Montreal, Staal took a hard pass of his own.
“I’m in the moment and we’ve got two more wins to get to the dance — that’s my focus,” he said. “It’s been a year, not just for me, but for people close to me, people that are in this league, people on this team.
“It’s something else, but I don’t want to put that all into perspective until we get it all done.”
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