From the moment Brad Richards was signed, just 12 short hours before the deadline last July, until his blades first graced NHL ice this fall, there was a frenzy surrounding the rookie. The media raved about the Prince Edward Island native, fans lusted over the potential of the young Rimouski superstar and cup dreams in Tampa Bay became more vivid. The high-held belief was that Richards, along with Captain and junior linemate Vincent Lecavalier, would be the one-two punch needed to send the Lightning into its’ second playoff berth in their 9-year existence. It was soon realized that Richards and Lecavalier could not carry the weight of the team alone, as the Bolts lost 8 of their first 11 games.
Richards did not let the Lightning’s misfortunes hold him back. He finished the month of October with 11 points in 10 games, earning himself NHL Rookie of the Month honors. Although his play slacked soon after, Richards has still managed to establish himself as one of the top rookies in the league. He is currently leading all NHL rookies in goals scored, assists, total points and power play points. Richards is also tied with winger Fredrik Modin for the team scoring lead, with 35 points.
Richards is in a tight race with San Jose goaltender Evgeni Nabokov for the Calder Trophy. In 37 games, Nabokov has a 2.05 GAA and a .922 save percentage, tough competition. Due to an injury to Lecavalier, Richards should see his ice time significantly increase, as well as his scoring chances. Hopefully, this will be the break Richards needs to catch the attention of the league and propel himself a little higher in the race for the Calder.
Elsewhere in the world of hockey, 2000 1st round draft pick, Nikita Alexeev, is tearing up the OHL. In 39 games with the Erie Otters this season, he has almost matched his point totals from last year (53). While playing alongside Brad Boyes, Alexeev has scored 18 goals and added 31 assists. This places him 3rd on the team in scoring, behind Boyes and Jason Baird. Part of his success is attributed to a 9-game point streak that lasted from December 14th until January 6th, in which Alexeev racked up 16 points. He is also leading the 3rd ranked Otters with a plus-23 rating. In his last game before the All-star break, Alexeev scored 2 goals to help Erie to a 3-3 draw with Guelph. He was named the 1st star of the game.
Who’s Hot? Martin Cibak, who is one of the biggest surprised for the Vipers this season. He is ranked second in the league amongst rookies in scoring, behind Cleveland’s Pavel Patera and just ahead of linemate Dimitri Afanasenkov. A 9th round draft selection, expectations were minimal for the former Medicine Hat Tiger. Cibak has spent the majority of the season playing between Nils Ekman and Afanasenkov. The combo has been explosive for the Vipers. Ekman is leading the team in scoring, while Cibak is tied with Jason Podollan for second. Afanasenkov is ranked a close third.
Who’s Not? Goaltender Evgeny Konstantinov has struggled greatly behind a poor Viper defense. In 20 games this season, Konstantinov is 4-10-2. He has a team worst 4.69 GAA and .842 save percentage. Konstantinov has been pulled in his last two starts. In the last game before the All-star break, a 2-6 upset by Orlando, Konstantinov allowed 6 goals in 14 shots.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning have lost 8 of their last 9 games. Including an 8-3 blowout in Ottawa, which prompted the firing of Head Coach Steve Ludzik. Assistant John Tortorella promptly replaced Ludzik. Craig Ramsey was also added to the payroll as an assistant. Management is hoping the change will spark the young troops, who will be without Captain Vincent Lecavalier for at least 2 weeks, due to a broken bone in his foot.
Detroit’s 9-game losing streak was snapped yesterday, when they downed the Cyclones 3-2 in overtime. Kyle Freadrich had a goal and an assist in his first game back after a month long stint with Tampa Bay. He was named the 1st star of the game. Kochan was solid in net, making 32 saves. The Vipers are now 12-22-6 this season.
Johnstown is ranked 4th in the Northwest division of the ECHL, with a 16-20-4 record.