Forward Stephane Richer is one of the unsung heroes of the NHL. Although the talented winger won two Stanley Cups and had two 50-goal seasons, he may not be a household name among today’s hockey fans.
The righty’s lethal shot, speed, and big frame was a combination that produced 421 goals and 819 points in the NHL as well as 53 goals and 98 points in the Stanley Cup playoffs. One could compare him to today’s players like Blake Wheeler, Leon Draisaitl, or Mark Stone; his fans, however, will think he was one of a kind.
Born in Ripon, Quebec on June 7, 1966, Richer has fought his inner demons — to tragic proportions — but was victorious on and off the ice. He won the Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 1986. He racked up 50 goals in 1987-88 and topped that with 51 tallies two years later.
Richer’s tenure with the New Jersey Devils began in September 1991. In a big-time trade, Montreal dealt him and Tom Chorske to the Devils for Kirk Muller and Roland Melanson.
The Devils made the playoffs in all Richer’s first three seasons — he scored 29, 38, and 36 goals, respectively — but the best was still to come. In 1994-95, he played a leading role in the Devils’ very first Stanley Cup triumph.
Richer Leads Devils’ Scoring
Praises will be sung to Devils’ first Cup heroes like Scott Stevens, John MacLean, Ken Daneyko, and Martin Brodeur — and quite deservedly so. On the other hand, the fact that Richer led the team in points is a story more seldom told.
The 1994-95 regular season was shortened to 48 games due to the preceding lockout. Richer was the Devils’ team-best in goals (23) and points (39). He collected 15 assists and 21 points, both team highs, in the playoffs.
After the lockout, the Devils finally took the ice on Jan. 22, 1995. Richer rose to the occasion right away. He scored the Devils’ first goal of the season and provided the assist to Bob Carpenter’s game-tying goal. The game ended in a tie, 2-2.
Richer scored two goals against the Quebec Nordiques on Feb. 2, including his first game-winning goal of the season. His season highlights also featured a three-point night against the Washington Capitals and a four-pointer (two goals, two assists) against the New York Islanders.
The Devils finished second in the Atlantic Division and qualified for the playoffs after winning 22 of their 48 games. The regular-season powerhouse (33 wins) that season was the Detroit Red Wings, the team that would face the Devils in the Stanley Cup Final two months later.
The Stanley Cup Run: Richer Leads Again
The Devils, coached by Jacques Lemaire, kicked off the playoffs against the Boston Bruins. Richer started with a bang — in the first two games in Boston, he scored two goals (both game-winners) and six points.
Richer had eight points in five games against the Bruins. The Devils took home the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, 4-1. In the Conference Semifinals, the Devils eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. Richer tallied a goal and added four assists.
The Philadelphia Flyers, led by Eric Lindros, John LeClair, and Mikael Renberg — the Legion of Doom — came up next. The first five games were won by the visiting team. After Game 5 in Philly, the Devils led, 3-2.
On June 13, 1995, a home win finally came. The Devils defeated the Flyers, 4-2. Richer scored the Devils’ opener and had an assist on Claude Lemieux’s goal as the Devils secured their first-ever trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
Richer Goes Point-Per-Game in the Final
Prior to the Final, the Red Wings had lost just two playoff games. That number soon doubled as the Devils won twice in Detroit, with Richer scoring a goal in each game. Back home in Jersey, the Devils took Games 3 and 4 (Richer adding two assists), both by the score of 5-2. The Devils were the Stanley Cup champions.
The Devils deserved the victory, although not everybody liked the team’s defense-first approach and “trap” tactics. That was just part of the story, however. “Guys like MacLean, Neal Broten, Claude and I, we’re asked to do a little less defensively and take more chances,” Richer told the Los Angeles Times (from “No One Stays Neutral About Devils’ Trap”, Los Angeles Times – 1995/6/22).
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“To win a game, sometimes you have to cheat on the system a little bit. On the other hand, Jacques would never accept a guy who only thinks about offense and makes mistakes on defense. It took me a while to realize that a good defensive team always has a lot of offensive chances.”
Richer: A True Devils Hero
The Stanley Cup win with the Devils was a point of no return for Richer. He never had a 50-point season again and moved back to Montreal for the 1996-97 season. He also had unspectacular spells with the Tampa Bay Lightning, St. Louis Blues, and Pittsburgh.
On March 19, 2002, Pittsburgh traded Richer back to New Jersey. He finished his NHL career a month later after the Devils’ unsuccessful playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes. In 360 games with the Devils, he scored 283 points (147 goals, 136 assists) and added 16 goals and 40 points in 54 playoff contests.
There’s a darker side to Richer’s story. He has been candid about his mental health struggles. He has suffered from depression since childhood and even attempted suicide more than once; he told The Star that one of the attempts took place just days after the Devils’ Cup triumph in 1995. (from ‘Stéphane Richer, Darryl Strawberry, Clara Hughes tell Michael Landsberg of depression struggle,’ The Star, 02/08/2012) Fortunately, his life has been better since then. He’s played plenty of games with the Canadiens alumni; in January 2020, he appeared in a charity game in Pointe-Claire, Quebec.
Richer may not have won all his inner battles but on the ice, he became a true Canadiens and Devils hero – and nothing will take that away from him. “I think the best time in my career was in New Jersey,” Richer told The Star-Ledger in 2013. “I’m proud of that time.”