After spending her rookie season with the Metropolitan Riveters, Audra Richards played her second season in the NWHL a bit closer to home after signing with the Minnesota Whitecaps. She played in all 16 games as a rookie, putting up eight goals and another two goals in two playoff games.
She followed that up with 20 points (9g-11a) in 24 games for her hometown team and added some real scoring punch to the defending champs. The roster had taken a hit with the defections of some players and Richards, a native of Maplewood, Minnesota, helped to make it look like the team didn’t miss a beat at times this past season.
“I think a lot of her success this past year is the culmination of how hard she works, and how much she wants it,” said Allie Thunstrom, her good friend and teammate last season.
Joining a Juggernaut
“Coming into the year we were the defending champs and I think she felt like she had something to prove (I get it, but she didn’t have to prove anything) and she worked her a$$ off all summer out make sure she was in great shape, worked on her killer shot, and was ready for the season.”
The defending champs were heating up when the season ended abruptly before the Isobel Cup Final was postponed and then eventually canceled. Minnesota finished the season on an 11-1-0 tear and anyone on the team was capable of taking over. Whether it was Richards, Jonna Curtis, Amanda Boulier, or league co-MVP Thunstrom – someone was going to step up and score the goal that the Whitecaps needed to clinch another victory.
“From day one she proved herself, made great plays and put herself in positions to score. She has a knack for finding and getting to the net, and if you get the puck on her stick she will find a way to put it home,” added Thunstrom.
Goal Scorer’s Touch
In college at the University of Maine, Richards averaged just over ten goals per season and that success/trend is obviously carrying over at the pro level. In true hockey player fashion, the recently-turned 26-year-old is quick to defer the accolades of her success to her teammates.
“I would say my game definitely developed a lot over the past year,” Richards said with a laugh. “Having great linemates makes life easy too, and communication is big. I started gaining confidence this season because I would just give Allie the puck and she would skate coast-to-coast and I would get an assist when she scored. I figured out that if I give the puck away I could also help the team!”
“But I have such great teammates that not only hold me accountable for my passing, but they know I can shoot the puck and they want me to shoot as well,” the two-time NWHL All-Star added. “We’re all on the same page and we really want to succeed, we’ll do anything to make that happen.”
If you haven’t seen Richards play you should know she is relentless on the ice. She has a quick first step, can often read plays before they happen, and uses the long wingspan of her 5’8” frame to her advantage. And when she’s got the hot stick, its best to keep feeding her the puck because chances are her shot will find the back of the net.
An underrated part of her game – discipline. In 40 regular-season games, she has taken a grand total of three minor penalties. In three playoff games she has one penalty, so that’s obviously something she’ll have to work on.
“She never gives up on plays – and I’m by no means saying she did before – but I can think of several instances this year where she literally fought off or powered through a defender to get down the ice and score,” Thunstrom recently said of her teammate.
“There was one game, I think it was against the Riveters, where she battled at our blue line for the puck and fought through the pinch to make a 2-on-1 happen and then she sniped a shot over the goalie’s shoulder. Then you look at some of her other goals, she’s powerful in front of the net and wins those battles,” recalled Thunstrom. “It’s super impressive, and I think it’s something our team really needed; she brought that and more.”
It’s All Fun and Games Until You Get an Assist
During her rookie season with the Rivs, I would often tease Richards about not having any assists (8g-0a), but this season she showed me who’s boss and finished with more assists (11) than goals (9). That success is a byproduct of the chemistry and confidence that fills the Whitecaps roster and, as Richards pointed out, her evolution as a player.
“I think as she settled in throughout the season, the big joke was she wanted her first NWHL assist and passed up a few good shooting opportunities for that pass, but once she got it I think she relaxed a bit,” Thunstrom added. “The chemistry the two of us had together was awesome, but the chemistry Audra, Steph (Anderson), and Barnesy (Lauren Barnes) had was unreal – they moved the puck so well and really complemented one another. Just watch their tic-tac-toe goals from the Buffalo series and our Saturday home game against Boston. Pretty stuff!”
Richards concurred, saying, “I love my line (with Lauren Barnes and Stephanie Anderson). Once we start clicking I don’t think any defenders can stop us.”
“I’m just really confident with all of our lines on the Whitecaps. Every time we hit the ice we don’t know who is going to score but we know one of will score because we have that determination and we’ve really started to click more,” Richards went on to explain. “We have an amazing line with Thunstrom, Curtis, and Pezon, then we have Schammel, Lorence, and Schmid.”
Richards hasn’t officially signed with the Whitecaps for the upcoming season, but it would be a shock if she wasn’t a part of the still-defending champions for another season. With her on the ice again in Season 6, the Minnesota fans can count on Richards leaving it all out on the ice every single game.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.