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Richards steps up as new Flyers captain

At the end of last season, with the playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins still fresh, Mike Richards was asked if he wanted to be the next Flyers captain.

At the end of last season, with the playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins still fresh, Mike Richards was asked if he wanted to be the next Flyers captain.

The question made Richards uneasy. He was still one of the younger players on the team, last year's captain Jason Smith was still a Flyer, and, well, the timing wasn't right.

So Richards, 23, a center entering his fourth season with the club, said he wasn't ready, didn't want the job, was still learning how to be a leader at this level.

Given some time to think things over while fishing this summer, Richards, the team's MVP last season, decided to accept the challenge if the chance came again.

The chance did come, and yesterday Richards was named the Flyers' 17th captain. Kimmo Timonen and Simon Gagne were named alternates.

"Mike carries a lot of the attributes that we believe a Philadelphia Flyer is all about," said general manager Paul Holmgren. "He is a hard-nosed kid and he has the skill and drive that it takes to excel in the National Hockey League. At this time, we just think that he is the right guy to lead us on the path we want to follow."

Richards is not unfamiliar with the position. He was captain of his junior team and world junior team, leading Canada to a championship in 2005.

He was an alternate captain last year and has been a leader on the ice since joining the Flyers. Last season Richards established himself as one of the best young players in the league, an example of what it takes to win.

But his respect for the veterans on the team brought about the answers he gave last spring. When Smith signed with Ottawa in the offseason, Richards started to reconsider.

"I thought about it over the summer," Richards said. "I had some conversations with [coach John Stevens] and Paul [Holmgren] and I kind of thought about it sitting around on my boat.

"I learned a lot from Gator [Smith] last year. He is a great leader and probably one of the best that I have been around. I've kind of done it throughout my career, so I have learned through different people and being around Kimmo and Danny [Briere] last year, it makes it easy when you have so many great leaders and great players around you that you don't have to do too much."

It's already shaping up to be a big year for Richards, with his 12-year contract extension kicking in and now the addition of the "C" to his jersey.

"The stakes are higher, but I think it's all the same," he said. "You don't want to change anything because that is when you are going to get into trouble or try to do too much and that is when you start getting away from doing the things that made you successful.

"I am just going to try and do the same things and not worry too much about having the letter on my jersey. You just have to do the same things that you have done throughout your life."

As far as his coach is concerned, all Richards has to do is be himself.

"He is being chosen because of who he is," Stevens said. "Not something that we want him to become. I think that he will get better as a leader.

"Mike Richards is a player who has all the characteristics that we want on our team. We want a guy out there, when he plays, who represents the identity of our hockey team and I think that Mike is all that."

In making the decision, Stevens said he talked with Richards about the answers he gave at the end of last season, and asked him if he really wanted the job.

"I did talk to him about that," Stevens said. "I just wanted to make sure that he felt comfortable with the responsibility of being captain here.

"It was a little unfair to ask Mike that question a day or 2 after the season. I think in his mind everybody that was on our team was still on our team, and as a player, you don't think of who might not be here. So I think it was an indication of Mike and the respect that he has for the veteran players on our team, and that included Jason Smith at the time." *

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