Unless you were an opponent of his, who in the Hudson Valley doesn’t love Mike Richter? You know, No. 35 for the Blueshirts, the New York (Freakin’) Rangers, the ones who went 54 years without winning The Cup. They’re the same ones who, in Game 4 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals, faced a do-or-die penalty shot after Brian Leetch tripped Pavel Bure from behind. Like it was yesterday: Richter… Bure… the deafening crowd at Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver… the unbearable tension. Then, the save!
Richter’s rejection of Bure’s penalty shot seemed miraculous while setting up the Rangers’ date with destiny: Game 7, which Ranger captain Mark Messier guaranteed they’d win. Turning away 28 shots on goal, Richter helped make Messier’s prediction a reality — and an indelible piece of history, garnering the Blueshirts their first Stanley Cup Championship since 1940 (they haven’t won one since).
If you’re ever allowed back into Madison Square Garden, look up: No. 35 hangs from the rafters. Richter is also in the United States Hockey Hall of Fame. He won a gold medal at the 1996 World Cup, a silver medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics, and if all that weren’t enough, the NCAA Division I annual award for the best goaltender in men’s ice hockey is named the Mike Richter Award.
In 2003, during a game against the Edmonton Oilers, Richter took a knee to the forehead and suffered a concussion. It followed an incident only months earlier, in which Richter took a rising slap shot to the face mask, which fractured his skull.
And just like that, it was over.
“The retirement decision was taken out of my hands. The doctors wouldn’t clear me to play,” says Richter, who lives in Fairfield County, CT. “You know, if it was a knee or a shoulder [injury], I might have tried to come back, but not this and not at 38.”
So, what were the options for a champion athlete and New York hero whose career was cut short? The broadcast booth? The autograph circuit? A job coaching and hollering at refs?
Not exactly. His next arena was Yale University in New Haven. “At Yale, I was just another student. It was a real challenge,” Richter says, seeming to expect the writer to not call BS on the concept of a legendary Stanley Cup winner being the average campus undergrad.
“We’re figuring out a new paradigm for how the world needs to run. We can’t divorce ourselves from the environment from which we live, so it’s got to be clean.”
“You know, the professors really don’t care how your glove hand is, and they don’t ask what your goals-against-average is when you’re turning in a research paper. Besides, I was older, and I don’t know if the kids even knew who I was,” he says. Richter would go on to exit the Ivy League with a bachelor’s degree in ethics, politics, and economics, with a concentration in environmental policy.
Since then, Richter has thrown himself into environmentalism, serving on the boards of the Sierra Club and Riverkeeper in Ossining. For Richter, it’s more than just sitting around with nature lovers, pleading with everyone to recycle their bottles and cans. It involved literally putting his money where his mouth is.
In 2007, he cofounded Environmental Capital Partners, a private equity firm in Manhattan. Four years later, he cofounded and was managing partner of Healthy Planet Partners (HPP), a Greenwich-based company that retrofit commercial buildings with clean energy technologies to minimize energy consumption and environmental impact.
“You need non-governmental organizations; you need the capital markets; you need government to all work together because we’re figuring out a new paradigm for how the world needs to run,” Richter told NHL.com in 2016. “We can’t divorce ourselves from the environment in which we live, so it’s got to be clean.”
That same year, Richter accepted a position as president of an Armonk company named Brightcore, an energy-solutions firm that helps businesses reduce their reliance on fossil fuels while enhancing their energy efficiency and helping implement sustainable, green-energy resources.
When you ask him about it, the former ice giant reflexively pivots to the parlance of his corporate doppelgänger as quickly as he did in the crease at MSG.
“I’m afraid this description gets people going in the wrong direction,” says Richter. “This isn’t all about ‘sustainability’ or ‘being green,’ words that I find have ambiguous definitions. I would like to replace those words simply with the word better.”
Interestingly, the business occupies the same industrial park that once housed the Armonk Ramada. Back in the day, that Ramada was home to Ranger rookies during training camp, just 13 miles from the Rye Playland rink where the Blueshirts prepared for the season ahead. Though his daily commute may represent a blast from the past, Brightcore is a decidedly modern company, specializing in LED lighting, solar power, electric-vehicle chargers, battery storage, and renewable heating and cooling. Its mission is about better energy efficiency, better aesthetics, and better use of financial resources.
“A company like, say, Goldman Sachs, studies efficiency in everything they do to eliminate waste. Waste is money. At Brightcore, we want businesses to think about energy in the same way. This is about doing energy better,” Richter says.
Oddly enough, his passions for hockey and environmentalism merge rather organically. For years, hockey players who grew up skating on the frozen ponds in the U.S. and Canada have noticed a distressing development: Their beloved ice is literally melting beneath them.
“I grew up outside of Philadelphia, and as soon as the ponds and lakes froze, I was there, skating every second of the day I could,” Richter says. “As our climate has warmed, the ponds are frozen for a shorter period of time or not at all. We’ve had Winter Olympics where there wasn’t snow.”
That is why Richter testified last year in front of the U.S. Senate Democrats Committee on Climate Change. He stated that although the effects of global warming threaten the game he loves, the disappearance of pond hockey represented something far more ominous.
If you’re wondering, he did once toy with the idea of running for a political position, so he could advocate on behalf of the environment, yet these days he’s careful about how he phrases his advocacy. Instead of the gaslighting and name-calling that seem to go hand-in-hand with political advocacy these days, Richter is measured when addressing the issue, opting not to get personal but instead accurate. “It is frustrating when our leaders don’t accept science,” he says in response to the notion that some at the very top of the political food chain don’t share his commitment to the environment.
“Retirement allowed me to spend more time at home — and what’s more important…than helping to steward the lives of your children?”
Today, with his wife, Victoria, and three hockey-playing boys, Richter may value family time more than most. It’s not so much a matter of making up for lost time, yet it’s not not that either. “You know, as a professional athlete, you live a very selfish life,” he observes. “You are training, traveling, resting, and watching your nutrition, so you are often very self-consumed. Retirement allowed me to spend more time at home — and what’s more important, and what can you cherish more, than helping to steward the lives of your children?”
While we’re on the subject, what about those hockey-playing offspring? Are there any ice chips off the old block, or does the Hall of Famer set up the goal in the driveway before crushing the spirits of his scions, as he had done to so many of the NHL’s best?
“Unfortunately, we have reached that intersection in time where they are too young and I am too old, so I’ve learned it’s time to let it go.” Laughing at the recollection, Richter adds, “One of my sons saw me play in a Rangers old-timers’ game, and he said to me afterward: ‘Dad, if you want to play, stick to the ponds. When you do it in public now, you just embarrass the family.’”
Mike Richter’s career as a top-tier mover and shaker may be over as far as his kids are concerned, but to No. 35 himself, his work has just begun.