Crunch's Richard Looks to Improve Skating, Challenge for NHL Job

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Tanner Richard remembers getting the call, taking the ice for warmups, and then hitting the showers.

The Syracuse Crunch center earned his first call-up to the Tampa Bay Lightning last December, but was a healthy scratch and never saw game action. Richard is looking to change that this season.

In a system that's all about high tempo play, Richard has continued to work on his skating in order to take the next step to the NHL.

"You're so close. You can't get any closer than doing the warmups and showering while the guys are walking out getting their names called," the fourth-year pro said. "You can't get any closer than that. It left a little taste in my mouth to just make it to there so that one day I can hear my name called during the game too.

"I used that for motivation this summer. I thought I had a good summer, so hopefully this year it can happen."

Richard is coming off a career game this weekend. The 23-year-old recorded his first pro hat trick in a 7-2 win over Rochester on Saturday, and has six points in eight games this season.

Richard has 119 points in 224 career AHL games, and is already off to a better start than last season, in which he finished with 11 goals and 43 assists in 71 contests.

"I'm 18 games ahead of last year's schedule, so that's nice," Richard said with a grin about his first goals of the season. "Yeah, I've been counting. It's definitely nice, but I can't sit back now. I have to keep going."

For Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx, Richard's good habits and ability to "play with pace" were far more important than him finding the scoresheet.

"I think he did that last weekend," Groulx said. "It's something that's kind of new for him and he has to push himself. The more he's going to push himself, the better results he will have. Forget the goals, I thought he had a very good game Saturday."

Richard, the Lightning's third round pick in the 2012 draft, has progressed as a skater since turning pro, but continues to refine those skills. After many practices, he is in a group that skates with assistant coach Trent Cull and, like many players, works with skating coach Barb Underhill during and before the season.

"After practice we always grab a group of guys and do skating drills," Richard said. "Not bag skates, but just things to get your feet moving quicker. I credit a lot of it to Barb too. I don't think I'll ever be one of the best skaters, but it has come a long way from where it was. I think a lot of it's due to Barb, just working with her and picking her brain when she comes."

Groulx said he has seen improvement in Richard's skating over the past month, and that could be the key to him challenging for a spot in Tampa Bay.

"I really believe it's about pace," Groulx said. "He knows the game. He knows how to play hockey. Obviously, he's very good with the puck. He's a proven player on the power play and he's very good on faceoffs. He's good at many things, but the NHL is about pace. The NHL is about second effort. When you go up there, you have to be able to keep it up for 60 minutes for 80 games with the traveling and all that.

"For him, that's his challenge, and he's getting better."

Richard hopes to continue to develop and earn another shot with the Lightning.

"I think I had a really good year last year, and I'm just trying to build off that and continue where I left off from," Richard said. "Hopefully I can get a shot."

Pictured: Crunch center Tanner Richard looks to make a pass against the Americans at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.