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Richard Looks to Bounce Back in Sophomore SeasonĀ 


By Jeremy Houghtaling

Tanner Richard doesn’t fit easily into a single category.

The Crunch forward, a top point producer in junior, turned into a grinder during his rookie campaign with Syracuse last season. With more opportunity on a scoring line this year, Richard has a shootout winner and six points — four of which came in the last three games — and 32 penalty minutes in his first 13 games this season.

Richard is hoping his versatility makes him a mainstay in the Crunch lineup — no matter what line he’s assigned.

“That’s what I was drafted as, a point producer,” the 21-year-old center said. “My numbers were nowhere near where they needed to be and where I wanted them to be last year, so that was frustrating. I’m just hoping I can produce and provide secondary scoring for the team and contribute that way. At the same time, be gritty in front of the net and stand up for teammates.”

Born in Markham, Ontario and raised in Jona, Switzerland, Richard netted 11 goals and 51 assists in 52 regular season games in his final season with the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League in 2012-13, and after a brief postseason run, joined the Crunch for eight games.

But in his rookie season, Richard — lower on the depth chart than centers like Vladislav Namestnikov and Cedric Paquette — spent most of the year on a checking line.

“Last year, there wasn’t room for me in those lines,” Richard said. “So I had to find a different role. That was fourth line, trying to provide energy for the team.”

Richard finished with two goals, 15 assists, and 95 penalty minutes over 65 games with Syracuse, who finished last place in the East Division. But the Tampa Bay Lightning's 2012 third rounder is trying to put last season behind him and is focused on the future.

“It’s a huge year for me,” Richard said. “I’m looking to bounce back. I had a pretty disappointing season last year — not just as the team, but myself as well — and I’m just really looking to bounce back.”

After taking what was said in the exit meeting with the Lightning management to heart, Richard — listed at 6-foot, 189 pounds — worked on getting stronger and faster in the offseason.

“I was losing a lot of battles last year because guys were stronger and heavier, and they’d push me around in the corner. It was frustrating to get bounced off the puck so much, so I’m working on protecting the puck,” said Richard, who gained about 10 pounds over the summer. “All summer I was working on my legs — leg strength so I can get faster, but also so I have a good base so I’m not knocked off the puck so easy.”

For Crunch head coach Rob Zettler, Richard has taken big strides since last year. And with Namestnikov and Paquette called up to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Richard slots in on a scoring line.

“Tanner’s ice time last year was somewhat limited,” Zettler said. “He had opportunities at times, but he was a little bit young and not all-in-all strong enough to really make it happen at this level. This summer he got stronger, and realized what it took to have success in this league.”

Richard has found chemistry on a line with speedy winger Yanni Gourde and physical forward Philippe Paradis. He assisted on both of Gourde’s goals against Norfolk Saturday, added two tallies of his own Sunday in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and netted the game-winner in the shootout against Albany Wednesday.

While crashing the net has him on a path to easily surpass his rookie point total, it has also agitated the opposition. Richard has engaged in four fights in 13 games, one more than his season total from last year according to hockeyfights.com.

“I think a lot of it has to do with I’m going to the net more this year,” Richard said. “That’s why I’ve also scored, they’ve all been right around the net. When you’re around the net, there’s always battles starting up with little cross checks trying to fight for positioning in front. Some guys don’t like it, and you just have to answer the bell there.”

Zettler said Richard’s willingness to stick up for teammates, like when he dropped the gloves with Binghamton’s David Dziurzynski after a dirty hit on defenseman Joey Mormina in October, shows he has a team-first attitude.

“Teammates see that, I see that,” Zettler said. “That’s a big deal. He wants to do what’s right for the team.”

With more experience and a better opportunity, more is expected out of Richard in his sophomore season.

“I think we’re putting him in better areas to succeed,” Zettler said. “He’s shown a lot more determination and a lot more grit.”