The Washington Capitals have played eleven games in this year’s postseason and, so far, forward Michael Latta has been a healthy scratch in all of them.
Normally the fourth-line center, since late February Latta has basically been replaced by Mike Richards. Sitting out can be difficult, but for Latta, it’s been more of an honor. Richards was Latta’s favorite hockey player as a child.
“I like watching him play,” Latta said to RMNB. “[Richards] kind of grew up the hero in my hometown, so that was pretty cool.”
Richards, seven years Latta’s senior, played for Latta’s hometown OHL team, the Kitchener Rangers, from 2001-2005 and captained the team his last two years. Latta was 12 years old when Richards began his first year as captain in 2003.
“It would be a Friday night, and me and my hockey buddies and my dad used to take us to the games,” Latta said, recounting the times he saw him play at The Aud, the Rangers’ arena. “He was the best player on the team. The best team in the country. He’s the captain. Everybody just [idolized] him. And, obviously, he just has such a respectful game. He plays so hard and he plays the right way.”
On January 6, 2016, Mike Richards signed a one-year contract with the Washington Capitals. Richards’ signing occurred almost a year after being placed on waivers by his former team, the Los Angeles Kings, with his contract being terminated six months later for material breach.
“No one on this team doubted that he could play anymore,” Latta said, basing that opinion on the testimony of Richards’ former Kings teammate, Justin Williams. “If J. Will vouched for you, you’re pretty good in my books if you’re good in J. Will’s book.”
A two-time Stanley Cup champion, both with the Kings, Richards has a veteran presence in the locker room, especially with younger players. He recently praised Latta and Tom Wilson, saying they’re emotional and “very effective” forwards.
“He’s just a guy you learn from. Anybody who wins, you really try to watch them and see what they do,” Latta said. “Anyone can come to practice every day and work hard and do all the right things, but when it gets down to the moment and last minute game or a certain game-changing time, that’s what separates [Brooks Orpik] and J. Will and Richie.”
After Richards was slammed into the boards during a regular season game against the New York Islanders in early April, Latta, at 6’0″, swooped in to defend the vet, fighting Scott Mayfield, a 6’4″ defenseman.
“He’s as tough as they come for not a big guy,” Latta said of Richards, following in his “tough guy” footsteps and winning the fight against Mayfield. “He’d gladly take a hit for the team if it means being on the power play or something like that.”
So what’s it like for Richards to play with a guy who used to admire him as a child?
“I don’t know if that ages me or what,” Richards laughed. “I guess it’s a little unique.”
Latta continues to be a fan of Richards after becoming personally acquainted with him over the past five months. He says they get along well. “We hang out after the game and stuff. He hangs out with Willy and [me] … He’s a beauty.”
Although trading in his sweater and stick for a suit and a seat in the press box isn’t ideal, Latta doesn’t seem to mind learning from and sharing the spotlight with his hockey hero.
“He’s a great guy,” Latta said.
— Ian Oland (@ianoland) May 5, 2016
Additional reporting by Chris Gordon.
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