EVERETT — Sean Richards’ penultimate junior hockey season turned during a game in which he didn’t even skate.
Richards found himself in a suit and banished to the press box as a healthy scratch as the Everett Silvertips played host to the Tri-City Americans on Oct. 18. The reason was that he had taken undisciplined penalties in back-to-back games.
As the 1998-born winger sat high atop Xfinity Arena in what was ultimately a 3-2 overtime loss, he came to a resolution.
“I kind of wanted to come back in the Moose Jaw game and show what I’m capable of,” Richards said Tuesday. “I thought I did that really well. Willy (head coach Dennis Williams) gave me an opportunity and I just gotta take it and run.”
Run, he has.
Richards scored twice in that 6-3 loss to Moose Jaw two nights later for his first two-goal game in the WHL. In the eight games since he was a healthy scratch, Richards is averaging better than a point per game with six goals and four assists. He has five points in his past three games and responded to his punishment exactly the way the Everett coaching staff wanted.
“You never want it to get to that, but when the time comes you have two ways to handle it as a player,” Williams said. “You can take it on the chin, per se, and learn from it and come back and show your coaching staff and teammates that you’re better than that, or some players turn the other way and mope and sulk and blame everybody else. He obviously came out and showed us he’s a better player than that, and since then he’s stayed out of the box and is playing hard and has been contributing on the offensive side.”
Part of Richards’ offensive success is no doubt due to joining the top line with overagers Matt Fonteyne (10 goals, 12 assists) and Patrick Bajkov (nine goals, 18 assists). Fonteyne and Bajkov have been linemates for four seasons, but the Everett coaching staff has experimented with different wingers to join the overagers.
Richards has been on the top line for the past seven games.
“Sometimes when you put up a first-year player, they feel like they have to give the puck to the older two guys all the time, so they feel a little bit intimidated,” Williams said. “I think Richey just goes out there and plays his game and works. He’s not taken aback that he’s playing with two 20-year-olds. He’s going to go out and do his thing and he’s going to contribute the way he can.”
Richards was acquired from Regina prior to last season as part of the trade that sent former captain Dawson Leedahl to the Pats. One of Everett’s swiftest skaters, Richards also uses his physicality while playing bigger than his listed size of 5-foot-11, 185 pounds.
Williams’ arrival prior to this season brought increased emphasis on a faster pace and more up-tempo offense —something that plays into Richards’ strengths. He presents a strong complement to Fonteyne’s speed at center and Bajkov’s skill at right wing.
“Playing with them, they’re a fast-paced (pair) and they like to get a lot of offense going on the rush,” Richards said. “I gotta use my speed with them, and I gotta go to the dirty areas to find them also. I think it just all works together.
“I think that just is more my game — speed and on the rush and stuff like that and getting to the dirty areas.”
On Wednesday, Everett (8-10-1-1, 18 points) takes on a Prince Albert Raiders team that is making its biennial trip to the U.S. Division. Prince Albert brought an 8-7-3-0 record into Tuesday’s game at Seattle. Jordy Stallard (14 goals, 17 assists) and Cole Fonstad (seven goals, 18 assists) were Prince Albert’s top offensive performers headed into Tuesday’s game.
The Raiders also have former Silvertips forward Devon Skoleski on their roster as one of their overage players. Skoleski has six goals and three assists in 18 games.
Prince Albert goaltender Ian Scott, a fourth-round pick by Toronto in the 2017 NHL draft, is 5-2 with a .926 save percentage and a 2.38 goals-against average in seven games. Scott is a former first-round bantam pick. Fellow goalie Curtis Meger is 3-4-2 with an .874 percentage and a 3.93 GAA in 10 games.
The Silvertips then play a home-and-home with the Seattle Thunderbirds Friday and Saturday and conclude the weekend with a Sunday matchup against visiting Regina.
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