With the Thunder beginning a new chapter in Markham, there have been no shortage of inspiring competitors that have donned the sharp green and white jersey. Blossoming into a cornerstone for the franchise’s offense is Kristen Richards, who has seen her offensive production grow by a quantum leap.
Recording just four points in her final season in Brampton, Richards has enjoyed one of the greatest improvements in franchise history. Compared to last season, she has already surpassed last season’s totals for goals, assists, points, power play goals and plus/minus rating. Two points shy of the career plateau of 20, she currently sits among the league’s top 15 in the scoring race.
Merely two points out of the top 10 among the league’s best scorers, Richards also ranks second overall in team scoring on the Thunder. Trailing Jamie Lee Rattray, whose 26 points pace the club, these two offensive catalysts have called each other teammates once before. Back in 2015, donning another green jersey, Richards and Rattray were members of the Toronto Shamrocks, capturing the CBHA National Championships.
Competing on a line together in an exciting 2017-18 season, they are joined by Laura McIntosh, who graduated as the all-time scoring leader in Ohio State Buckeyes hockey history. A draft pick of the Thunder back in 2012, McIntosh has juggled her time between the CWHL along with coaching at the USPORTS level, first with Wilfrid Laurier University and currently with the University of Waterloo Warriors. As a side note, Thunder first-year player Devon Skeats played for McIntosh during her career at Wilfrid Laurier.
“Anything to do with statistics is never an individual achievement. I am lucky enough to play with two extremely talented players: Laura McIntosh and Jamie Lee Rattray.
Mac reads the game better than anyone I have ever played with and her ability to slow the game down is second to none.
Rattray is an incredible power forward who creates her own space and knows how to bury her opportunities. I’m just happy to be out there with them and look to contribute whenever I can!”
On October 15, Richards would log her first goal of the season, as rivalries were renewed in the Battle of Toronto. Scoring the game’s first goal, with Jessica Hartwick earning the assist, it would prove to be the Thunder’s only goal in a visceral loss where both teams exerted tremendous heart, signifying that any wins in this season’s rivalry would be earned. Coincidentally, all eight players whose names were on the scoresheet for this game each logged their first point of the season.
Just a few weeks later, an October 29 tilt with Les Canadiennes de Montreal resulted in the first multi-point game of Richards’ remarkable run in Markham. Logging a pair of assists, Richards was involved in each of the Thunder’s goals in this contest. In spite of Sarah Lefort recording the game-winning goal in overtime for Montreal, Richards showed strong leadership. With less than two minutes remaining in the third, Richards collaborated with Jamie Lee Rattray on Laura McIntosh’s first goal of the season, which also proved to be the game-tying goal.
Bringing a positive attitude and a determined spirit, Richards’ work ethic and approach to the game has done more than just set a positive example for a team in transition. Of note, Richards has been rewarded with unique recognition. Heading into the Thunder’s inaugural season in Markham, Richards holds a special place in franchise history. Along with the aforementioned Rattray and Dania Simmonds, they are part of a triptych of leadership, each named alternate captains for the Thunder.
Such a role is one that Richards relishes with tremendous pride. Following in the path of legendary ladies that have enjoyed the honor of captaincy over the last decade, Richards not only adds to their legacy, she is contributing to building one of her own. Discussing the importance of leadership in franchise history, it is one that see Richards pay homage to those that helped shape the existing values,
“We are missing some key personalities and great leaders due to the Olympic centralization, however one of the things that we consciously brought from the Brampton Thunder organization is a culture of respect.
Players such as Jayna Hefford, Lori Dupuis, Ally Fox, and more helped to develop this culture and create a strong foundation. It was an honour to be selected by my teammates and coaching staff this year and to wear a letter for an organization with such a rich history of leaders.”
Another facet in the organization's rich history would take place in mid-November 2017 and Richards was proud to have been part of it. Enjoying the opportunity to compete in Shenzhen, China against the CWHL’s expansion teams, Kunlun Red Star and Vanke Rays, it represented a sterling career highlight.
From November 18 to 24, the Thunder had the chance to compete in their first regular season games in China. Richards would place her name on the scoresheet in a hard-fought 4-2 loss on November 22 against Kunlun. Scoring on Winter Games bronze medalist Noora Raty, Richards first period goal was assisted by Nicole Brown and Megan Delay, who earned her first career CWHL point.
Being able to compete in one of the world's fastest growing markets, taking on a dual role as ambassador for the game and the league’s brand is a privilege that Richards accepted with an enthusiastic honor,
“Travelling the world with your best friends is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I am not surprised that China is one of the world’s fastest growing markets for women’s hockey, as the facilities in Shenzhen were absolutely incredible. Our experience is definitely one that I will never forget.”
Although the last game in China signified the start of a pointless drought, ranging from November 24 to December 9, Richards bounced back superbly, recording points in five of her next six games. During this stretch, Richards also logged back-to-back games with multi-point efforts.
The catalyst towards such a sensational stretch took place on December 10, Richards recorded a pair of assists at home against the visiting Boston Blades, emerging as a key contributor in a hotly contested 3-2 final.
For her efforts, Richards was recognized as the Third Star of the Game, while teammate Taylor Woods, who scored twice, gained First Star honors. Second Star recognition went to Boston’s Meghan Grieves, logging a pair of assists in the contest.
During the next weekend, Richards scored twice against Les Canadiennes for her first multi-goal performance in Markham green. With Montreal holding a 3-0 lead, Rattray would score twice in the second period, while Richards would even the score at 3-apiece in the third. Despite Cathy Chartrand helping Montreal reclaim the lead, Richards rose to the occasion, tying the game with less than two minutes remaining, scoring on All-Star backstop Emerance Maschmeyer. In spite of Kayla Tutino, the first overall pick in the 2016 CWHL Draft scoring for Montreal in overtime, Richards proved that she was a prime time player, capable of giving the Thunder a chance to win in any game.
With the arrival of 2018, Richards maintained the hot hand, with a sensational three-game scoring streak on home ice against the expansion Vanke Rays. Scoring in the first two games of the series, it presented Richards with another monumental milestone, as it marked her first performance with at least one goal in back-to-back games. Registering a goal and an assist in the second game, Richards following up with another splendid effort, gaining a pair of assists in the rubber match.
The January 13 affair may have been the most exhilarating as Markham defeated the Rays by a 6-3 tally. Highlighted by a hat trick from Jenna McParland, which were also her first three goals of the season, Richards scored her seventh goal of the season at the 1:54 mark of the second stanza, providing Markham with a 3-0 lead.
Prevailing by a 6-3 final, such a series emphasized how parity continues to emerge as a strong theme in the 2017-18 season. Indubitably, the start to January 2018 was a statement series for Markham. Delighted over such a strong start to 2018, Richards is quick to praise her teammates, testament to both leadership and loyalty. Considering that the Clarkson Cup shall be held in Toronto, the Thunder are keen to return to their first finals since 2012, ready to represent the Greater Toronto Area on home ice, a feat that would be a crowning achievement to such a memorable season for Richards.
“Our team as a whole played with more energy and raised their game to a new level. Our first game back against Vanke really proved to people that we are capable of beating anyone in this league. I’m just happy to contribute in any way that I can!”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Jess Bazal, Dave Holland, Heather Pollock