A calming presence in the Blackhawks locker room.
A coach that “gets” what it means to be a successful player in the NHL.
A leader by example.
A pusher of the right buttons.
There are many ways that Chicago Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson has been described in recent weeks and months, leading up to his regular season debut behind the bench in Chicago. Through five games, he has the Blackhawks at 3-2-0 and winners of their last three-straight with multi-goal comebacks in all three games. Granted, you don’t want to have to come back from deficits each night, but this Blackhawks team has already exemplified a trait at the beginning of this season that the team last year lacked: Resilience.
That is due in large part to their head coach.
In parts of the previous four seasons of hockey in Chicago, there was a clear disconnect between the locker room and the head coach. Jeremy Colliton was thrown into a situation he was never going to win when he became head coach of the Blackhawks in early November of 2018. He wasn’t prepared to be an NHL coach, replacing Joel Quenneville and taking over a locker room with at least a half-dozen players who had forgotten more about hockey than Colliton could ever hope to teach them.
If you’ll recall back to the beginning of last season, the Blackhawks began the year 1-9-2, and it eventually led to Colliton being fired. For as much as the players said they never want to see a coach fired. That they never “gave up,” you could tell from body language and not-so-subtle comments that there was no respect for Colliton from the locker room, and the desire the be resilient during early season adversities was non-existent.
Under Luke Richardson, a former NHL player with over 1,400 games under his belt, the locker room is getting behind his message, and he has made it easy on them.
“He’s kept things very simple and allowed us to go play and use our instincts,” captain Jonathan Toews said on Tuesday. “Everything has been pretty straightforward from him, and it’s been a lot of fun for us as a team so far.”
Using instincts and allowing players to play the way that got them to this point in their careers sounds as simple as it gets, but this Blackhawks team (primarily players like Toews and Kane and others who are still here from the Colliton era) needs that kind of messaging. The Blackhawks have become a north-south team, with all players contributing, making small plays that can build into bigger moments.
Under Colliton, it was all thought-out and pre-planned. Under Richardson, letting the players be who they are has already produced three wins for a Blackhawks team that was built to compete for the worst record in the NHL this season.
“Players tend to have a feeling of what is going on behind them (on the bench), and they take on that personality,” Richardson said prior to Tuesday night’s game against the Florida Panthers. “If you’re going bananas all game or too emotional, the players get off their game. You take them out of their zone.”
Richardson’s calm demeanor on and off the ice has been effective for this Blackhawks team so far this season. Not getting too high or too low in a game has allowed Chicago to erase three two-goal deficits in their last three games, all wins. The even-keeled approach appears to give this group the ability to stick to Richardson’s simplistic style of hockey and work themselves back into games.
“It’s about the players. I try to give them the best environment I can for them to shine.”Luke Richardson on his calm demeanor behind the bench and in the locker room for the Blackhawks
Establishing a positive culture in the locker room and on the ice is paramount for the Blackhawks as they move forward from the Kyle Beach scandal and the poor performances of the past few seasons.
Richardson spoke numerous times in the summer and preseason about wanting to allow the players to feel like they had their space on the team and in the locker room and could come to him as part of the team, not as a separation between them and the coaching staff. In training camp, Richardson would skate laps with the team. In the regular season, Richardson is still taking practices like he is one of the guys on the ice.
There has also been a point made by him to allow the veterans to lead the locker room. Allow the leadership group to have their voice and their space in between periods, before games, during practice, on team-building off-days, etc.
That environment has been positive in the early goings, according to Toews. “It’s still very early, but he’s found a happy medium with our line of communication as players and as a coaching staff. At the same time, he gives us the space to be adults and be men in this locker room and handle things on our own.”
Richardson was touted as a coach players want to play for. Max Domi signed in Chicago because Richardson was named the head coach. His previous coaching experience and his playing experience are playing major parts in gaining the respect of this Blackhawks roster.
It’s becoming more clear that he’s winning over the locker room and potentially its two biggest names.
This isn’t to anoint Richardson the next great Blackhawks coach after just five regular season games. There is still so much to be seen regarding him as a head coach and what he can get out of this Blackhawks roster and in future rosters to come. But for all we heard about him coming into this season, and the fact that Kyle Davidson said he wanted to hire the right head coach who could navigate the rebuild and be the coach for when the team was ready to compete again, there is something there for Richardson that Blackhawks fans haven’t felt from a head coach in many years.