By Seth Lakso, Wilkes-Barre Citizens’ Voice
WILKES-BARRE – As an equipment manager, Teddy Richards’ best work often goes unnoticed.
However, due to the nature of his job, that relative anonymity is by design.
When the Pittsburgh Penguins won their fourth championship in franchise history this past season, Richards – who grew up on Hancock Street and served as the team’s assistant equipment manager – became the first Wilkes-Barre native to have his name inscribed on the Stanley Cup.
On Wednesday, Richards got a glimpse of what it’s like to be in the spotlight, when he used his day with the hallowed Cup – which each player and full-time staff member of the team that wins the Stanley Cup receives – to bring it back to his home town, where his hockey career began a decade and a half ago.
Just as most Penguins fans were headed out for their lunch breaks Wednesday, Richards came rolling up to Public Square on a Zamboni with the Cup in tow, drawing a crowd that numbered in the hundreds in just minutes.
“This is surreal,” said Richards, who was eventually joined on a bandstand by his brother, Josh (who is an assistant equipment manager for the NHL’s Dallas Stars), Mayor Tony George, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton CEO Jeff Barrett, Penguins coach Clark Donatelli, and current Wilkes-Barre/Scranton players Tom Kostopoulos and Patrick McGrath.
“When I first started (with Wilkes-Barre), I went in the visiting and home locker rooms and folded towels and emptied the garbage and I never once thought that was going to eventually escalate me to the Stanley Cup,” Richards said.
The original plan was simply for the Cup to be on display on the bandstand at Public Square, but the when Richards looked out at the growing crowd, he did what good equipment mangers do and improvised, carrying the 34.5-pound Cup throughout the crowd.
“I just saw the turnout and I wanted to show my appreciation to them so I grabbed the Cup and hopped into the crowd,” Richards said. “I wanted to show (everyone) a good time because they took their own time to come and see it. These are people that I grew up with. These are my friends and family and I want to share this with them.”
Richards’ father served as the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ first bus driver before his sudden passing due to a heart attack at the age of 41.
In the fallout of the tragedy, the Penguins organization embraced Teddy and eventually his brother and in the process sparked two successful NHL careers.
Richards’ day with the Cup started early Wednesday with a trip to the cemetery to share the trophy with his father. After a bite to eat at the Chill Grill and a pit stop at the Penguins practice facility on Coal Street, Richards arrived at Public Square in style.
After a few words from Mayor George, Kostopoulos shared some kinds words on Richards’ behalf.
“It’s great that Teddy had the time to bring it to Wilkes-Barre and share it with his friends and family,” Kostopoulos said. “His dad meant a lot to the team going back to when I started here. I remember he’d do anything he could for the players and now to see Teddy and his brother all grown up — and for Teddy to win the Cup and bring it back here — it’s such a great story.”
Kostopoulos went on to talk about all the duties an equipment manager handles on any given day to help keep a constantly changing roster of 25 guys ready to play each day.
“It’s a huge demand and Teddy has always done it without complaint,” Kostopoulos added. “He’s always been a guy you felt like you could ask for anything. He’s done a great job.”
For Richards, who recently accepted a job as the head equipment manager for the NHL’s Florida Panthers, Kostopoulos’ words were special.
“At the end of the day, (I did) my job well if the players don’t know I exist,” Richards said. “If I make their lives easier and remove any excuses. It’s a great complement to have a player speak highly of me and my father.”
Thursday, Richards — who rented his house in Wilkes-Barre this past season to Penguins breakout rookies Matt Murray, Derrick Pouliot and Bryan Rust — will board a plane back to Sunrise, Florida to begin preparations for yet another run at the Cup.
“It will be tough getting on that plane,” he said. “I landed (Tuesday) night and the rental car lady asked me if I needed a GPS and I laughed and said, ‘No, I know Wilkes-Barre pretty well.’ I am home here.”