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SCARLET AND GRAY Buckeye fever propels high-flying Richards

By Joe Scalzo

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Canadian with Ohio State ties wants to play hockey in the Buckeye state.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Before he arrived at Ohio State in 1995, Chris Richards lived his entire life in a Canadian town of 45,000 people, playing ice hockey every day and, other than watching an occasional Canadian Football League game, basically ignoring football.
"The enrollment at Ohio State was like 48,000, so it was quite an eye opener," said Richards, who is entering his second season as a center for the Youngstown SteelHounds. "I loved the fact that you could not see the same people every day."
He also grew to love something else. "I'm a big college football fan now," he said. "I couldn't care less about the NFL."
Richards has played in the Central Hockey League for six years, spending time in New Mexico and Austin, Texas, before requesting a trade to the SteelHounds before last season.
His wife of a year and a half, Melissa, grew up near Dayton and the two started dating at OSU. They now have a house in Austintown. Melissa works year-round at Household Finance, while Richards does odd jobs in the offseason.
"It's closer for both our families," said Richards, who is about eight hours from his hometown of Cornwall, Ont. "Hopefully I can be here for many years to come and make this our community."
Fourth-leading CHL scorer
Based on how he played last season, Richards should be here for awhile.
He posted career-highs last season in goals (22) and assists (70) and finished fourth in the CHL in points.
He also formed a talented 1-2 punch on offense with teammate, Jeff Christian, who had a CHL-best 55 goals and finished second in the league in points.
The SteelHounds didn't win as many games as they'd hoped, which was due in part to the constant travel. The SteelHounds are the league's only team in the northeast part of the country.
"The travel is rough, especially when your wife is home and you don't get to see her," he said. "We've got a good bus that can sleep everybody and there's a lounge where you can play cards, but it gets tiresome to spend three weeks in a hotel.
"You want to get back to your own place and your own kitchen."
Top-notch facility
They also want to get back to their own rink. After playing in some run-down CHL facilities -- Richards called the arenas in New Mexico and Austin "cow barns" -- he was impressed by the Chevy Centre.
"This is a hockey rink," he said. "It's a top-notch facility."
He was also impressed by the community's support. Youngstown is (and always will be) a football town first, but the team built a solid following in its first season.
"You've got hockey fans in Pittsburgh and you've got hardcore fans, but you also have a lot of fans who came for the first time," said Richards. "Hockey's one of those sports where, if you see it live one time, you'll love it."
It's not the first time Richards found success in a football-first town. Richards was a member of the Buckeyes' Frozen Four team in 1998 and spent a half a season in the newly-built Schottenstein Center.
"When I look back, those were the funnest years of my life," he said. "I still have a lot of buddies who live down there."
He's building new memories now. And entering his second season with the SteelHounds, he has high hopes.
"We've got a core handful of guys to build on and we're bringing in some new guys who will help us out," he said. "Hopefully we can be a playoff team."