We all expected to see some rust, even from prominent players, in Lake Placid. After all, there was no preseason. Teams have been scrimmaging against themselves for months and there hasn’t been NWHL hockey for almost a year. But, amidst the rust, a few players shined on the ice of Herb Brooks Arena — and few shined brighter than Minnesota Whitecaps forward Audra Richards.
Richards has wasted no time making her mark in Lake Placid and is one of the main reasons Minnesota has started the tournament with a 2–0–0 record. On Saturday, she earned primary assists on both of the Whitecaps’ goals against the Pride. On Sunday, she scored a sensational shorthanded goal in the third period to set the stage for Meaghan Pezon to complete the 5–1 comeback against Toronto. The Whitecaps eventually won the game in the shootout.
When we think about the Whitecaps we tend to think about team speed and experience. Richards, 26, is now entering her third year in the league, so she has experience covered, but she’s not particularly known for her speed. That hasn’t stopped her from fitting right in with the Whitecaps and being one of the team’s most productive forwards.
“[She] has a lot of enthusiasm and she brings the puck to the net; she’s going to give you her biggest effort she possibly can,” Whitecaps coach Jack Brodt said after Saturday’s win against the Pride.
As you might expect, we hear newcomers in the league frequently remark on the faster pace of play in the NWHL compared to NCAA DI or DIII hockey. However, they also comment on how much stronger players are at this level. They’re talking about players like Audra Richards.
“We tell Audra that she may not be as fast as some of the other skaters but she’s strong and she’s willing to sacrifice herself to get to the net,” Brodt said. “We want her to get the puck to the front of the net and create all kinds of chaos because that’s one of her main roles for us.”
Many of Richards’ 42 career NWHL points are a result of her combination of strength and skill, particularly around the net. Watch her instinct to go straight to the net on this play, started by Nina Rodgers, that resulted in Winny Brodt-Brown scoring the game winner against the Pride on Saturday. This is the kind of chaos Jack Brodt is talking about. It looks simple, but at this level, it is anything but.
Although she has great puck skills and a fantastic shot, there’s not a lot of flair in Richards’ game. She simply works her tail off, goes hard to the net, and wins puck battles. She doesn’t need to be fleet of foot to fit into the Whitecaps’ system because she creates opportunities for her teammates with her style of play. Richards wins battles, creates rebounds, screens goaltenders, and makes life difficult for opposing defenders. Every team in the league wants players who can do that.
Per InStats, Richards’ most common linemates have been Jonna Curtis and Pezon. They’ve been on the ice as a trio for 10:51 and are in the red in the shot share (–17), but it’s important to emphasize that this is a two-game sample size and one of those games was played against the Pride. At the moment, the most telling stat is that all three of Richards’ points have been primary. With that said, we should keep an eye on that trio to see how their chemistry develops in Lake Placid.
With Corinne Buie unable to be in Lake Placid, Richards’ presence in the Whitecaps’ lineup is critical. The same can be said of Rodgers who, like Richards, shares the league lead in scoring with three points — all assists — through the first two games. It would be an understatement to say that she’s been a difference maker for Minnesota. Without Audra Richards, Sunday’s amazing comeback doesn’t happen. Without Richards, the Whitecaps don’t have a 2–0–0 record.
Data courtesy of InStat and HerHockeyCounts.com.