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College men's hockey: Rising Richards shines in home state during Bulldogs' sweep

OXFORD, Ohio — Minnesota Duluth sophomore center Justin Richards was born in Florida, but of all the places he's lived during the playing and coaching career of his father, Todd, Ohio is the state that Richards calls home.

"All my buddies are here," said Richards, whose father is currently an assistant with the Tampa Bay Lightning. "This is the place where I spent most of my childhood years. I consider Columbus to be my home."

Just over 100 miles from Columbus, Richards had an impressive return to his home state over the weekend as his fifth-ranked Bulldogs swept Miami 4-0 and 3-0 in NCHC play at Goggin Ice Center to jump from fourth to second in the conference.

Richards posted two assists in Friday's win, and on Saturday he scored on a penalty shot for his eighth goal of the season. He leads the Bulldogs with 22 total points.

His mother, Maryann, and older brother, Zac, drove up for Friday's game, while some friends traveled through rain that turned to snow on Saturday to see Richards in the series finale.

"It's always great to see them," Richards said. "Any time I can see my buddies during the season is always awesome."

Richards moved to Columbus when he was in eighth grade. The five years he spent there while his dad was an assistant and head coach for the Bluejackets was the longest he had lived anywhere.

He lived just two years in Orlando while his dad played for the Solar Bears in the International Hockey League and then one year in Switzerland, Todd's last as a player. After Todd's coaching career took the family to Milwaukee for four years, the family spent two years in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., one year in San Jose with the Sharks, two years in Minnesota with the Wild and then finally moved to Columbus.

Richards said there was some extra motivation for him this weekend playing in Ohio.

"Any time coming back home you want to stick out and stand out a little bit," Richards said. "I'm definitely happy with my performance and the team's performance this weekend."

Two of Richards' three points against Miami came on the penalty kill. He drew Saturday's penalty shot after creating a shorthanded breakaway for himself while UMD was on a two-man disadvantage.

The most impressive play Richards made, however, was during the first period Friday when he set up sophomore wing Nick Swaney for a shorthanded breakaway goal off the opening draw of a penalty kill.

Normally in that situation, Richards said he would get the puck to Swaney for an easy clear, but something Miami did told Richards a scoring chance was there for UMD, and that Swaney had the speed to make it happen.

Richards was right.

"Swanes and I, he usually drops back behind the net for an easy clear," Richards said, explaining his thought process on the play. "I recognized one of their defensemen up, who was going to probably, my guess, was going to hop on Swaney and not give him any time, so I went over to (Swaney) and told him to take off, I'm going to win it forward. Luckily it worked out."

Richards sent the puck screaming up the middle of the ice off the faceoff — he said he was trying to win it to the benches, not center ice — for Swaney, who was able to score on the breakaway despite getting tripped up.

Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said the points Richards is getting this year are great. He's happy for Richards in that regard, but it's everything else the young center does that impresses the coach the most.

"He had a good year last year and this year he's having a better year," Sandelin said. "He's trustworthy, he's good on faceoffs, he's good away from the puck. He's certainly having a great year for us. We need it to continue."


• How confident is Sandelin in Richards and the penalty killers right now? He let Richards take the penalty shot instead of letting Miami's Derek Daschke sit in the box on Saturday. Passing on the penalty shot would have evened both sides up at 4-on-4, then given UMD a brief power play at the end.

"I didn't want the power play," Sandelin said. "The (referee) gave me the option and I said no. I'm going to give it to (Richards). He's confident right now."

• In a gamble that didn't pay off, fifth-ranked Ohio State decided to leave its top defenseman, junior Jincy Dunne, back in Columbus this weekend instead of bring her to Duluth for a WCHA women's series against unranked UMD. According to Zach Schneider of My9 Sports and the Bulldog Insider Podcast, the Buckeyes decided to give Dunne a "rest weekend." Ohio State swept UMD in Columbus Nov. 16-17 3-1 and 4-1. The fourth-place Bulldogs not only swept the third-place Buckeyes in Duluth, they lit them up winning 5-2 on Friday and 6-3 on Saturday to move within two points of the Buckeyes in the WCHA standings.

• Amsoil Arena plays host to one of two second-half men's/women's doubleheaders on Friday and Saturday this week. The UMD women host Quinnipiac in nonconference play at 3:07 p.m. both days, while the men host Nebraska-Omaha in NCHC play. The other doubleheader weekend is Feb. 15-16 when the women host Wisconsin and the men host Denver.

Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

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