KENORA -- For the first time in 105 years, the Stanley Cup has earned its way back to Lake of the Woods.
More than a century after the Kenora Thistles stunned the hockey world and captured the vaunted trophy with a win over the Montreal Wanderers, on Saturday it was Mike Richards’s turn to show the silver chalice off to his cheering hometown.
Richards, who joined the Kings last summer after being abruptly dealt away by the Philadelphia Flyers, made a grand noontime entrance into Kenora Bay aboard the Grace Anne II, hoisting the Cup above his head to the boisterous applause of thousands of adoring fans who lined the shores awaiting his arrival at the Whitecap Pavilion.
“I just want to thank everybody for coming,” Richards said, another round of cheers erupting under the tent as he was officially introduced on stage.
“I didn’t know what to expect coming in.”
Richards, who scored four goals and added 11 assists in the Los Angeles Kings improbable run to the Stanley Cup title, the first since the franchise helped double the Original 6 in 1967, kept his words short, preferring to spend his two-hour commitment sharing the trophy with Kenora’s hockey faithful.
“It’s something you dream about for 27 years. Coming back to Kenora is pretty special. I want to thank everybody for their support, not only last season, but my entire career,” Richards said.
“It seems every time I come home everybody’s behind me and it makes a big difference.”
Manitoba’s Mitch Kropp, summering in Kenora, said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the Cup up close and personal.
After all, it was more than a century since it was last in the community, other than visits in 1999 and 2007 to commemorate Thistles milestones.
“I’ve always been here in the summer. Mike Richards has been a big deal here. I was a fan of him when he as in Philly and it’s nice to see him again,” the 17-year-old said, joining hundreds in the crowd sporting L.A. Kings colours, despite a self-admitted love of the Flyers.
“I still like Philly, but obviously with the hometown hero, you’ve got to cheer for the Kings.”
It was a thrill, he added.
“It’s a lot different than seeing it from far away. It’s a different atmosphere, everyone’s excited. It’s nice to be here.”
Emcee Brian Rupert called it an outstanding day for the city.
“It’s one of the better days, if not the best day, for Kenora in hockey,” Rupert said. “As far as I’m concerned, and a lot of people will back me up on this, Kenora is probably one of the most productive hockey towns in Canada.
“Mike is just one of them who came through. He might be the only one with a Stanley Cup, but he did come through, which is good, it’s great.”
With an estimated 2,500 people lining up or taking in the celebration, Rupert said the crowd was about what he expected.
“I’m not surprised, knowing Kenora. Everybody I talked to over the days said they were going to be here. So it’s a good thing.
Richards’s older brother Matt was also along for the ride and said it was an incredible culmination to a dream hockey season for Mike.
“This is the one that as a child everyone dreams about winning. Two years ago when they were in Philadelphia they lost. It was a tough one to lose, but to have it now is a great feeling,” Matt Richards said, adding family and friends will celebrate privately with the Cup at a dinner scheduled for later Saturday, then likely hit the water again.
Richards and the rest of his Kings teammates won't have their names inscribed on the Cup until September.
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