VANCOUVER - Mike Richards skated onto the ice for the loudest, most intense opening face-off of his life.
"It was wild," the Flyers' captain said moments after winning an Olympic gold medal. "It was loud. It was exciting. It was crazy, You couldn't even hear yourself think. You just wanted to get that first [shift] under you, play it safe, and then move on from there."
Richards started the game because he and his line of Jonathan Toews and Rick Nash had emerged as a solid and hardworking example of what Canadian coach Mike Babcock wanted.
The end of the game was exponentially louder than the start. His ears told Richards that Sidney Crosby had just ended the Olympics with an overtime goal against Team USA yesterday.
"I didn't really even see it," Richards said. "It happened so quickly and then people were jumping over the bench."
The stoic Richards was smiling like a little kid from that moment on. On the podium, he accepted his gold medal and then leaned over to shake hands with Flyers teammate Chris Pronger. Then they added their voices to arguably the loudest rendition of "O Canada" in history.
"Joy, excitement," Richards said when asked to describe his feelings. "It was an emotional game. It was stressful, nerve-racking, but we came out on top."
Richards will return to his day job - 16 games in 27 nights starting tomorrow at Tampa Bay - with new insight into what it takes to win a championship.
"The experience, the capability of going through that much pressure and that much nerves and play the game - not only play it, but play it well at a high level," Richards said. "You take different things from it. You take the poise that a lot of people have."
Richards created the play that led to Canada's first goal. He went behind the U.S. net, pressured Erik Johnson into a turnover, and fired a shot at goalie Ryan Miller. Toews flipped the rebound in.
"I actually messed my shot up, so it probably messed Miller up a little bit," Richards said. "Toews has been so good in there following up on the rebound."
Richards had a tough time recalling details from the game. There was a hit on Brooks Orpik that fired up the crowd, a nice defensive play to take away a rebound. Mostly, he just remembered how loud and how intense the whole night was.
"You could kind of feel the waves on the bench," Richards said. "It was unbelievable to be a part of it. It was so fast. It was the quickest game I've been in. There was hitting. For a hockey player, it was the perfect game to play in. It's everything right now."