Former Senators defenceman Luke Richardson takes the reins


Former Senators defenceman is starting to feel at home in his new job and city, KEN WARREN writes

The abrupt departure of Binghamton head coach Kurt Kleinendorst last spring opened the door for Luke Richardson.

The abrupt departure of Binghamton head coach Kurt Kleinendorst last spring opened the door for Luke Richardson.


Stephanie and Luke Richardson are smiling widely as they provide a tour of their surprising discovery, a stylishly-decorated converted commercial loft where they now live.

It’s open concept to the max. The walls are the original red brick, the 30-foot high ceiling sports oak beams, and there’s minimal furniture on the gleaming refinished hardwood. An outdoor patio provides a panoramic view of Binghamton, the city of 47,000 that sits four hours south of Ottawa and just north of the Pennsylvania border.

The Richardsons have even learned to find charm in the sound of the trains that rumble through the backyard in the middle of the night, a reminder of Binghamton’s heydays in the 1950s, when it served as a manufacturing hotbed and a major transportation hub.

“At first, all I could think of was the movie My Cousin Vinny,” Luke says with a hearty laugh. “But after awhile, you get used to the trains.”

Indeed, the new place fits. Luke and Stephanie, who dealt so courageously with the suicide of their 14-year-old daughter, Daron, in Nov. 2010 and inspired a movement that continues to draw necessary attention to mental health awareness, are comfortably settling into a new chapter of their life. It has come together in a way they never could have expected only five months ago.

A mere slapshot away from the loft sits the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena, where Luke is beginning his professional head coaching career as the bench boss of the American Hockey League’s Binghamton Senators, the top minor league affiliate of the Ottawa Senators. While National Hockey League fans are suffering from withdrawal, he says, “I don’t have that same kind of disappointment because I’ve got some fresh minds to work with.”

Meanwhile, the couple’s 18-year-old daughter, Morgan, is only an hour down the road, attending the college of arts and sciences and playing hockey in her first semester at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Call it a lucky coincidence. Morgan was accepted at Cornell several months before former Binghamton head coach Kurt Kleinendorst had stepped down, leaving the job vacant.

At the same time, the Richardsons remain close to their true home in Ottawa. Stephanie plans to make monthly trips back, catching up with family and friends and continuing to champion the Do It for Daron campaign.

“The family of the Sens made a big difference,” she says of the move. “I don’t know if it had been a different (organization), you would feel so embraced already. They really are family. Unfortunately, there’s an NHL lockout, but that just means that all of our hockey friends are going to come down and see us and the B-Sens more. We rented a big place. We knew they would be coming.”

Senators scout Rob Murphy and his wife, Bonnie, will be among those enjoying the extension of the Richardsons’ open door policy in Binghamton. Bonnie Murphy and Stephanie Richardson grew up together in Shawville and the families have remained close. Murphy’s children are on the D.I.F.D. Advisory Committee.

“It couldn’t have worked out better,” says Murphy. “Luke is very happy and you won’t find a guy more dedicated and disciplined to the job, and it also gives Steph a chance to stay close to Morgan. It’s a great situation. They’re not far away. They can jump in the car to see her. Or Morgan can come for a home-cooked meal if she needs a break from school. They’re extremely strong people, they’re used to moving around because of hockey and I think the change of scenery might do some good, too.”

There’s also comfort in knowing that the Binghamton community is aware of the family’s tragedy and fully supportive of D.I.F.D. initiatives.

Former Senators player Cody Bass, now in the Columbus Blue Jackets organization, was instrumental in the cause. “They did some things right away,” Stephanie says. “Cody Bass was with Binghamton at the time and he had lived with us when he played in Ottawa. It was very challenging, obviously, for us, but also for Cody. And the community was incredible. They embraced him and they did a lot of awareness. It’s pretty remarkable.”

The Richardsons have been involved in previous mental health events in Binghamton and the team is considering a Do It For Daron night during a game this season.

The movement remains strong in Ottawa. Last week, a luncheon for parents to discuss childhood mental health issues drew a standing-room-only crowd of 600. The Ontario Hockey League has partnered with the cause. Plans are in place for a “Purple Power Section” — Daron’s favourite colour — at the women’s world championships at Scotiabank Place in April. The Ontario Women’s Hockey Association will put a spotlight on mental health awareness when Ottawa hosts the provincial girls hockey championships next spring.

“We’re also working on an initiative, that we hope to announce in November, that will help educate children internationally,” Stephanie says. “It includes a major bank and a private donor in Toronto. That will be neat, because we have something to educate the kids right here (in Binghamton).”

That all helps explain why the couple is settling in here so easily.

“It all seems right,” says Luke, wearing three purple D.I.F.D. Wristbands and sporting purple running shoes.

“Let’s just hope the hockey falls into place.”

He acknowledges owning some butterflies as he begins the climb up the professional head coaching ladder, but he’s full of enthusiasm because of the organization’s stockpile of talented young players. He is grateful for the support of Binghamton assistant coaches Steve Stirling, a former head coach of the New York Islanders, and Matt Meacham.

Yet being here wasn’t on the radar when the Senators’ 2011-12 season ended.

After spending the past three seasons as a part-time assistant coach in Ottawa, he wasn’t sure whether his old position would still exist in an NHL lockout world. He looked around. He was offered an assistant coaching job in the Ontario Hockey League and he had the opportunity to run a private hockey academy in Western Canada.

Then Kleinendorst surprised the Senators organization by resigning from the Binghamton job.

Luke asked for advice from current Senators head coach Paul MacLean, who provided positive reinforcement of his coaching abilities.

He then interviewed with general manager Bryan Murray and assistant general manager Tim Murray, convincing them he could handle the tricky task of coaching at the AHL level; aiming for success while also properly grooming young prospects for a jump to the NHL. Having already worked with so many of the young players in the organization also worked to his advantage.

“It came up quick, but it just seemed to fall into place,” he says.

While he never spent time in the minor leagues during his 20-year playing career, he insists that’s not a handicap in understanding what the players are dealing with at the AHL level. When you’re around that long in the hockey world, he says, you learn all about the disappointments of demotions, the excitement of promotions, along with a healthy dose of politics, too. “(In the AHL), there are physical abilities and mental abilities you have to work on. There are reasons why players are here and players are there.”

Bryan Murray says that the new Binghamton coach has all the tools to be successful.

“He’s a caring person and he’ll get the guys in good condition,” says Murray. “Technically, he knows the game very well. I think he has a level of respect and he certainly has a presence in a room, so I would suggest that he’ll probably end up being a very good coach.”

He wasn’t tuning out when listening to the legion of coaches he had throughout his career, either, a group that includes the legendary old-school approach of John Brophy and the fiery John Tortorella. He learned to “take something” from every coach he has been around, whether he agreed with them or not. He’s adamant that a coach must “take ownership,” show leadership and a display a fair share of passion.

“You can’t totally lose it either, because players will get sick of listening to that,” he says. “And they are the ones that are there to play.”

It will take some time for him to establish his own style behind the bench and the goal is to one day be head coach in the NHL, but he’s in no rush to get to the top. The Richardsons are “still Mapquesting everything,” early on in their Binghamton adventure, anxious to accept the current challenge.

“I’m here, I’m on a two-year contract, but if it goes longer, that’s great,” he says. “We’re close to our daughter Morgan and if they want me to be here longer than two years, then that means I’m doing something right.”

Two years from now, they might even grow to love the train sounds.">

The abrupt departure of Binghamton head coach Kurt Kleinendorst last spring opened the door for Luke Richardson.

The abrupt departure of Binghamton head coach Kurt Kleinendorst last spring opened the door for Luke Richardson.


The abrupt departure of Binghamton head coach Kurt Kleinendorst last spring opened the door for Luke Richardson.
Stephanie credits the Senators organization for making the transition easier. ‘They really are family. Unfortunately, there’s an NHL lockout, but that just means that all of our hockey friends are going to come down and see us and the B-Sens more.’
Luke and Stephanie with their two daughters (Morgan, left, and Daron) when they were young. Daron’s tragic death in 2010 inspired the D.I.F.D. campaign, which raises mental health awareness.
Luke and Stephanie Richardson in their new home near the arena.
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