Richart is Miami’s black and blueliner
OXFORD, Ohio – While Taylor Richart’s presence in Miami’s lineup seems like a given on a nightly basis, there was a point when he pondered whether he had a shot at making it to this level.
Undersized for a defenseman at 5-feet-9, the senior went from having to try out to make an NAHL team to logging 122 games at the Division I level for the RedHawks and becoming one of their most dependable and toughest stay-at-home blueliners.
“He comes in, works his (butt) off every day, he really attacks it – practice, workouts, whatever it may be – real detail oriented, and he makes sure does all of the little things right,” goalie and classmate Jay Williams said. “He wants to do everything he can in his power to make sure he’s ready (for games), and obviously you’ve seen the results: For the past two years he’s been one of our best, most consistent players on our back end.”
Richart was born and still lives in Blaine, Minn., a northern suburb of Minneapolis, and was a rink rat practically from birth. His father, Scott, played for the University of Minnesota and still coaches youngsters.
Richart learned how to skate at a small park a couple of minutes from their home as a toddler and was a natural on the ice.
“Even when I was two years old I would put a pair of skates on and walk around the house,” Richart said. “Everything in my house is hockey since my dad grew up around hockey.”
Prep hockey is huge in Minnesota, and Richart helped Blaine High School qualify for the state tournament twice, including a third-place finish in 2009. He was named to the all-conference team in 2010.
But at that point, he didn’t see a lucrative future for himself in the sport and considered non-scholarship competition.
Richart also patrolled second base and shortstop growing up, and he thought he could play hockey in the winter and baseball in spring if he went to a Division III school.
After his senior year of high school, Richart received a call from an acquaintance that offered him a tryout for NAHL Aberdeen. Richart not only earned his way onto that team, he logged 53 games, scoring twice and dishing out 10 assists.
He worked as hard as anyone on the ice, impressing so much that he joined a USHL team the following season and went 7-9-16 for Fargo.
“His work ethic is really something that’s above and beyond,” senior defenseman Matthew Caito said. “Everything he does, he does 100 percent and he gives it his all, and guys really follow him, and we feed off of that. His intensity and work ethic in practice is amazing to watch. He’s one of my good friends, but I’m not just saying that because he is. It’s true – he’s one of our great leaders.”
Richart was preparing for a third season in juniors when a late defection left Miami short a defenseman. He came to Oxford for a visit and fell in love with the campus.
“That year we had (Steve) Spinell and (Joe) Hartman and (Garrett) Kennedy and (Matthew) Caito obviously with (Joyaux) and Ben Paulides – a year older,” RedHawks coach Enrico Blasi said. “So we needed him to come in right away and compete for playing time and he did that.”
Richart proved himself ready for that challenge right away as well.
Two years after trying out to make an NAHL team, Richart was in the lineup for an elite Division I school. He played 40 of 42 games as a freshman, went plus-2 with four assists and was fourth on the team with 49 blocked shots.
“From Day 1 he’s had that hockey IQ, and it’s obvious – if you watch him play you can see it,” Caito said. “It’s great how he’s always in the right position at the right time.”
A concussion essentially ended Richart’s season after 24 games as a sophomore. Despite the short year, he managed five assists and still blocked 36 shots while taking just one minor penalty.
With more freshmen coming in for his junior season, Richart again had to work his way into the lineup. After being scratched for the first five contests of 2014-15, he hit the ice for the final 35.
“I knew coming into the year I was kind in an odd spot because we had a lot of guys coming in as well, so I knew I had to work my butt off when I came to the rink every day,” Richart said. “Positive attitude, just kind of wait for chance, and when the chance came I grabbed it and ran with it.”
Richart netted his only career goal that season in a 3-0 win over Cornell on Dec. 29, 2014. He piled up 45 more blocks, finished plus-5 and took just three minors.
In 23 games this season, Richart leads team with 46 blocked shots – 11 ahead of any other RedHawk. – and he has three assists.
“The last couple years he’s done a tremendous job, really working hard to bring everything else along,” Williams said.
He also won the team’s hardest shot competition prior to this season.
“He’ll tell you that his shot’s gotten a little harder, but I don’t know about that,” Williams said. “They clocked it before the season but it might have been in kilometers.”
Said Blasi: “He came in his freshman year, kind of struggled sophomore year – which is not uncommon for guys – toward the end of his sophomore year started to come out of it and had a real solid year last year and he’s been pretty good this year. Those are always the good stories when the guys work themselves into the lineup and contribute and are mainstays.”
He also has just four penalty minutes, giving him 12 PIM in 90 games since the start of his sophomore season, a marvel considering his stay-at-home role.
Richart has a goal and 16 assists for his career, but points are a deceiving stat for a player in his role, and his total does not reflect the obvious improvement in his game since he first set foot on the ice at Cady Arena in 2012.
“His sound plays with the puck,” Caito said. “When he was younger, he kind of forced pucks a little bit just like everyone does when they first come into college. Now he’s really harnessed in on making the simple plays and realizing that plays lead to bigger opportunities for us. His defensive play is amazing right now.”
Having a father who played at the college level and still coaches has helped Richart become a smarter player as well.
“He knows the game very well, and as a smaller guy you have to know the game a little better,” Blasi said.
Richart uses the hockey smarts he father instilled in him to overcome the size deficit he faces when he dresses for games against ultra-physical NCHC opponents.
“You’re not going to out-muscle guys – you’ve just got to be smart,” Richart said. “Know the game, know your strengths and weaknesses. Just make strong plays. I know I’m not going to be the bigger guy, and that’s part of the reason why I kind of got overlooked, because I’m smaller, but I always knew I was going to have to out-think someone rather than rough them up.
“That kind of comes from my dad. He taught me to block shots, and he always told me that’s a big part of the game, being a defenseman, so that’s kind of what I prided myself on, blocking shots, taking hits, making plays, being a tough player. Your teammates look up to you when you do that as well, because they see that you’re sacrificing your body for them.”
If there was a statistic for penalty minutes drawn vs. penalty minutes taken, Richart would have to be high on the Division I leaderboard. He has drawn boarding majors numerous times in his career and has rarely missed a shift despite taking some brutal-looking hits.
“He’s got to set an NCAA record for being on the receiving end of hits from behind,” Williams said. “Obviously every time it happens it’s scary and it’s dangerous plays usually, and your No. 1 concern is thankfully he’s OK and his health and his safety. But drawing penalties is the result of hard work and moving your feet and doing the right things, and playing disciplined but playing with an edge and aggressive, so I think that’s kind of a testament to how he plays and how hard he works out there.”
Said Blasi: “He puts himself in that situation where he’s competing so hard for pucks that he’s going to take some punishment. As a smaller guy that’s just the name of the game – you’re just going to have to take it and move on.”
Besides the concussion, Richart said he has broken fingers a couple of times, fractured a foot on multiple occasions and has received countless stitches.
He also bruised a lung earlier this season and required medical treatment as he was coughing up blood. Richard missed just two games for the latter, the only times he has not been in the lineup in 2015-16.
“A couple of times I’ve gotten stitches this year and last year and just put some glue on it and repair after the period so I don’t miss time,” Richart said.
Whenever Richart has to visit a doctor, the paperwork heads north to his parents.
“My mom always gets the bills, an X-ray here, an X-ray there, there’s probably a stack about 20 deep,” Richart said. “They always joke that when I get an X-ray they know me by name there – I have a little VIP section where I go in.”
Caito is one of Richart’s best friends, and he said that Richart has earned the nickname The Deputy because of his militaristic routine.
“He’s real strict about his schedule and he gets all upset if you mess with it,” Williams said. “Kind of the iron fist.”
Richart has a 3.3 grade-point average as a sports leadership management major and will graduate this spring. He want to continue playing hockey in the professional ranks beyond this season but is currently focused on his final collegiate games as he wraps up his last few months in Oxford.
“The coaching staff, the guys – this place is just unbelievable,” Richart said. “Even the first time I came for my visit in the summer when no one was here, I knew this was the place for me. Everything is set up for you to succeed – the professors want you to succeed, the coaches want you to succeed, not only on ice but they want you to grow as a person. They care about you and they have so much respect for you. I’ve made some of the best friends I’ll have for life here. It’s been an unbelievable experience.”