OTTAWA – Sometimes hockey has to take a backseat and that’s why the Ottawa Senators have interrupted their four-game road trip to come home.
Before they face the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday, the Senators will attend an Ottawa memorial service for Daron Richardson, daughter of assistant coach Luke Richardson. She died Saturday at the age of 14.
The Senators learned of her death while beginning their trip in Boston on Saturday night and, after playing at Philadelphia on Monday, made an unexpected return home to pay their respects to Richardson, a former teammate and longtime NHL defenceman, and his family.
“We play hockey for a living, it’s our job, but this is more important,” Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said Tuesday.
Daron Richardson, the younger of Luke and Stephanie Richardson’s two daughters, died of injuries resulting from her attempt to hang herself in the family’s basement on Friday.
“It’s difficult and when you have a family, you start questioning yourself as a parent,” said Alfredsson, a father of three young boys. “What would you do, especially when it’s coming out of the blue like this?”
The Richardson family is from Ottawa and is well known for its involvement in the community.
As a result, a public celebration of Daron’s life will take place Wednesday morning on the arena floor at Scotiabank Place.
“It’s something you don’t wish upon anybody, let alone a good friend and a teammate,” said Alfredsson. “I can’t even imagine what they’re going through. It’s extremely difficult and we’re going to try and support them as much as we can.”
While it’s sobering times off the ice, the Senators still have to deal with life on it, so they skated at their nearby practice facility Tuesday while the arena was being prepared for the service.
“It’s been an extremely tough week and we can’t imagine what the Richardsons are going through,” Senators centre Jason Spezza said. “But everybody wants to lend their support and help them as much as we can. It’s been tough and shocking to everyone.”
The NHL schedule requires that teams travel to the city in which they’re scheduled to play a day in advance. As a result, the Senators received permission in order to alter their plans and the team said there was no hesitation to do so.
Following the service, the Senators will board their charter flight and, upon landing, head straight for the RBC Center to prepare for the 7 p.m. ET puck drop, forgoing any usual pre-game routine.
“You just look at (the Richardsons’) situation and what is travelling on a game day, what does all that mean? It’s so immaterial, it’s not even on our minds,” Senators defenceman Chris Phillips said. “It’s about being here for the Richardsons and the hockey stuff will take care of itself.”
The Senators managed to beat the Bruins 2-0 on Saturday in a game that some players said was dedicated to Luke Richardson, but were thumped 5-1 Monday by another of Richardson’s former teams, the Flyers.
Coach Cory Clouston said the emotional toll of the past few days has shown in the team’s on-ice performance.
“Not much time that it doesn’t enter your mind,” Clouston said. “We had a real big emotional game, a focused game, in Boston. I thought we had a pretty big letdown for the second game. We just didn’t have the same jump or same intensity or focus that we had the first night. That could explain that.
“You try and guard against that, but they’re not robots. They care about his family and it’s been on their minds, for sure.”
Alfredsson has become active in the Ottawa area in support of mental health as a result of his younger sister Cecilia’s struggles with generalized anxiety disorder.
Likewise, the Richardsons were willing to have the news of Daron’s suicide attempt made public and have asked that donations be made in lieu of flowers to the Royal Ottawa Health Foundation’s Youth Program in order to help others in trouble.
“I don’t know the whole situation, but, obviously, it takes courage to speak out about it,” Alfredsson said. “It’s a difficult issue for everybody and there’s a lot of stigma involved in this. The more people speak out, I think the more comfortable people might feel talking about it as well and, hopefully, in the future an accident like this won’t be as common.”