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06/14/2006 5:14 PM - Travis Richards Announces Retirement After 10 Seasons in Grand Rapids

– Defenseman Travis Richards, the last player remaining from the Grand Rapids Griffins’ inaugural 1996-97 squad, officially announced his retirement after 10 seasons with the franchise on Wednesday, during a party held in his honor at GP Sports restaurant in downtown Grand Rapids.

Richards, 36, has played more games and seasons in Grand Rapids than any other professional athlete in the city’s history and, prior to his retirement, had the longest continuous stretch of service with one team of any active player in the American Hockey League. As further evidence of his remarkable longevity, only five pro athletes in the state of Michigan – Kris Draper, Nicklas Lidstrom and Steve Yzerman of the Detroit Red Wings, and Jason Hanson and Cory Schlesinger of the Detroit Lions – have logged more consecutive, uninterrupted seasons of play in their current uniform than “Mr. Griffin.”

“I have a lot of great memories and a lot of things I’m proud of,” said Richards. “The first is what we’ve built here in Grand Rapids, probably the top organization in minor league hockey. Every year, everyone knows we’re going to be good and are going to compete. To know that I was here for 10 years of that, it definitely makes me proud.

“All the relationships I’ve built here, it’s been great. Going to the rink for me is kind of an extended family. When I walk in the door, from the security people to the guy who drives the Zamboni, it feels like I’m hanging out in my basement. There’s nowhere else I could go to get that. Truly, I’ve never tried to go anywhere else in this league – I’m smart enough to know what I have. It was an absolute joy to come to the rink every day.”

Richards became the second player and first American to sign with the Griffins on July 26, 1996, and he departs as Grand Rapids’ all-time leader with 655 games played. He helped lead the Griffins to five division titles, four conference championship appearances and an IHL Turner Cup Finals berth (2000) during the last seven years.

“Travis has been an incredible ambassador for Griffins Hockey here in Grand Rapids,” said general manager Bob McNamara. “He meant a lot to his teammates over the years, and he was the class of our organization. He epitomized what the Griffins are about.”

Once the Griffins’ record-holder with 126 consecutive games played, Richards was a mainstay on the team’s blue line during its first eight seasons, missing only 43 of 650 regular season contests and appearing in all 59 playoff games from 1996-2004. However, injuries limited him to 48 games since the start of the 2004-05 campaign. He played in 13 contests last season and earned an assist in his final game in a Griffins uniform, a 5-4 overtime win against Milwaukee at Van Andel Arena on Dec. 3, 2005.

During his storied career, Richards garnered accolades such as the captaincy of the PlanetUSA squad at the 2004 AHL All-Star Classic in Grand Rapids and Second Team IHL All-Star honors in 2001. He served three seasons (2001-04) as the Griffins’ captain – the longest tenure in franchise history – and the other seven as an alternate captain, skating alongside 265 teammates through the years.

In addition to his games-played primacy, Richards ranks among the franchise’s regular season career leaders with a plus-131 rating (1st), 182 assists (2nd), 238 points (2nd), 995 shots (2nd), 24 power play goals (T3rd), 502 penalty minutes (5th) and 56 goals (7th).

Richards played nearly his entire pro career in West Michigan. After representing the United States at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, the former Minnesota Golden Gopher made his pro debut with the IHL’s Kalamazoo Wings late in the 1993-94 season. He stayed with the Wings through the 1995-96 campaign, also appearing in three NHL games with the parent Dallas Stars.

In all, Richards played 805 regular season contests during his 13-year career, registering 293 points (70-223—293) and 632 penalty minutes. He registered his 800th regular season game as a pro on Nov. 20, 2005 at Toronto.

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