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A homegrown hire

MINNEAPOLIS -- After nearly a decade of the same style on the ice, and the same face behind the bench, the Minnesota Wild's philosophical transformation took another monumental step Monday when new general manager Chuck Fletcher hired the complet...

MINNEAPOLIS -- After nearly a decade of the same style on the ice, and the same face behind the bench, the Minnesota Wild's philosophical transformation took another monumental step Monday when new general manager Chuck Fletcher hired the complete antithesis of old coach Jacques Lemaire.

San Jose Sharks assistant coach Todd Richards -- the frontrunner from the outset of Fletcher's coaching search -- will be introduced as the second coach in Wild history at a noon (CDT) news conference today at Xcel Energy Center, multiple NHL sources confirmed.

At 42, the brown-haired Richards is 21 years younger than the white-haired Lemaire.

He doesn't hail from Montreal or have a French Canadian accent. Richards is a homegrown Minnesotan, a native of Crystal and former star at Armstrong High School and the University of Minnesota.

And unlike Lemaire, who made defensive hockey and the neutral-zone trap a Wild staple, Richards is all about hard-nosed, up-tempo, aggressive, attacking hockey.

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"He's a great fit to turn the style around," said agent Ben Hankinson, Richards' former Gophers and minor league hockey teammate. "He plays aggressive, offensive hockey. Opposed to the way the Wild has played, it'll be pretty refreshing and entertaining.

"I think it'll take time, but he'll play a lot more aggressively, a lot more in-your-face."

While Richards might not have Lemaire's 11 Stanley Cup rings and 15 years of NHL head coaching experience, he does have a track record of success as a player and coach.

He was head coach of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League from 2006 to '08, winning 98 games and taking the Baby Penguins to the Calder Cup Finals in 2008.

Fletcher, the former Penguins' assistant GM and Wilkes-Barre GM, originally hired Richards upon recommendation from Penguins GM Ray Shero, Milwaukee's GM when Richards was an assistant there.

The Admirals went to the Calder Cup Finals twice during his four-year tenure, winning one championship.

"I really liked his mind, his thinking. He was innovative, he was aggressive. That's how he played, and that's how he coaches," said Columbus Blue Jackets assistant coach Claude Noel, Milwaukee's head coach when Richards was an assistant.

"I don't think he will be a sit-and-watch type guy. His defensemen will be active. He'll attack and pursue the puck. He wants to get up the ice. He's an intelligent, fair coach but very demanding and very intense. Very intense."

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As a player, Richards won two WCHA titles with the Gophers, a 1991 Calder Cup with the Springfield Indians (AHL title), a 2001 Turner Cup with Orlando (2001) and a 2002 Swiss-B League title with Servette Geneve.

A second-round pick by the Montreal Canadiens in 1985, Richards was a pure offensive defenseman during a bright high school, college and minor-league career. He scored 30 goals and 158 assists in four years with the Gophers; in Las Vegas in 1994-95, he was IHL Defenseman of the Year after accumulating 130 points. He played in only 19 NHL games, with the Hartford Whalers, from 1990 to '92.

His father, Tom, was a top local youth coach and his brother, Travis, was also a Gophers captain.

"He was a very, very intelligent player and kind of ran our power play, which is not an easy thing to step into for somebody that young," said former Gophers teammate Pat Micheletti, who went to the Frozen Four with Richards in 1986 when he was a senior and Richards a freshman. "He was always cool, calm. You could just sense right away that he was not only a good player, but a smart player."

The one trait Richards' friends all say he has is quiet competitiveness. Whether it's NCAA pools, poker, video games or golf, Richards believes he can win.

"Two years ago, Wilkes-Barre was in over their head in the championship against Chicago," Hankinson said. "The Wolves' first-line power play had twice the budget of the whole Wilkes-Barre team. After they lost, I said to Todd, 'You had a great run. That's a talented team built to win championships.' He said, 'No way. There was a way to win, and we didn't figure out how to do it.' It was no consolation to him that it was like the Twins losing to the Yankees.

"Any hand he's dealt, he believes there's a combination in there to win."

Richards' only NHL coaching experience was the past year he spent as Todd McLellan's assistant with the President's Trophy-winning Sharks.

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But several successful NHL coaches, like Detroit's Mike Babcock, Washington's Bruce Boudreau and Pittsburgh's Dan Bylsma, had limited to no NHL coaching experience before their first jobs.

Noel says not to worry.

"I know people aren't familiar with him, but I think given time, they'll see things work out just fine in Minnesota," Noel said. "They're going to be a hard-working team. I don't think there'll be any question about that. The players will understand very clearly what's going on out there."

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