Indefensible

Photo by Mark Newman

The 2010 class of the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame was announced today, and for the second straight year, there is a glaring omission from the list of inductees: Travis Richards.

With all respect to the selection committee and the difficult job its members have – not to mention the worthy athletes who have been chosen for induction the last two years – it is hard to fathom how one of the greatest athletes in the history of Grand Rapids professional sports has been passed over in his first two years of eligibility.

After all, we’re talking about a player who skillfully patrolled the Griffins’ blue line for 714 games over 10 seasons (1996-06), logging more games and seasons in Grand Rapids than any other professional athlete in the city’s history.

Prior to his injury-forced retirement, he had the longest continuous stretch of service with one team of any active player in the American Hockey League. In addition, only five pro athletes in the state of Michigan at that time – Kris Draper, Nicklas Lidstrom and Steve Yzerman of the Detroit Red Wings, and Jason Hanson and Cory Schlesinger of the Detroit Lions – had logged more consecutive, uninterrupted seasons of play with the same team than “Mr. Griffin.”

Richards was much more than just a durable roster stalwart, however, as he became one of the most accomplished and decorated players in franchise history. He led the Griffins to five division titles, four conference championship appearances and an IHL Turner Cup Finals berth (2000) during his final seven seasons with the team. Never one to put himself before his team, he nevertheless earned the spotlight by garnering all-star game selections in two different leagues (2004 AHL, 2001 IHL) and being selected as a second team IHL all-star in 2001.

The Minnesota native fell in love with West Michigan. He continues to raise his family here and gives back to the sport and community as hockey director for The Edge ice arena in Holland.

On Nov. 24, 2006, Richards became the first and only Griffins player to date to have his jersey number retired, and his no. 24 banner hangs in the rafters of Van Andel Arena. We can only hope that, at this time next year, he’ll have a hall of fame plaque on the arena concourse to go with it.

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