Luke Richardson’s daughter is never far from his thoughts — or his heart.
The Montreal Canadiens assistant coach wears a pin on his lapel in Daron’s memory every time he steps behind the bench after the family lost her to suicide in 2010 at age 14.
And despite the chaotic, emotional moments immediately following Richardson’s first win as an NHL head coach Friday — a thrilling overtime victory in the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs — he made sure to gently tap and blow a kiss to the reminder on his chest.
“It feels like a long time ago,” Richardson said Saturday of Daron’s death.” But sometimes it feels like yesterday.
“I just thought it was a perfect time to pay a little tribute to her.”
The pin the 52-year-old attaches before every game is in honour of the Do It for Daron movement and its focus on youth mental health that started through the Royal Ottawa Hospital in the aftermath of his daughter’s passing.
“Important discussions that we need to have,” said Richardson, who was an assistant coach with the Ottawa Senators from 2009 through 2012. “It’s not an easy conversation, but we’re proud of what the organization has done.
“Daron is always in my heart, and in our hearts.”
Richardson stepped into the pressure-packed head coaching role for Montreal’s 3-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights after Dominique Ducharme’s positive COVID-19 test hours before puck drop. The win gave the Canadiens a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven semifinal.
A difficult situation for everyone, Richardson didn’t miss a beat with the help of fellow assistants Alexandre Burrows and Sean Burke as the Canadiens recovered from a tough start — they were outshot 30-8 through two periods — to maintain home-ice advantage ahead of Sunday’s Game 4.
“It’s very inspiring,” second-year Montreal centre Nick Suzuki said of Richardson’s journey. “He’s been a great coach for me. I’ve learned a lot.”
A veteran of nearly 1,500 games as a bruising defenceman, Richardson is in his seventh season as an NHL assistant, and also spent four years in charge of the AHL’s Binghamton Senators.
He raised a glass to Daron along with his wife, Stephanie, late Friday, but the couple’s other daughter, Morgan, a high school teacher in Boston, couldn’t be there because of pandemic border restrictions.
“We’re proud of both the girls,” Richardson said. “Daron in our hearts and Morgan, we’re thinking of her as well, not being able to be here. Stephanie and I enjoyed the evening and took it all in.
“It’s definitely very special.”