BUFFALO – Gilles Richard returned home following a short stint as general manager of the Augusta RiverHawks and realized he needed to keep working in hockey.
It wasn’t for selfish reasons, mind you. No, in 2011, Richard decided to stay in hockey for his son, Jake, who had developed a passion for the sport.
When Jake was born in 2004, Gilles had just started working for the Jacksonville Barracuda, a team in the fledgling Southern Professional Hockey League.
“So I was kind of born right into the hockey culture and then fell in love with it at a young age and never looked back,” said Jake, a Sabres prospect who will be a freshman at UConn this upcoming season.
Jake grew up around the rink, spending countless hours shooting pucks and playing. Gilles, a single father, wanted him to keep his love for the game.
“When I was done with my time with the pro team (Augusta), it drove me to become a hockey director because I could just see the love for him being in the game and I just loved being around him,” Gilles said. “So it was just a perfect fit. I stayed around the game as much as I could so he could be at the rink and with his buddies.”
So Gilles founded the Jacksonville Jets, the first travel hockey program in the Florida city, for Jake.
At first, they had just eight players. Gilles had to ask two other children to play. Still, the program got off the ground. Gilles said Jake had 90 assists in his first season with the Jets.
“I created the travel team for him and then went from there basically,” Gilles said.
Jake grew into one of the state’s top prospects. As he developed, they committed more and more time. Ice, of course, is at a premium in Florida. They’d regularly drive five or six hours one way from Jacksonville to Estero for practice.
“The amount of hours us together traveling, it was crazy what we had to do,” said Gilles, who played pro hockey in Florida in the early 1990s.
He added: “It’s a commitment, but if you wanted to play tier-1 hockey, that was really the only way to do it for Florida.”
When the Richards would travel out of state, they’d sometimes arrive at midnight at the Orlando airport on Sunday and drive home to Jacksonville.
“It was pretty crazy,” Jake said following last Thursday’s session of development in LECOM Harborcenter.
Still, neither complained. Gilles cherishes the time he spent with his son.
“He played with a smile and people just enjoyed watching him because it looked like he enjoyed it so much,” he said.
The Sabres drafted the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Richard in the sixth round in 2022, 170th overall. He had a standout season in the junior United States Hockey League last year, compiling 31 goals and 62 points in 57 games with the Muskegon Lumberjacks and Tri-City Storm.
He said UConn, which competes in Hockey East, “kind of checked all the boxes for me.” The proximity of the teams helped entice him. After years of grueling travel, a short bus ride sounds nice.
“You don’t have to fly all those long trips, you’re in your own bed every night,” he said.
The Richards had two more long trips together earlier this month. Before development camp started, Jake and his father packed up his Subaru Crosstrek and drove about 20 hours from Lakeland, where Gilles coaches and is the director of hockey at Lakeland Ice Arena, to Buffalo.
Gilles, who grew up in Guelph, Ontario, rented a condo in Buffalo and watched Jake at camp before golfing with his friends later in the day.
Richard, 18, stood out during the three-on-three tournament that closed camp last Thursday, scoring two goals and assisting on another.
During his time with the other prospects, he said he learned “how great the culture here is in Buffalo.”
“Whether it’s on the ice or off the ice,” he said. “Everyone’s just a great person and it’s great development. And what they have here is just really strong. I’m really excited to be a part of it.”
Then the Richards hit the road for about a six-hour drive to Storrs, Connecticut, to move Jake into his dorm. Jake’s enrolled in a summer class before the fall semester starts.
“It’s funny, people say, ‘Be careful, it goes by so fast,’” Gilles said. “It’s so true. I can’t believe he’s at college now.”
The Rochester Americans on Thursday signed forward Damien Giroux to a one-year AHL contract.
Giroux, 23, played one game for the Minnesota Wild last season, recording as assist.
He has spent the last three seasons with the Iowa Wild, Minnesota’s AHL affiliate, scoring 13 goals and 48 points in 149 games. He registered three goals and 22 points in 67 contests last year.