It has only occurred two times in the history of US Bandy. If you think about it, it's amazing that it has even occurred once. Like almost all US bandy players, Dave Reichel does not begin his bandy career until his hockey career is over. In October 1984 Dave Reichel plays for the first time on the big ice of a bandy rink. He is 27 years old. Skating for the Bagheera Blades Reichel scores 3 goals in only his second game. Against a Swedish Elite Team, Falun. Three days later Reichel scores the Bagheera goal versus Boltic in the World Cup Ljusdal, a 2-1 Bagheera defeat and the greatest near upset in the 100 year plus history of bandy. One year later and Dave Reichel is skating midfield, a regular, for Swedish Elite Team, Edsbyn. From beginner to elite in one year. Nothing like this has happened in any other sport. Ever. How? Dave Reichel is definitely a superior athlete. An All American in both hockey and golf in college. He can skate. Reichel can also, from the first time he steps on the ice, shoot a bandy ball. Most US players take years to acquire this ability, or never do. "Golf" is Reichel's explanation. "Just like striking a golf ball". But Reichel is not just physically gifted. He quickly grasps the nuances of bandy. Strategy, positioning, constant but varied tempo, ball movement and reading the play. He becomes the complete bandy package. And for 26 years Dave Reichel stands alone as the only US bandy player to skate form a Swedish Elite Team.
In January of 2006 future US Hall of Famer Rick Haney drives down from Duluth for a Bandolier game. In the car with him is a brand new skater, poised for his debut as a bandy player. Daren Richardson is a St Paul native but he has gone to college in Duluth where he has played hockey.
The Bandolier win the game but that is not what Richardson will remember. Instead he will always remember the feeling of playing bandy. Playing outside, on the giant bandy ice surface, all the room in which to skate, to move. He feels like he is 12 years old again, playing open hockey at the park. The space, freedom, creativity, playing for fun, just like a kid. Daren is in. All in. Head over heels.
The 2006-07 US season begins and there is a new US team, Duluth Dynamo. Daren skates for Duluth. He is also student teaching in a Duluth High School. Daren makes the US National Team that will compete in the World Championships in Kemerovo in February 2007. He is told by his Student Teaching Advisor that there is no way he can go to Kemerovo. The Teacher he will be working for disagrees with the Advisor. Daren will go to Kemerovo with the US team. Many years later Daren contemplates what he would have done if he told he could not go. In his heart he knows the answer.
In Kemerovo Richardson and the US team play in front of thousands. The experience both on and off the ice is so powerful that there is no room left for the memory of scoring his first international goal there. He has already decided, even before returning home to Minnesota, that he will become a full time bandy player. With the help of Magnus Skold, Richardson finds a Swedish Team, Atvidaberg, that will welcome an American player, sight unseen. The club, the town and Borje Johansson, the bandy godfather in Atvidaberg, welcome him with open arms. At 25 years old Richardson is one of the oldest players on the team, and definitely the least experienced. In addition to the evening team trainings and the weekend games Richardson spends hours each day skating and shooting at the rink. He quickly evolves from the novice American to a key player. Richardson again skates for the US team in the World Championships, 2008 in Moscow. He is vastly improved over the previous year. And he will continue to get better. The 2008-09 season Richardson plays with Jonkoping in Sweden's second highest league. In the first on ice practices his impression is that the players are too good and that he won't be able to compete. This proves to be a magnificently incorrect impression. He scores twenty seconds into his first game with Jonkoping. By season's end he is one of the top players in the league. Richardson returns to Jonkoping for two more seasons. His ascent as a skilled bandy player continues, both in Sweden for Jonkoping and for the USA in the World Championships. His rise is noted in Sweden. In the spring of 2011 Curt Einarsson, "The Bandy Professor" and Chairman of Vetlanda Bandy asks Richardson if he would like a shot at playing in the Swedish Elite League. He is offered a "try out" contract, meaning he would train with Vetlanda from April to October when they would then decide if they would keep him on the Team. Richardson recalls the drylands training as incredibly tough, run by Russian bandy legend Sergei InFalin. The jumping training combined with the uphill sprints were grueling. But effective. Richardson is leaner, faster, stronger than ever before in his life. The preseason on ice training and games began in September. In early October Vetlanda, impressed by Richardson's evolution, offers him an EliteSerien contract. In the first minute, of his first Elite Series game, Richardson makes a beautiful pass. Goal Vetlanda. He later scores a goal. He is named the player of the match. Daren Richardson becomes only the second US bandy player to play for a Swedish Elite Team. And his accomplishment is perhaps even more impressive than that of Dave Reichel 25 years earlier. By the 2000s bandy at the highest levels has become a professional, year round, sport in Sweden. The on ice season ends in March. Dryland training begins in April. Indoor, on ice, training begins in August. The players are better trained, better conditioned, higher skilled. Just as in every other sport. For Daren Richardson to achieve Elite Level bandy, in this modern era, only 5 years after beginning to play, is beyond the superlative of extraordinary, beyond the descriptive of unprecedented.
The players on the US National Team are in awe of Richardson's on ice abilities. But no-one in US Bandy is ever placed on a pedestal, treated different than any other player, no matter what their on ice contribution to the team is. Daren Richardson is simply one of the boys off the ice, albeit the only one playing for a Swedish Elite team. In Almaty, Kazakhstan, in the 2012 World Championships, the team sits in the locker room prior one of our games. Coach Chris Halden pumps up the team with an emotional speech. Halden then goes from player to player, one at a time. "What is your name?" Coach Halden asks. "Who do you play for?". In response each player shouts out their name and that they play for the USA. Halden comes to US player Evan Richardson, Daren's older brother. Evan is an excellent bandy player, a powerful skater, playing halfback and midfield. He is also a former Division 1 college and professional soccer player. An athlete of distinction.
"What's your name?" Halden shouts out to Evan.
"Who do you play for?"
"I am Daren's brother"
"I play for the USA".