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' Simply Too Much Risk'

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September 5, 2003 -- The Rangers did it up as best they could, but there was no cloaking the sadness that permeated Mike Richter's retirement press conference at the Garden yesterday.

One after another, from Richter himself, to fellow musketeers Brian Leetch and Mark Messier (who, after the formal part of the session, announced his return for another season), to Garden CEO Jim Dolan, there was little celebrating, even with Glen Sather's announcement that the netminder's No. 35 would immediately be retired.

"You know, it's not a great day," Dolan said. "If you want to be honest, for us it's not a happy day at all."

Richter, as articulate an athlete who ever made this city his home, had great difficulty reading a thoughtful, prepared speech to the assembled audience. Messier, who flew up from Hilton Head, S.C., yesterday morning, was so overcome by emotion he had to leave the dais for nearly all of the formal presentation. Veronica Richter, Mike's wife, wept nearly from beginning to end while surrounded by family.

No, this was not a great day at all.

"You know that this is ripping his heart out," said Leetch, Richter's teammate throughout the goaltender's 14-year run on Broadway and one of his most intimate friends. "I think we all knew this was coming, but I kept advising Mike to wait, wait, wait, at least until he felt better.

"But in the end, there was just no other choice."

There had been no other choice, it turns out, since May 5, the six-month anniversary of the concussion Richter suffered at the Garden that would end his career. No other choice with that injury following by fewer than eight months the concussion and broken skull he suffered on March 22, 2001. For it was on May 5 that neurological specialist Dr. Karen Johnston told Richter he could not safely return to the rink.

"Karen called me and said she wanted to talk to me about my career," Richter said. "She said, 'You can't play anymore.' I was like, 'OK, that was a good talk.'

"She said that there was no maybe; no choice. She told me she could guarantee I'd recover fully from this, but that there was no guarantee I'd recover from another concussion, that there was simply too much risk.

"What I have to remember, with a wife and a 1- and a 3-year-old at home, is that what I'm giving up in hockey, I'm gaining in life."

Richter said yesterday he was, "stunned by the severity and duration," of the post-concussion symptoms from which he suffered.

"When Dr. Johnston told me that in May, I was feeling so poorly I didn't really feel that much emotion," said Richter, who isn't certain whether he'll accept Sather's invitation to attend training camp. "But now, I can say I feel much better. I wake up in the morning expecting to feel well, and even if there are days when I don't, I can handle it because I know I'm making progress.

"I know it doesn't sound like much, but I just went nine straight days without having to take a nap. That's a big deal for me. It's funny, I went from talking about playing forever one day to the next day praying that the rest of my life wouldn't be compromised.

"The only way for me to assure myself that won't be the case is not to play hockey anymore."

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