Richard Hildreth played his first international game in a test match in Potchefstroom, South Africa. From there, it took him about five years to establish himself as a consistent starter on the Men’s National Team. Hildreth went on to have a long and decorated career, amassing 188 caps while attending over 40 international competitions. His 17-year career is among the longest — in terms of years — of any active player and is just outside of the top 15 of all-time caps.
According to Hildreth, the decision to retire was a difficult one and one he contemplated over the past year. He had been dealing on and off with a knee injury that had caused him to be in and out of the lineup over the past few seasons. He added that the COVID-19 pandemic was a contributing factor, but his reasons were plenty and decided that now is the time to “hang ‘em up.”
“My body just couldn’t keep up with where it needed to be to play international hockey. I told myself, I’d give it a shot and see how my body did. It just wasn’t working out,” he said. “If [the Olympics] we’re last summer, I probably would have been able to give it a better shot. It’s made things difficult for everybody. It made it a little bit easier knowing it was my knee that wasn’t allowing me to get where I needed to be.”
“We have so much fun. Our group has always been really close, and I’ve felt really fortunate to have had such a close group.”
His teammates, he said, have been supportive of his decision and he is excited to see the success of the team moving forward.
“They’ve been devastated; they hate to see me go,” he laughed, poking fun at some of his long-time teammates. On a more genuine note, he added, “A lot of the reason I’ve stuck around is because of how much fun it is. I’ve had a really close relationship with a lot of the guys on the team. They’ve been really supportive.”
Richard Hildreth played 188 international matches in his career. Photos provided by Yan Huckendubler
Hildreth attended three Pan American Cups, three Commonwealth Games, two World Cups and a Pan American Games throughout his career. For Hildreth, often the World Cup and Olympic qualifying events carry more weight in his memory, as opposed to the major events. He looks back on the 2009 World Cup qualifier in Santiago as one of these qualification moments.
“It’s just so exciting, you play in a semi-final and a final. Usually, we’re playing Argentina,” he said. “It’s a nail-biter. Always comes down to the end and it’s quite dramatic. That’s probably my most memorable on-field moment with the team. There’s just too many to go through.”
Hildreth doesn’t expect he’ll be away from the game for long as he begins to shift his gears to coaching. He likes working with young athletes and thinks his experience sets him up nicely to support developing players. The shift from playing to coaching can be a challenge, but he says he’s looking forward to exploring other avenues and focus more on the contribution he can make off the field.
“I’ve been lucky to have been able to explore other avenues through school and work experience, so I don’t feel completely lost,” he said. “I really want to stay involved in the game. I love it and when I’m helping out coaching. It doesn’t feel like work.”
Hildreth’s 17-year career is one of the longest – in years – in program history. Photos provided by Yan Huckendubler
Hildreth goes down as one of only 20 men’s players to eclipse the 175-cap threshold. For him, most of his memories and reflections are off the field. For him, it’s been about developing the connections and friendships over his near-two-decade career.
“We have so much fun. Our group has always been really close, and I’ve felt really fortunate to have had such a close group,” he said. “It’s the people, really. There’s a lot of mutual respect.”
Congratulations Rich on a tremendous career and for paving the way for the next generation of Team Canada superstars!