Canadian hockey player
When Maurice Richard—universally known by his nickname, "The Rocket"—died in Montreal on May 27, 2000, the entire nation of Canada went into mourning. One of the greatest players in the history of hockey, Richard's legendary exploits on the ice helped the Montreal Canadiens win eight Stanley Cup championships during his eighteen years with the team. The leading goal scorer in the National Hockey League (NHL) five times, Richard was also the first player to score fifty goals in one season. Yet Richard's true importance to his fans lay not in his impressive statistics and career longevity, but rather in what he symbolized. To many people in the province of Quebec, Richard was the epitome of French-Canadian pride. Indeed, Richard's professional career from 1942 to 1960 paralleled the growth in Quebecois consciousness that culminated in
the so-called Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, when the province's social, political, and economic landscapes transformed the Canadian nation.
Native Son of Montreal
Joseph Henry Maurice Richard was born on August 4, 1921 in Montreal, Quebec. The oldest child of Onesime, a carpenter for the Canadian Pacific Railway, and Alice Richard, Maurice grew up in a rough neighborhood in Montreal's north end, where the Richard family house sat next to a city jail. Richard began playing hockey in his neighborhood when he was about four years old and played in the city's athletic leagues through his teens. After playing in junior hockey leagues while studying to be a machinist at the Montreal Technical School, Richard joined the Montreal Canadiens organization in 1940 and was sent to play for its minor-league affiliate, the Montreal Royals. Although he scored a goal in his first game with the team, Richard suffered a broken ankle when his skate got caught in a rut on the ice. He sat out the rest of the season.
Returning to the Royals for the 1941-42 season, Richard lasted thirty-one games before another injury—this time, a broken wrist—put him out of action. He had healed sufficiently to rejoin the team for the playoffs, where he scored six goals. The performance was impressive enough to get Richard called up to the Canadiens for the start of the 1942-43 season. Signed as a free agent in October 1942, he was again made inactive when he broke his ankle after just sixteen games. Given the recurring injuries, Canadiens general manager Tommy Gorman had doubts about Richard's future on the team. In the midst of World War II, however, there was a lack of available players to join the roster; Richard himself had attempted to enlist twice in the Canadian Armed Forces but was deferred because of his numerous injuries. With the Canadiens mired in fourth place in the then-six-team NHL at the end of the season, there was little choice but to let Richard rejoin the team for the 1943-44 season.
First of Eight Stanley Cup Victories in 1944
For the 1943-44 season, Richard began wearing the number-nine jersey in honor of his first child, daughter Huguette, who had been born to his wife, Lucille, weighing in at nine pounds. The couple eventually had seven children and remained married up to the time of Lucille Richard's death in 1994. In addition to picking up a new number for the 1943-44 season, Richard also earned a new nickname, "The Rocket," bestowed upon him by teammate Ray Getliffe. The moniker was a testament to the left-handed, right wing's speed and power on the ice, as well as for his explosive temperament that often resulted in fights with his opponents. Although his size was modest—at just five feet, ten inches tall and weighing between 170 and 180 pounds—Richard had the ability to intimidate his opponents just by staring them down. "What I remember most about the Rocket were his eyes," said goalie Glenn Hall in a remark later reprinted in Richard's Associated Press obituary, "When he came flying toward you with the puck on his stick, his eyes were all lit up, flashing and gleaming like a pinball machine. It was terrifying."
Richard's thirty-two regular season goals helped the Canadiens finish the 1943-44 season in first place. In the team's first game of the Stanley Cup finals, Richard scored five goals to give the Canadiens the win. The team subsequently swept the series to claim their first NHL victory since the league assumed sponsorship of the Stanley Cup in 1926. Although the Canadiens did not make it to the finals the following season, Richard topped the NHL for goals scored in the 1944-45 season, with fifty goals in fifty games. It was the first time any player had reached that number; the record was not surpassed until 1966. Richard went on to lead the league in goal scoring in four more seasons: 1946-47; 1949-50; 1953-54; and 1954-55, when he shared the honor with Montreal's Bernie Geoffrion. Richard also won the Hart Trophy as Most Valuable Player in the NHL at the conclusion of the 1946-47 season; it was the only Hart Trophy he received in his career, much to the disappointment of his fans.
With his own weekly newspaper column, which he often used to criticize NHL officials and administrators, Richard became Quebec's best-known athlete by the early 1950s. Although he was often criticized himself for his rough tactics on the ice, Richard's rivalry with Detroit Red Wings star Gordie Howe delighted fans of both teams. Montreal emerged as the NHL champion at the end of the 1952-53 season, but the Red Wings held the edge in the first half of the 1950s, when the team won the Stanley Cup four times.
|1921||Born August 4 to Onesime and Alice Richard in Montreal, Quebec, Canada|
|1942||Begins playing in National Hockey League (NHL) for Montreal Canadiens|
|1944||Canadiens win Stanley Cup|
|1945||Leads National Hockey League in scoring with fifty goals|
|1946||Canadiens win Stanley Cup|
|1947||Wins Hart Trophy as NHL's Most Valuable Player|
|1950||Leads National Hockey League in scoring with forty-three goals|
|1953||Canadiens win Stanley Cup|
|1954||Leads National Hockey League in scoring with thirty-seven goals|
|1955||Shares leading National Hockey League scoring record with thirty-eight goals|
|1955||Suspension leads to riot in Montreal in protest|
|1956||Montreal Canadiens begin string of five consecutive Stanley Cup victories|
|1960||Retires as professional hockey player|
|1980||Works for Montreal Canadiens as special team ambassador|
|1998||Maurice Richard Trophy created by National Hockey League for season's top goal scorer|
|2000||Dies in Montreal on May 27|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1944, 1946, 1953, 1956-60||NHL Stanley Cup (Montreal Canadiens)|
|1947||Wins Hart Trophy as NHL's Most Valuable Player during regular season|
|1961||Induction into Hockey Hall of Fame|
The Richard Riot
After losing to Detroit in the 1954 championship by one game, the Canadiens were determined to turn the tables the following year. Richard was especially pleased to welcome his younger brother, Henri, to the lineup of the Canadiens for the 1954-55 season, which promised to be one of the Rocket's finest. Yet Richard's season ended in one of the most controversial episodes in sports history. In Boston on March 13, 1955, Richard was struck on the head by Bruins defenseman Hal Laycoe during a third-period power play that left the Bruins short-handed. Richard retaliated by hitting Laycoe with his own stick and, after a linesman took that away, with two other sticks that he managed to grab. Finally restrained by linesman Cliff Thompson, Richard hit the official twice before leaving the ice. Richard left the game to receive five stitches to a head wound caused by Laycoe, and Laycoe received a five-minute penalty for high sticking.
NHL president Clarence Campbell was outraged by Richard's treatment of the game officials. In a hearing held in Montreal on March 16, 1955, the league announced that Richard would be suspended for the rest of the regular season and any playoff games as well. The decision shocked Canadiens fans for its severity; not only would it put Richard out of the race for that year's top scorer award, but it would also jeopardize the team's chances for a Stanley Cup victory. Many French-speaking Canadians also saw Campbell's decision as a slap in the face by the English-speaking elites who then dominated the country's economic and political spheres.
Although he had received numerous death threats for issuing the suspension of Richard, Campbell insisted on attending the game between the Canadiens and the Red Wings at the Montreal Forum the day after the decision was announced. He was greeted with jeers and insults and after he took his seat, a variety of objects began raining down on him. At the end of the first period, one spectator walked up to Campbell as if to shake his hand; instead, he started punching the NHL president. Another fan later made his way up to Campbell and threw tomatoes at him. Despite the assaults, Campbell remained in his seat until another protester threw a tear gas canister into the audience. The bomb exploded and sent the Forum crowd scrambling toward the exits. No one was injured in the incident and the game was immediately canceled; the victory was awarded to the Red Wings, who were leading by a score of three to one.
What happened next turned the event into the Richard Riot. As fans fled the Forum, a restless crowd started to gather on the streets. Outraged by Campbell's seeming arrogance, the mob turned violent and began smashing windows and looting stores in downtown Montreal. It was not until 3:00 am that the crowd of about 10,000 people was finally dispersed, some six hours after the event began. Richard immediately went on the radio to ask his fans to restore order, and calm prevailed the next day. Privately, however, Richard blamed Campbell for deliberately inciting the crowd with this appearance at the Forum. L'affaire Richard, as the event was also known, not only ended Richard's season but contributed to the loss by the Canadiens to the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup finals by a single game.
Five Consecutive Stanley Cup Victories
The infamous conclusion of the 1954-55 season fueled Richard's desire for another Stanley Cup victory. The Canadiens indeed won the 1956 championship over the Red Wings in a four-to-one game series. Thus began one of the greatest hockey dynasties in the sport's history, as the team went on to win five consecutive championships. In all Richard contributed to eight Stanley Cup victories by the Canadiens in his eighteen years with the team.
Ironically, the Canadiens' success from 1956 to 1960 occurred when Richard's skills were being dimmed by age. At the conclusion of the 1959-60 season, Richard announced his retirement. Within a year, in contradiction of the rule mandating a five-year waiting period for retired players, Richard was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. He continued to work for the Canadiens for a brief period, but tensions with the team's owners left him disillusioned. He instead worked as a sporting goods salesman for several years until the Canadiens lured him back with an offer to serve as the team's goodwill ambassador.
Maurice "Rocket" Richard
Of course, he was much more than "just a hockey player." It wasn't just that he was a winner during his eighteen seasons with the Canadiens, it was the way he won. He could lift a team, a province, and at times even a country into a frenzy of winning. He pushed himself to the brink, and when he and the team won, "his people" imagined themselves winners as well—even if it was for only a little while. When he was Number One, they were too. When he lost, they lost. It's why "his people" erupted into what will always be remembered as the Richard Riot on March 17, 1955. The reason? After clubbing Hal Laycoe of the Boston Bruins with his stick, Richard had been suspended for the last few games of the regular season and for the entire playoffs.
With Richard, the eyes had it. They were coal-black, wet, and shining with the intensity he brought to every game. No wonder he lit up every arena in which he performed. It was the menace implicit in him each time he swooped in on an opposing goaltender, often with another player clinging to his back. It was in his arms and in the barrel of his chest which threatened to burst his sweater at any moment. It was in the tight line of his mouth, and in the snarl it formed when he was challenged.
Source: Red Fisher, Hockey, Heroes, and Me, McClelland & Stewart, 1994.
|Canadiens: Montreal Canadiens (NHL).|
A Nation Mourns
Richard's last major public appearance occurred at the closing of the old Montreal Forum on March 11, 1996, where he was given an extended standing ovation by the audience. Suffering from abdominal cancer and Parkinson's disease, Maurice Richard died on May 27, 2000. An estimated 50,000 people waited in line to pay their respects at a public showing held in the Molson Centre hockey arena before Richard's funeral at the Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal.
Acknowledged as one of the best players in the sport's history, Maurice Richard's significance reached beyond the hockey rink. As the most popular member of the Canadiens in the 1940s and 1950s, he symbolized the aspirations of a province that often felt slighted by the Anglo-dominated institutions that prevailed in the Canada of that era. Although his fans' passions sometimes boiled over, as in the infamous riot that followed his 1955 suspension, they also contributed to the newfound pride of French-speaking Canadians in their language and heritage that led to a cultural renaissance in the province in the 1960s and beyond.
Fisher, Red. Hockey, Heroes, and Me. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1994.
McFarlane, Brian. The Habs. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing, 1996.
Bird, Heather. "Adieu, M. Richard." Toronto Sun (June 1, 2000).
Bird, Heather. "A Family Member Lost." Toronto Sun (May 31, 2000).
McRae, Earl. "'He Was Everything to Us.'" Ottawa Sun (June 1, 2000).
Flatter, Ron. "The Rocket Lit Up Hockey." ESPN Classic Web site. http://espn.go.com/classic/biography/s/Richard_Maurice.html (October 20, 2002).
"Maurice Richard Dead at 78.#x201D; Canoe Web site. http://www.canoe.ca/HockeyRocketRichard/may27_dead.html (October 17, 2002).
"Maurice Richard: 'The Rocket.'" Joy of Hockey Web site. http://www.joyofhockey.com/xRet1MauriceRichard.html (October 21, 2002).
"Prime Minister Chretien Speaks Out." Canoe Web site. http://www.canoe.ca/HockeyRocketRichard/may27_pm.html (October 17, 2002).
"Rocket Remembered for His Emotion, Determination." Canoe Web site. http://www.canoe.ca/HockeyRocketRichard/may27_roc.html (October 17, 2002).
Sketch by Timothy Borden
Maurice "Rocket" Richard (born 1921) was one of the greatest hockey players in the history of the game. For 18 seasons, he struck fear into the hearts of his opponents, terrorizing them with his hard hitting and goal scoring. His 50 goals in 50 games during the 1944-45 season, created a record that stood for 36 years. Richard led the Montreal Canadiens to eight Stanley Cup championships, including five consecutive victories from 1956 to 1960.
Richard was born on August 4, 1921 in the Bordeaux section of Montreal. He began to play hockey soon after he learned to walk. As a child, he skated on a rink built by his father in the yard behind their house. Richard worked his way through the minor leagues, as many young hockey players who dream of playing in the National Hockey League (NHL) have done. He sometimes played for several teams at one time, while he also studied at Montreal Technical School to become a machinist. When he was 18 years old and playing for the Paquette junior team, he scored 133 of the team's 144 goals during the season.
In 1940, when Richard was 19 years old, he became a player on the farm club team of the Montreal Canadiens, in the Senior Hockey League of Quebec. He was on his way to the NHL and, to prove it, he scored two goals in his first game in the Senior League. However, in the third period of this game, he went down with a broken wrist and had to sit on the bench for the rest of the season. Despite that setback, he earned a tryout with the parent club, and joined the Montreal Canadiens for the 1942-43 season.
As a "Hab," the nickname used by Canadien fans for the Montreal team members, Richard scored five goals and collected six assists in his first 16 games. Despite this impressive start, he suffered a broken ankle and many feared that Richard might be injury-prone. However, coach Dick Irvin had faith in Richard, and kept him on the disabled list.
On the "Punch Line"
Returning for the 1943-44 season, Richard scored 32 goals in 46 games. He was naturally left-handed, but could shoot from either side. Therefore, he was put on the right wing of one of the most famous front lines in hockey history, the so-called "Punch Line." This line had Richard on the right, Elmer Lach at center, and "Toe" Blake on the left side. He won the title as the top scorer in the league, making 50 goals in the first 50 games and earning 73 points. With Blake's 67 points, the Canadiens had the highest scoring line in hockey that season.
Richard, who was known to have a quick temper on the ice, continued his scoring streak. By 1945 he was well known as "The Rocket." "From the blue line to the net, he was unequalled," said referee Bill Chadwick, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. "He possessed Herculean strength, and I once saw him score with a defenseman on his back," continued Chadwick. Many said he looked like "a small ox on skates." Richard was a small player in a big man's game, standing less than six feet tall and weighing only 180 pounds. Even at this size, many of the other teams in the NHL assigned two players to guard him.
Richard had a powerful drive to win. For 18 seasons, he struck fear into the hearts of his opponents, terrorizing them with his hard hitting and goal scoring. His 50 goals in 50 games during the 1944-45 season, created a record that stood for 36 years. He led his team to eight Stanley Cup championships, including five consecutive victories from 1956 to 1960. Richard led the NHL in scoring five times and had 544 regular-season goals. He finished his career with 82 playoff goals, scoring five goals in one playoff game.
In one game against the Boston Bruins, Richard was hit so hard that he lay motionless on the ice, blood pouring from his head. Fans thought he was dead, as the Canadiens' medical staff rushed him off the ice. The score was 1-1. Soon a dazed Richard was back on the bench, half-blind from blood running into his eyes. Suddenly he skated back into the game, grabbed the puck and raced up the ice. Bruin players tried to defend against the bloody, glassy-eyed Richard, but he closed in on Bruin goalie, Jim Henry, and managed to flip the puck into the goal.
An Official is Struck
In a 1955 game between the Canadiens and the Boston Bruins, Richard was certain that Hal Laycoe had fouled him, so he hit Laycoe several times with his stick. Officials generally jump in and separate the players, one or both are sent to the penalty box, and the game goes on. When Cliff Thompson tried to stop the fight, Richard hit him, knocking him to the ice.
In hockey, players are allowed to hit each other, but never is a player allowed to hit an official. NHL president, Clarence Campbell, suspended Richard after an official hearing between all of those involved. However, this was not an ordinary one or two game suspension. Campbell removed Richard from the team for the rest of the season, including the Stanley Cup playoffs.
All of Canada was shocked. Montreal was especially upset, since hockey fans believed they needed "The Rocket" to win the coveted cup. Richard, himself, was stunned. He spoke to fans on a radio show, asking them to be calm. Hockey was a national passion, and Richard was one of the great heroes of the game. Many fans wondered how Campbell could do such a thing. His office was overwhelmed with calls, letters, and telegrams. Fans took up petitions and submitted them to the Canadian government in the hope that a politician could convince Campbell to change his mind and lift the suspension. Richard had been working on an all-time scoring title, and needed to be in the games to win it. Of even greater importance, the Stanley Cup finals were coming. None of the politicians wanted to get involved.
A Full Scale Riot
After suspending Richard, Campbell attended the next game at Montreal and was attacked by a fan. It took a squad of police to restore order in the rink. The fans grew restless, then angry, and someone threw a smoke bomb onto the ice. Violence exploded in the grandstands, and soon debris was showered onto the ice. Tear gas bombs were exploded and the crowd turned into an angry mob. Campbell was rushed out of the arena. When officials decided to forfeit the game, pandemonium broke out. Fans poured out onto the streets in a violent mood. They started smashing windows in the Forum, the ice arena where the Canadiens played. Gunshots rang out, stores were looted, and a full scale riot was underway.
Eventually, fans calmed down and left the area. It was the worst riot in Montreal history, with more than $100,000 in damage to the main shopping area of the city. Campbell did not back down. The suspension was not lifted. Richard did not play for the rest of the season and failed to win the scoring title that year.
Richard ended his playing career in 1960, at the age of 39. He became a front office official for the Canadiens and continued his popular Sunday column in Le Journal de Montreal newspaper. Richard was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961. This is an honor usually granted to a player at least five years after he has retired. Richard was selected as an immortal of the game only nine months after he retired. In 1997, the city of Montreal unveiled a statue of Richard in front of the Maurice Richard Arena.
Olney, Ross R., This Game Called Hockey, Dodd Mead, 1978
Olney, Ross R., Superchampions of Ice Hockey, Clarion Books, 1982
Classic Sports Legends, Rocket Richard, http://www.classicsports.com/cp/HallofFame/RocketRichard.htm, (May 10, 1999).
Richard's Biography, http://www.nhl.com/teampage/mon/rbio.htm, (May 10, 1999). □