The Honourable Joseph-Henri-Maurice "Rocket" Richard, PC , CC , OQ (born August 4, 1921 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, died May 27, 2000 in Montreal, Quebec) was a professional ice hockey player, and played for the Montreal Canadiens from 1942 to 1960. He was also the first coach of the Quebec Nordiques, but quit after he lost his first game.
Maurice Richard (pronounced ri-SHAR or ree-SHAR) was the first to score 50 goals in one season (the 1944-45 NHL season), doing so in 50 games and the first to score 500 goals in a career. "50 goals in 50 games" continues to be a marker of scoring excellence to this day, and few players have surpassed that mark. Richard also played on eight Stanley Cup teams in Montreal, and was elected eight times to the first all-star team and six times to the second all-star team, and played in every National Hockey League All-Star Game from 1947 to 1959. In his career, he scored 544 goals, amassed 421 assists for a total of 965 points in 978 games. He formed the famous "Punch Line" with Elmer Lach as centre and Hector 'Toe' Blake playing left-wing.
Richard was the quintessential Québécois hero. He pulled off a five-goal game after a day spent moving house - including the piano - in 1944, and scored the series-winning goal of the 1952 Stanley Cup semifinals as blood dripped down his face from an earlier injury. Richard's role as a Québécois icon was epitomized in the short story Le chandail de hockey ("The Hockey Sweater") by Roch Carrier. It also helped transcend his legend through several generations. In this story, the main character purchases a must-have Richard hockey sweater with a mail-in order form from Toronto-based "Mr. Eaton". But when he receives a sweater from the Canadiens' historical adversary the Toronto Maple Leafs, he is ridiculed, and even ostracised, by his schoolmates for attempting to impose his "way of things" because of his jersey. An excerpt of this short story is reprinted on the new Canadian $5 bill.
Although Richard was often perceived as a pre-Quiet Revolution hero excelling in an anglophone world, he always insisted that he was an apolitical man playing hockey for the love of the sport.
Richard's career began and ended before the beginning of huge salaries. The largest yearly salary he ever made was $25,000. His jersey #9 was retired on October 6, 1960 by the Canadiens, less than a month after he announced his retirement. His brother Henri "The Pocket Rocket" Richard joined him with the Canadiens in 1955 and would go on to win 11 Stanley Cups with the team, an NHL record.
The Richard Riot
As a physical force on the ice, it was common for Richard to be antagonized outside of Montreal. Teams would reportedly send one or two players with the purpose of annoying him, believing that the penalties that would eventually be called against these players would be worth their while, and throughout his career Richard was fined and suspended several times. One such incident would spark one of the worst hockey-related incidents in history.
On March 13, 1955, Richard was given a match penalty for deliberately injuring Hal Laycoe in a game against the Boston Bruins, an incident exacerbated by Richard repeatedly breaking away to attack Laycoe with hockey sticks, and then assaulting a linesman who attempted to restrain him. Given that it was Richard's second assault on an official in that season alone, a formal inquiry took place after which NHL president Clarence Campbell suspended Richard for the remainder of the season, a move considered by many in Montreal to be unjust and severe.
This decision came when the Rocket was leading the NHL in scoring and the Canadiens were battling for first place. Public outrage soon poured in, with many Montrealers blaming Campbell. Local radio call-in shows became so inundated with calls that radio stations were begging people not to call in. For his part, Campbell did not budge, and announced that he would be attending the Habs' next home game against the Detroit Red Wings in four days. Security was increased at the game, with twice as many officers guarding the Montreal Forum compared to other
The game itself was uneventful. However, it saw many protesters with signs that read "A bas Campbell" or "Vive Richard", with much of the crowd noise directed at Campbell, and few paying attention to the game or to the fact that Richard had also taken a seat at the game. As Montreal coach Dick Irvin pointed out, "the people didn't care if we got licked 100-1 that night." After the first period, the Red Wings had taken a 4-1 lead. Throughout the game, outraged Habs fans pelted Campbell with eggs, vegetables, and various debris, with more being thrown at him each time the Red Wings scored. The continuous pelting of various objects stopped when a tear gas bomb had set off outside the Forum. All this time, Richard had deplored the incident, calling it a disgrace. At the same time, the crowd became so unruly the Forum had to be evacuated, and the game forfeited to the Red Wings. Said Detroit coach Jack Adams after the game: "I blame [the media] for what's happened. You've turned Richard into an idol, a man whose suspension can turn hockey fans into shrieking idiots... Richard makes me ashamed to be connected with this game."
The tear gas bomb had also altered the mood of the incident, turning it into a destructive and violent one. A riot ensued outside the Forum, causing $500,000 in damage, some from people who did not know who Maurice Richard was, nor why the riot started. Various parts of the forum were destroyed, including an office of a professional wrestling promoter who employed Richard during the off-season to referee in wrestling matches. The riot continued until well into the night, with Montreal police arresting people by the truckload. Local radio stations, which carried live coverage of the riot for over seven hours, had to be forced off the air. The riot was eventually over at 3am, and left Montreal's Rue Ste-Catherine in a big mess.
The mood in Montreal on March 18 was cloudy. Regarding the actions of the night before, Montreal Gazette columnist Dink Carroll wrote: "I was ashamed of my city." Reporters lined up to see both Campbell and Richard that day. Richard was reluctant to make a statement, fearing that it could start another riot. Eventually, Richard did make a statement:
Because I always try so hard to win and had my troubles in Boston, I was suspended. At playoff time it hurts not be in the game with the boys. However, I want to do what is good for the people of Montreal and the team. So that no further harm will be done, I would like to ask everyone to get behind the team and to help the boys win from the New York Rangers and Detroit. I will take my punishment and come back next year to help the club and the younger players to win the Cup.
His words would prove prophetic, as the Habs would lose the Cup final to Detroit in seven games, but would win the Cup in the year after - and the four years after that.
Although long retired by the time of his death in 2000, an estimated 115,000 people of all ages paid their respects while his body lay in state at the Montreal Canadiens' Molson Centre. He was given a state funeral broadcast live across Canada, the first time such an honour was accorded an athlete. Among those who attended were Gordie Howe and Jean Beliveau, various politicians (Jean Chrétien, Lucien Bouchard), and current team captain Saku Koivu. He was buried in the Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges in Montreal.
A junior hockey team is also named after him, the Rocket de Montreal, playing out of the Maurice Richard Arena (in 2003-04 this team moved to Prince Edward Island). On June 27, 2001, the Canadian government unveiled a monument in Jacques-Cartier Park, in Hull, Quebec honouring Maurice Richard. He has been inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame.
In 1967 he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and was promoted to Companion in 1998.
- 1947 - Hart Memorial Trophy
- Played in NHL All-Star Game 13 times - 1947, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959.
- His number 9 is retired by the Montreal Canadiens (October 6, 1960)
- Inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961
- First player to score 50 goals in a season.
- First player to score 50 goals in 50 games.
- First player to score 500 goals in a career.
- Eclipsed Nels Stewart's record for career NHL goals scored with 544 (subsequently broken by Gordie Howe).
- Currently ranks 21st all-time in career goals scored and 73rd in career points scored.
- Captain (ice hockey)
- List of Quebecers
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|Montreal Canadiens Captains
1956 - 1960