The Honourable Joseph-Henri-Maurice "Rocket" Richard, P.C., C.C., O.Q.
Saint Richard. Hockey Legend. Hero to a Generation. 1921 - 2000
Maurice Richard :
when he shoots, North America roars,
when he scores, the deaf can hear the cheers,
when they send him to the penalty box, the switchboards light up,
when he passes, the new guys dream.
He's the wind on skates,
he's all of Quebec on its feet.
He scares the rest - he's life in action."
- Félix Leclerc
Rocket Richard was a professional hockey player who spent his career as a right winger with the Montreal Canadiens, from 1942 to 1960, during what can easily be argued is their glory years. The Rocket was the best goal scorer of his era, being the first NHL player to have ever scored 50 goals in a single season, as well as the first (and still only one of 5 people) who were able to score 50 goals in 50 games. While he played with the Canadiens, they won 8 Stanley Cups, including five straight cups (1956-1960) while he lead the team as captain. He was the winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy for regular season league MVP, in 1947, and a decade later won the Lou Marsh trophy for Canada's top athlete.
He was seen by the people, especially in Quebec, as one of them. A hard working man, dedicated to his family, who went out every night to give his all. He played with passion ... at times with too much passion, often spending time in the penalty box. He was the focus of a recent film, Maurice Richard, profiling the player and his life. As well, one of the most well known Canadian children's tales, The Hockey Sweater, is about the trials of a young Quebec boy who orders a jersey with Richard's #9, and instead receives a jersey from the hated Toronto Maple Leafs.
He carried the flag for an entire population - and that's pretty heavy. He felt he had to live up to that responsibility and he did it the way he knew how - by scoring goals and responding to every challenge on the ice.
- Red Fisher, Montreal Gazette
Born August 4, 1921 in Verdun, Quebec, it was always Richard's dream to play for his beloved Canadiens. He played for the Paquettes, in the Parc Lafontaine League, from 1937 to 1939. During that time, he scored a full 133 of the 145 goals scored by the Paquettes. The next two years saw him playing for the Verdum Leafs and the Canadian Seniors. During this time he was also studying machinery at l'École Technique de Montréal.
While playing junior hockey, he was plagued by a string of injuries that quite often prevented him from playing. As well, the Canadian Army deemed his injuries serious enough to prevent him from being able to effectively serve in World War II, despite three attempts by Richard to enroll during the conflict.
Despite all this, 1942 was a good year for Maurice Richard. This was the year that he married his sweetheart, Lucille Norchet. They remained married until her death in 1994. And also, his boyhood dream was realized when he was recruited by the Montreal Canadiens. This season did not last him long, ending after he broke an ankle after only 16 games. The next season, however, he kicked it into gear, scoring 32 goals and helping the Canadiens win his first Stanley Cup. The year after that saw him set the standard for goal scoring, with 50 goals in the first 50 games of the season. During the off-season, we also saw the end of World War II, and the return to the NHL of many players who had been off fighting in Europe and the Pacific. Richard would never see another 50 game season again.
1949 saw the birth of Lucille and Maurice's first daughter, Huguette. Maurice, who was previously playing as # 15, was so proud of the birth of his little 9 pound girl that he got the coach to change his jersey number to 9, which he wore the rest of his career, and was later retired by the Canadiens. Maurice and Lucille went on to have 6 other children.
The Rocket continued playing hockey in his own rough and tumble style, gaining legions of fans, scoring a whole lot of goals, and incurring a whole lot of penalties. It was a common strategy for players on the opposing team to go out of their way to piss him off, throwing him off his game and possibly landing him in the penalty box. Even if they got hit with a penalty as well, it was deemed to be a fair trade. This eventually led to one of the ugliest incidents in hockey history, the Rocket Richard Riots.
In a game against the Bruins on March 13, 1955, Richard was kicked out of the game for trying to deliberately injure one of Boston's players, in the process hitting a linesman who was trying to hold him back. Due to the fact that this was the second time that season that the Rocket assaulted an official, there was an inquiry, at which the president of the NHL, Clarence Campbell, suspended Richard for the rest of the season. Needless to say, Montreal fans weren't exactly all that pleased with this decision.
Further making things worse, Campbell decided to attend the next Canadiens home game, versus the Detroit Red Wings. But the fans weren't all that interested in watching the game. Instead they spent much of the game booing Campbell, and pelting him with eggs and vegetables. Eventually someone set off a tear gas bomb outside the Forum, and it was decided that enough was enough. The Canadiens forfeited the game to the Red Wings (They had been down 4-1 at this point), and the Forum was cleared of fans. The crowd turned even more unruly, damaging several offices in the Forum, and continuing the riot into the streets. The Montreal police had to arrest people by the truckload, as the riot continued past 3 AM, and in all caused over $500,000 worth of damage.
Needless to say, the Rocket was aghast at this behaviour. The next day he had this to say, trying to calm the people of Montreal:
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.
As for church, we found there the quiet of God: there we forgot school and dreamed about the next hockey game. Through our daydreams, we would ask God to help us play as well as Maurice Richard.
We all wore the same uniform as he, with the famous number 9 on our backs, the red, white, and blue uniform of the Montreal Canadiens, the best hockey team in the world; we all combed our hair in the same style as Maurice Richard, and to keep it in place we used a sort of glue, a great deal of glue. We laced our skates like Maurice Richard, we taped our sticks like Maurice Richard. We cut all his pictures out of the papers. Truly, we knew everything about him.
- Roch Carrier, The Hockey Sweater
Rocket Richard's 18 year hockey career came to an end in 1960, after winning 8 Stanley cups (4th most of any NHL player), having played in every NHL All-Star Game since 1944, scoring 544 goals and getting 965 points (the first player to get more than 500 career goals), and leading the league in goals scored 5 times. He still ranks 21st in all time goals, and 73th in points scored. When he left the Habs, he did not leave them without a Richard, as his brother Henri, 15 years his junior, had joined the team in 1955. Henri went on to win 11 Stanley Cups with the team.
In his retirement, Richard spent most of his time with his family, and also spent time travelling the country promoting the game to young Canadians. For the rest of his life, Richard continued to be laden with praise. His jersey number was retired less than a month after he announced his retirement, and in 1961 he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of
Fame. There is usually a 3 year waiting period after someone retires before this can happen, but this was waived for him. In 1967 he was one of the first people to become an officer of the newly created Order of Canada. This is the 2nd highest honour which can be bestowed upon a civilian in Canada. The highest is being made a Companion of the Order of Canada, to which he was promoted to in 1998.
In 1992, for the country's 125th anniversary, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney appointed 18 prominent Canadians to the Privy Council, including Rocket Richard. This was a somewhat controversial move, as the privy council usually consists only of people closely associated with government, such as former Governor-Generals, cabinet ministers, Speakers of the House, and Chief Justices. It was then that he received the prefix "The Honourable" to his name.
The Rocket was present for the last Habs game in the Montreal Forum, before the opening of the new Molson Centre in 1996. The humble man was the recipient of the longest standing ovation in the city's history, breaking down in tears at this display of devotion to the man who inspired millions. Later, the Montreal Canadians donated the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy in 1999 to the NHL, which is awarded annually to the regular season goal scoring leader.
When he was in his 70's, Maurice Richard fought a battle against Parkinson's Disease and abdominal cancer, finally succumbing to the cancer at the age of 78, on May 27, 2000.
Maurice Richard both defined and transcended the game of hockey. He set standards for scoring which, to this day, are the benchmarks for excellence and stardom in the NHL. But what truly set him apart - what made him a special hero to the fans - was his extraordinary intensity. He played with great emotion and flair and possessed an unmatched will to win. His dazzling combination of skill and drive not only made him one of the greatest hockey players ever, it also made him a symbol to all of what it takes to be a true champion.
"The Rocket" enriched the lives of everyone who had the privilege and pleasure of watching him in action and who, today, are flooded with memories of his incredible exploits.
-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien
Year Team GP G A Pts Pim
1942-43 Montreal Canadiens 16 5 6 11 4
1943-44 Montreal Canadiens 46 32 22 54 45
1944-45 Montreal Canadiens 50 50 23 73 46
1945-46 Montreal Canadiens 50 27 21 48 50
1946-47 Montreal Canadiens 60 45 26 71 69
1947-48 Montreal Canadiens 53 28 25 53 89
1948-49 Montreal Canadiens 59 20 18 38 110
1949-50 Montreal Canadiens 70 43 22 65 114
1950-51 Montreal Canadiens 65 42 24 66 97
1951-52 Montreal Canadiens 48 27 17 44 44
1952-53 Montreal Canadiens 70 28 33 61 112
1953-54 Montreal Canadiens 70 37 30 67 112
1954-55 Montreal Canadiens 67 38 36 74 125
1955-56 Montreal Canadiens 70 38 33 71 89
1956-57 Montreal Canadiens 63 33 29 62 74
1957-58 Montreal Canadiens 28 15 19 34 28
1958-59 Montreal Canadiens 42 17 21 38 27
1959-60 Montreal Canadiens 51 19 16 35 50
NHL Totals 978 544 421 965 1285
Harold Rogers - #22 << Greatest Canadian Number #23 >> General Sir Arthur Currie #24
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Government of Canada Privy Council Office. "Statement by the Prime Minister (Maurice "The Rocket" Richard)," Former Prime Minister's Archive. May 27, 2000. <www.pco-bcp.gc.ca/default.asp?Language=E&Page=pmarchive&Sub=NewsReleases&Doc=richard.20000527_e.htm> (February 18, 2006).
Canadian Museum of Civilization. "Media - Maurice "Rocket" Richard Biography," Civilization.ca December 10, 2002. <www.civilization.ca/media/docs/fsric01e.html> (February 18, 2006).
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