Eight Stanley Cup championships, one Hart trophy, 26 games with 3 or more goals, 18 seasons in the NHL, 17 of them as a superstar arena filler. Wayne Gretzky? Mario Lemiuex? Try Maurice Richard, the centre-man for the infamous Punch Line of the storied Montreal Canadiens NHL franchise, with regular linemates Elmer Latch and Toe Blake. Maurice “The Rocket” Richard, who eventually played along with his little brother, “The Pocket Rocket”, Henri Richard, who was just as fast, almost as famous and a mirror of his big brother’s unmatched talents. The Maurice Richard Trophy is now handed out to the top scorer in the regular season.
With millions of fans roaring and jumping out of their seats every time he touched the puck, the Rocket was a boon to the game and it’s popularity. Fighting and intensity seemed to grab the audience’s attention, and the Rocket never failed to entertain. Maurice Richard had a spark in his eyes that made opponents think twice about joining him in the corners, or laying a body check on him. If they could catch him, that was.
But, it was not only the fans in the rinks who adored Maurice Richard, he transcended the game of hockey, and became a part of Montreal, the Quebec, and then the entire Canadian culture. This was proven during “The Richard Riots”, when Maurice was suspended for the remainder of the 1954-55 regular season and the playoffs, for a fight agianst a linesman during a game against, you got it, the Boston Bruins, the only team that seemed to be able to get under his skin. The Canadiens fans were so infuriated that they tore the city apart.
The Richard Riot extended from the game into the streets of Montreal, with burning anything that would light, the looting of over 20 stores, overturned cars and a lot of animosity towards the police. The riot did not happen after the game, it was after Richard was suspended by the league, after reviewing tapes from his two incidents with on-ice officals. All of this to “show support” for a player who, in one season, slapped a linesman in the face (he deserved it!), and flat-out punched a referee a couple of times (who had held Richard back from a fight by locking his arms behind his back, allowing Hal Laycoe of the Bruins to punch Richard freely). And to think Don Cherry rarely mentions his name.
When Maurice Richard was on the ice, opposing teams sent out their two best pests and fighters, which meant that Maurice Richard had to fight his way through more violence, stick slashing, holding, face-washing, name calling (mainly “frog”), and anything else they could think of to slow him down or make him mad. It was, after all, the only way to ensure that Maurice Richard did not score on your team; get him kicked out of the game for fighting.
Maurice “The Rocket” Richard hung his skates up in 1960, after the conclusion of the 1959-60 hockey season, after winning his fifth consecutive Stanley Cup, four of them as the Hab’s Captain. With his body battered and bruised for the remainder of his life, Richard was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame without the usual three-year waiting period, in 1961. His Rookie trading cards are some of the most sought-after, and he was a public fixture in Quebec politics after retiring from hockey.
Maurice Richard died on May 27, 2000, still revered as the greatest forward to ever play the game. Au Revoir, rocket, may your star shine forever.