Joseph Henri Maurice “The Rocket” Richard (August 4, 1921 – May 27, 2000) was a Canadian professional ice hockey player who played for the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey League (NHL) from 1942 to 1960. The “Rocket” was the most prolific goal-scorer of his era, the first to achieve the feat of 50 goals in 50 games. He lived most of his life inAhuntsic, Montreal.
Richard 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. He finished his career with 544 goals in the regular season, with 82 in the playoffs which included a record six overtime winners (surpassed only by Joe Sakic who has eight), and led the league in goals five times. He also amassed 421 assists for a total of 965 points in 978 games. He retired as the NHL’s all-time leading scorer.
Richard won the Stanley Cup eight times in Montreal, was captain for four of the five straight cup wins from 1955-56 to 1959-60, won the Hart Trophy in 1947, 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. Teamed with Elmer Lach as centre and Hector ‘Toe’ Blake playingleft-wing, they formed the “Punch Line“.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961, the customary three-year waiting period being waived in his honour.
Many Habs fans considered it discrimination that Richard only won the Hart Trophy once. 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 was not without opinions. Richard wrote, along with a newspaper ghost-writer, a column in the French language ‘Samedi-Dimanche’ starting in 1952. The column was entitled “Le Tour du Chapeau” (Hat Trick). It mostly described the regular goings-on around hockey, but Richard would occasionally run into controversy; in one instance, he called Quebec City fans “bandits” for their treatment of his brother Henri when he was a junior.
Richard’s writing took on a most serious tone in 1954 when he criticized NHL president Clarence Campbell for suspending Boom Boom Geoffrion for eight games. Richard labelled Campbell as ‘partial’ to Canadiens opponents.
“What did Campbell do, when Jean Beliveau was deliberately injured twice by Billy Mosienko of Chicago and Jack Evans ofRangers? No penalty, no fine, no suspension. Did he suspend Gordie Howe of Detroit when he almost knocked out Dollard St. Laurent’s eye? No! It is strange that only Dick Irvin and I have the courage to risk our livelihood by defending our rights against such a dictator.”
(On the topic of ‘paper assists’ given out in Detroit:) “It is not surprising that Howe, Lindsay and Abel are among the top point-scorers in the league, although I admit Howe and Lindsay are good players. Let Campbell get busy with the other little goings-on known about players of the National Hockey League and not try to create publicity for himself at the expense of a good fellow like ‘Boom Boom’ Geoffrion just because he is a French Canadian. That is my frank opinion and if I am to be punished for it, well that’s that. I will leave hockey and I have an idea that several other Canadien players who share my opinion will do the same.”
Campbell threatened Richard with discipline and Frank Selke wrote up an apologetic retraction letter to Campbell. Richard then signed off his next column “Freedom of speech has been taken away from me. I have to obey my employers. I am not judging them but will leave this matter in the hands of my friends.” Geoffrion also quit a similar column he had been writing. Richard deposited a $1,000 dollar cheque with Campbell along with his retraction. Campbell declared the matter closed and said that it would not have any bearing on any future matters.
Richard’s career began and ended before the beginning of huge salaries. The largest yearly salary he ever made was $25,000 (equivalent to $200,000 in 2008). His #9 jersey number 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 eleven Stanley Cups with the team, an NHL record.
Richard was an outstanding scorer. While he had a good fore-hand and back-hand shot, he was not considered to have the greatest shot or accuracy. Richard made up for it in desire and other skills to become the outstanding goal-scorer of his time. He had excellent stick-handling skills, was fast on his skates, and strong. He used those abilities to outmaneuver opponents. He was well known for frightening opponents with his stare. Richard’s fighting ability (he had taken boxing in school) meant that most players did not want to get into fights with him. The most common strategy was to check him hard, play him chippy and insult him into drawing a penalty. Richard was known not to start fights, but would willingly fight back and finish them, including the fights of other team-mates. Richard would make a burst of speed around the defenceman and then cut out front of the goaltender and be in a perfect position to shoot before the other defenceman hit him. It was a high-stakes style as he was also putting himself in the perfect position to get hit by the other defenceman. Richard was first converted to a right wing to take advantage of his move around the defenceman by Paul Haynes, who was coach of the senior Canadiens when Richard played there. Haynes noted that Richard also had a sizzling back-hand shot and could still get that shot off if the defenceman pushed him off the angle for a forehand shot.
In the 1950s, Richard was frequently compared to emerging star Gordie Howe of the Detroit Red Wings. Both were right wingers who wore the same sweater number (9). They were frequently contenders for the league scoring title, and could also play rough if needed. During their first encounter in the Montreal Forum, when Howe was a rookie, he knocked Richard down with a punch after being shoved. The Red Wings and Canadiens faced off in four Stanley Cup finals during the 1950s. When Richard retired in 1960, he paid tribute to Howe, saying “Gordie could do everything.”
Maurice Richard played minor ice hockey at all levels in the Montreal area before playing junior in Verdun, starting in 1938. By 1940, he had moved up to the Canadiens senior team in the Quebec league. He broke his ankle and played only one game. He returned and played the whole 1941-42 season for the senior Canadiens. However, by the time he first tried out for the NHL Canadiens in 1942, he had suffered several injuries and he was a considerable risk for the Canadiens to take on. Despite this, coach Dick Irvin insisted that general manager Tommy Gorman sign him, being impressed with his play in camp. Richard would break his right ankle and play only 16 games. Gorman attempted to make a trade with the New York Rangers for Phil Watson, but the Rangers’ GM Lester Patrickrefused the deal.
In 1943, Richard’s first child was born, Huguette, and she was nine pounds. Richard, who had been wearing number 15, asked for and received number 9. It was a new start for him with the Canadiens. Richard’s left ankle was to be forever misshapen by injury but he adapted his skating. Richard played the full 1943–44 season, and scored 32 goals and 54 points and was named to the Second All-Star team. He had one of his career highlights that season when, on March 23, 1944, Richard scored all five goals for the Canadiens in a 5–1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the playoffs en route to the Stanley Cup Finals and was awarded all three stars for his efforts. The Canadiens would win the Stanley Cup, sweeping Chicago in four games.
The following season, only his second full season in the NHL, Richard scored 50 goals in 50 games. He became the first NHL player to score 50 in a season. This was the season that the “Punch Line” was formed with Richard, Elmer Lach and Toe Blake. The trio finished the season 1-2-3 in league scoring. All three shot left, and Richard was moved from his previous left wing position to right wing. Irvin had recalled that Richard had played right wing with the senior Canadiens and been effective. Richard would remain a right winger for the rest of his career. The Canadiens placed first in the league, but lost in the first playoff round to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Maple Leafs.
In that season, Richard had two other career highlights. On December 28, 1944, Richard scored five goals and three assists in a 9–1 win over the Detroit Red Wings. He had spent the day moving to a new house and he had told his team-mates he was exhausted. His brother-in-law, who had witnessed and helped in the move, bet against Richard scoring any goals that night. On February 3, 1945, Richard scored a goal while carrying Red Wings defenceman Earl Siebert, who weighed 95 kilograms (210 lb). According toRed Storey who refereed the game:
“Earl Seibert jumped on his back. Jumped on his back! Put his arms around him. And his legs around him. The Rocket never broke stride. He went in, deked the goalkeeper, scored a goal, and shook Seibert and threw him in the corner.”
In 1945–46, NHL veterans started returning to the league after serving in World War II. The league became stronger and goal-scoring dropped. The Canadiens again placed first, and won the Stanley Cup. Richard’s goal-scoring was reduced to 27 goals while Blake had 29 to lead the Canadiens. Richard and Blake both scored seven goals in the Canadiens’ nine-game playoff, losing only one game over two series.
In 1946–47, Richard led the Canadiens in goal scoring and points as the Canadiens again placed first. The Canadiens made it to the Final to play Toronto. This series had one of Richard’s violent outbursts. After winning the first game 6–0 the Canadiens may have been overconfident and the Leafs changed their tactics, riling up Richard in game two. Richard high-sticked and injured Bill Ezinicki and Don Metz earning a fine and a one-game suspension. The Canadiens lost game two, game three and game four before winning game five to prolong the series. Toronto closed out the series in game six to take over as Cup champions.
The following season, line-mate Toe Blake suffered a career-ending ankle injury. The Canadiens struggled that season to that point, and after Blake’s injury, fell out of playoff contention with a series of losses. Richard and Lach both made the First All-Star team, but the Canadiens failed to qualify for the playoffs.
After two lacklustre seasons, Richard had an outstanding season, scoring 43 goals and 65 points, but was held to just one goal in a five-game semi-final loss to the New York Rangers. Richard again made the First All-star team.
In 1950, the Rocket followed this up with 42 goals in the 1950–51 season, and the Canadiens made it to the Stanley Cup Final again, losing to Toronto. It would be the first of ten consecutive appearances in the Final series. Richard placed second in the scoring race to Gordie Howe, who now pushed Richard to the Second All-star team. Richard led the Canadiens to the Final, with some revenge by defeating Howe’s Red Wing team in the semi-final. Richard led all playoff scorers. That same season, on January 6, 1951, Richard scored his 271st goal to become the Canadiens’s all-time goal scorer.
In 1951-52, Bernie Geoffrion played his rookie season with the Canadiens, scoring 30 goals to outscore Richard, who played only 48 games due to injury. Richard was named to the Second All-star team, second to Howe. The Canadiens again made it to the Final, although third-string right wing Floyd Curry led the team in scoring.
On April 8, 1952, Richard scored one of the most famous goals of all time, described variously as “the greatest in the history of the game” and “most beautiful in the history of the world.” As blood dripped down his face after an earlier injury that saw him suffer a concussion, he scored the series-winning goal of the 1952 Stanley Cup Semifinals. Richard had left the game, but returned to the bench in the third period, wearing a bandage. Richard, although somewhat dazed, jumped off the bench and drove to the net to score past a surprised Sugar Jim Henry, the Boston Bruins‘ goaltender.
In 1952–53, Richard again led the Canadiens in scoring, and scored seven goals in 12 games as the Canadiens won the Cup for the first time since 1946. On November 8, 1952, Richard scored his 325th goal to overtake Nels Stewart and become the all-time leading goal scorer in NHL history. Richard picked up the puck after scoring, but he then threw the puck down violently, before picking it up again and keeping it. The puck was gifted to Queen Elizabeth II in 1955.After Lach scored the Cup-winning goal in overtime on a pass from Richard, Richard and Lach jumped into each others arms to celebrate. The collision broke Lach’s nose.
In 1953–54, the Canadiens finally landed Jean Beliveau by purchasing his team. Richard led the Canadiens in scoring, with 37 goals and 67 points in 70 games. He was tightly checked in the playoffs, scoring only three goals. The Canadiens lost in the Final to the Red Wings in seven games. The Canadiens ended the season sourly, a crowd of spectators swarmed onto the Detroit ice after the deciding game and the Canadiens did not do the customary shaking of hands.
1954–55 was a turbulent season for Richard. This was the season after he had publicly criticized Campbell for being partial, and then publicly apologized and retracted his statements. While scoring 38 goals and 74 points in 67 games, he also recorded his highest penalty total of 125 minutes. He slapped one official in a game in Toronto and in the 67th game punched out a linesman to receive a suspension for the rest of the season and the playoffs. The suspension incensed his fans and led to the ‘Richard Riot.’Richard had been leading the league in scoring, and would lose out to Bernie Geoffrion who was able to play 70 games. When Geoffrion, Richard’s teammate, passed him in points on the last day of the regular season, he was booed by the Montreal faithful. The Canadiens lost in the Stanley Cup Finals without Richard who was named to the First All-star team at the end of the year. Geoffrion was named to the Second All-star team.
1955–60: A Canadiens dynasty and a mellower Richard
1955 saw the departure of Dick Irvin from the Canadiens and the return of Toe Blake to coach the team. Unlike Irvin, Blake took a new approach with the Rocket. Irvin tried to ratchet Richard up, Blake tried to smooth out his performance. Richard scored 38 goals and 71 points in 1955–56, but the top scorer was now Beliveau, who had 88 points. But the new team approach of Blake worked and the Canadiens won the first of five straight Stanley Cups. Richard was joined on the team by younger brother Henri. Richard was again named to the First All-star team.
1956–57 saw Richard named team captain of the Canadiens. Richard scored 33 goals to tie Beliveau for the team lead. In the playoffs, the Canadiens defeated New York and Boston, each in five games to win the Cup again.
In 1957–58, Richard played only 28 games due to an Achilles tendon injury, but contributed 11 goals in ten playoff games to lead the Canadiens to another Cup win. He had an outstanding playoff run. He scored seven in the series against Detroit, including a hat trick and the series-winning goal. The game-winning goal would be his 18th, a record. One of the goals of the hat trick was a career highlight. Richard drove to the net around Detroit defenceman Warren Godfrey, who pulled Richard to the ice. Richard, still traveling at full speed, pulled himself up to one knee and poked the puck past Terry Sawchuk.
But it would be his last individual hurrah. He would not score in the 1959 playoffs and score only once in the 1960 playoffs. The 1958–59 and 1959–60 seasons saw Richard battling injuries that reduced his games played to 42 and 51. Both years however, the Canadiens under his captaincy won the Cup.
In the 1960 off-season, there was considerable speculation about the Rocket retiring, but he put off the decision. Punch Imlach predicted accurately that Richard would not want to play any longer if he could not play at the top level. Despite the speculation, in June with the intra-league draft, the Canadiens kept him on their protected list. At a September 15 practice however, Richard made up his mind and he announced his retirement at a press conference on September 15, 1960.
Richard briefly served as head coach of the Quebec Nordiques during the 1972–73 WHA season. He would last for only two games, a 3–2 loss to the Cleveland Crusaders, and a 3–0 victory over the Alberta Oilers. Richard decided coaching wasn’t his forte and stepped down.
Born August 4, 1921, Maurice Richard was the eldest of eight children (five sons: Maurice, Henri, Claude, René and Jacques; three daughters: Rollande, Marguerite and Georgette) of Onesime and Alice Richard. Onesime and Alice had moved from the Gaspé region to Nouveau-Bordeaux so that Onesime could work as a machinist at theCanadian Pacific Railway. At age four, he began playing hockey on a backyard rink, built by his father. As a teen, Richard excelled at baseball and boxing. He played hockey as much as he could, sometimes twice per night and four games on the week-end. To play on more than one team, Richard adopted aliases, the most well known-being Maurice Rochon.
Richard married teenage sweetheart Lucille Norchet against the wishes of her father in 1942. Maurice had met Lucille when she was thirteen and he was sixteen, when he was playing for the Paquette Club in the Park Lafontaine Juvenile League, which was coached by Lucille’s brother George. They announced their engagement when she was 17 and Maurice was 20. At 16, Maurice dropped out of school and worked with his father as a machinist and that was his only income other than some income in the winter with the senior Canadiens. They would have seven children: Huguette, Maurice Jr., Norman, André, Suzanne, and Jean. Lucille died in 1994. After Lucille died, Maurice’s last companion was Sonia Raymond.
Attempts to join the military
Richard was turned down a total of three times by the military, twice for combat and once as a machinist. The first time was in 1939 at the beginning of World War II when he was 18 and the second time the following year. X-rays showed that his ankle and femur as well as his wrists had broken and had not healed properly during junior hockey and he was therefore unfit for military action.
Richard had applied to be a machinist in the military, but was again refused due to his lack of a high school diploma or technical trade certificate. Richard tried to explain that he had dropped out of school to help his family and had been working as a machinist at a local factory since he was 16. They still refused, and he was told he needed a machinist certificate. Upon hearing this he decided to train as a machinist at the Montreal Technical School the following year and therefore fulfill his desire to help in the war effort.
The war was over before Richard received his certificate, which took four years. He was disappointed that the Canadian military had not given him the opportunity to participate in some capacity.
In 1967 Richard was inducted into the grade of Officer in the Order of Canada, making him one of the first members of the order. He was later promoted to Companion of the order in 1998, the same year he was ranked number five on The Hockey News list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players, the highest-ranking Montreal Canadien. Richard was also given the rare distinction of being appointed to theQueen’s Privy Council for Canada in 1992, entitling him to the style The Honourable (French: L’Honorable) for life. The appointment, and those of twenty others that year made by the Governor General on the advice of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, remains unusual as, traditionally, being made a privy councillor is an act reserved for members of Cabinet, Chief Justices of Canada, and certain others who require access to classified documents. In August 2008, Canadian Pacific Railway named a station in his honour.
Although Richard had a falling-out with the Canadiens not long after he retired in 1960, he eventually patched things up and returned to them, serving the club as an unofficial goodwill ambassador from 1991 – highlighted by the Habs’ most recent (to date) Cup in 1993 – until he died. The Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy was donated by the Montreal Canadiens hockey club to the NHL in 1999, to be awarded annually to the goal-scoring leader during the regular season. Richard himself had led the league in goals five times.
In 1996 at the closing of the Montreal Forum, a tearful “Rocket” received the longest standing ovation in the city’s history: Over 16 minutes of adulation poured over him, chanting his nickname over and over again. Richard, always the reluctant hero, looked around in surprise for the first few minutes. When he realized the crowd was not letting up and their love for him was real, he broke down in tears while waving and mouthing “thank you”. He rarely showed this side of himself, as he always tried to remain humble. The last few minutes of adulation saw Richard closing his eyes, while the crowd chanted “GO HABS GO!” over and over again. Richard later stated that when he closed his eyes and heard the crowd, it brought him back to his younger days. He thought it was a very loving gesture by the fans. AQuebec Major Junior Hockey League team was also named after him, the Rocket de Montréal, playing out of the Maurice Richard Arena(in 2003 this team moved to Prince Edward Island becoming the P.E.I. Rocket). Their team logo prominently features Richard’s number 9. On June 27, 2001, the Canadian government unveiled a monument in Jacques-Cartier Park, in Hull, Quebec, honouring Richard, and he was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame.
Richard died of abdominal cancer on May 27, 2000. Although he was long retired by the time of his death, an estimated 115,000 people of all ages paid their respects while his body lay in state at Montreal‘s Bell Centre. Following Richard’s death, the Montreal Expos Major League baseball team wore Richard’s number 9, in black, on their right sleeves for the duration of the 2000 season, and flags were lowered to half staff as Quebec’s National Assembly was suspended for the day. Richard was given a provincial state funeral that was broadcast live across Canada, the first time such an honour was bestowed on an athlete. Among those who attended were Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, Lieutenant Governor of Quebec Lise Thibault, various politicians (including then Prime Minister of Canada,Jean Chrétien, and then Premier of Quebec Lucien Bouchard), Gordie Howe, Jean Béliveau, and then Canadiens team captain Saku Koivu.
Depiction in popular media
- Richard’s hockey career, and in particular the folk legend of his NHL game played after having moved, was featured in Heritage Minutes (1997). Richard was played by Roy Dupuis.
- Richard’s life story was featured in a two-part, two-hour French-Canadian miniseries televised as part of the program Les Beaux Dimanches: Histoire d’un Canadien (Beautiful Sundays: Maurice Rocket Richard Story [Canada: English title]), in 1999, starring Roy Dupuis as Richard.
- The French version of a feature film, Maurice Richard was released in November 2005; the English-subtitled version entitled The Rocket: The Maurice Richard Story was released in April 2006. The film again stars Roy Dupuis in the title role and is directed by Charles Binamé.
- Admiration for Richard and the Montreal Canadiens was the main plot point of the popular heritage story “The Hockey Sweater“, originally published in 1979 by native Quebecker and acclaimed author Roch Carrier., as well as its 1980 National Film Board of Canada (NFB) adaptation, The Sweater.
- He is the subject of a 1998 NFB documentary, The Rocket, and a 1972 NFB short film, composed of animated photographs of Richard, Mon numéro 9 en or.
- The Jane Siberry song “Hockey” contains the line “They rioted in the streets of Montreal/When they benched Rocket Richard”.
- Was referenced in the Warren Zevon song “Hit Somebody”: “His dad took the hose and froze the back yard/And little Buddy dreamed he was Rocket Richard”
- In the early 1980s, Maurice Richard starred in a commercial for Grecian Formula, a hair coloring product. In the commercial Richard plays a referee, he mentions that he leaves a touch of natural grey, because his wife likes it. At that point a trainer calls out, “Hey Richard, two minutes for looking so good!” a line that has since become famous and is referenced in a song by the Canadian punk band Belvedere.
- The local media first nicknamed him The Comet. During an intra-squad practice, Ray Getliffe was so impressed by him, he compared him to a rocket.
- In an edition of The Book of Sports Lists, by Pepe and Hollander, Richard was described by a teammate “with his eyes flashing like a pinball machine.” His eyes seemed to be the most memorable feature during his play; in the picture he is wide-eyed as he skates toward the goal.
- The ValueTales series of children’s books featured Maurice Richard for “The Value of Tenacity,” published in 1984.
- Richard appears as a member of the Canadiens All-Star Team of Legends in NHL 09, playing on the first line.