PC CC OQ
|Hockey Hall of Fame, 1961|
August 4, 1921|
Montreal, QC, CAN
|Died||May 27, 2000
Montreal, QC, CAN
|Height||5 ft 10 in (178 cm)|
|Weight||180 lb (82 kg; 12 st 12 lb)|
|Played for||Montreal Canadiens|
Joseph Henri Maurice "Rocket" Richard, PC CC OQ (//; French: [ʁiʃaʁ]; August 4, 1921 – May 27, 2000) was a Canadian professional ice hockey player who played 18 seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL) for the Montreal Canadiens. A prolific scorer, he was the first player in NHL history to score 50 goals in one season, accomplishing the feat in 50 games in 1944–45, and the first to reach 500 career goals. Richard retired in 1960 as the league's all-time leader in goals with 544. He won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player in 1947, played in 13 All-Star Games and was named to 14 post-season NHL All-Star Teams.
Richard joined with Elmer Lach and Toe Blake to form the "Punch line", a high-scoring forward line of the 1940s. He was a member of eight Stanley Cup championship teams, including five straight between 1956 and 1960; he held the role of team captain for the last four. In honour of his career, the Hockey Hall of Fame waived its customary five-year waiting period after retirement for eligibility and inducted Richard into the hall in 1961. In 1975, he was inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame. The Canadiens retired his sweater number 9 following his retirement and donated the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy to the NHL in 1998 to serve as an award to the league's leading goal scorer.
An outspoken and intense player, Richard was renowned for his physical, and occasionally violent, style of play. He was involved in a vicious on-ice incident late in the 1954–55 season during which he struck a linesman. NHL President Clarence Campbell suspended him for the remainder of the season – including the playoffs – which precipitated the Richard Riot in Montreal. The riot, which has taken on near mythical qualities in the decades since, is sometimes cited as a precursor to Quebec's Quiet Revolution. Richard was a cultural icon among Quebec's francophone population and was a central figure in Roch Carrier's short story The Hockey Sweater, itself a quintessential work of Canadian literature. The province of Quebec honoured Richard with the first Quebec state funeral for a non-politician.
Joseph Henri Maurice Richard was born August 4, 1921, in Montreal. His parents, Onésime Richard and Alice Laramée, were originally from the Gaspé region of Quebec before moving to Montreal where they settled in the neighbourhood of Bordeaux. Maurice was the eldest of eight children; he had three sisters: Georgette, Rollande and Marguerite, and four brothers: René, Jacques, Henri and Claude. Onésime was a carpenter by trade, and took a job with the Canadian Pacific railway shortly after Maurice was born. The Richards struggled during the Great Depression; Onésime lost his job in 1930 and the family was forced to rely on government aid for a time until he was re-hired sometime around 1936.
Richard received his first pair of ice skates when he was four years old, and grew up skating on both local rivers and a small, backyard ice surface his father created. Richard did not play organized hockey until he was 14. Instead, he developed his skills playing shinny and "hog" – a game that required the puck carrier to keep it away from others for as long as possible. While he also played baseball and was a boxer, hockey was his passion. After he began playing in organized leagues, Richard joined multiple teams and used pseudonyms such as "Maurice Rochon" to avoid being removed from one of the teams. In one league, he led his team to three consecutive championships and scored 133 of his team's 144 goals in the 1938–39 season.
At 16, Richard dropped out of school to work with his father as a machinist. He enrolled in a technical school, intent on earning his trade certificate. At age 18, Richard tried out for and made the Verdun Juniors, though as a rookie, saw little ice time in the regular season. He scored four goals in ten regular season games, and added six goals in four playoff games as Verdun won the provincial championship. He was promoted to the Montreal Canadiens' affiliate in the Quebec Senior Hockey League in 1940, but suffered a broken ankle in his first game after crashing into the boards and missed the remainder of the season. The injury also aborted his hopes of joining the Canadian military: he was called to a recruitment centre in mid 1941, but was deemed unfit for combat.
Off the ice, Richard was a quiet, unassuming youth who rarely spoke. He met his future wife Lucille when he was seventeen, and she nearly fourteen. She was the younger sister of one of his teammates at Bordeaux, and her bright, outgoing personality complimented Richard's reserved nature. Lucille proved adept at guiding him through any trials and disappointments he experienced in both hockey and life. They were engaged when he was 20, and though her parents still felt she was too young, married September 12, 1942, when she was seventeen.
First Stanley Cup
Having recovered from his broken leg in time for the 1941–42 season, Richard returned to the QSHL Canadiens where he played 31 games and recorded 17 points before he was again injured: he suffered a broken wrist after becoming entangled with a defenceman and crashing into the net. Richard was able to rejoin the team for the playoffs. The skills he demonstrated in the QSHL, combined with the NHL parent club's loss of players to the war and struggles to draw fans due to its poor record and a lack of Francophone players, earned Richard a tryout with the Canadiens for the 1942–43 season. He signed a contract worth $3,500 for the season and, wearing sweater number 15, made his NHL debut with the team. Richard's first goal was scored against the New York Rangers on November 8, 1942.
Injury again sidelined Richard as his rookie season ended after only 16 games when he suffered a broken leg. The string of broken bones so early in his career left observers wondering if Richard was too fragile to play at the highest levels. He made a second attempt to enlist with the military, but was again turned down after x-rays revealed that his bones had not healed properly; Richard's ankle had in fact been left permanently deformed and forced him to alter his skating style. Humiliated by the rejection, he intensified his training and reported to Montreal's training camp for the 1943–44 season fully healthy. The arrival of his first child, Huguette, prompted Richard to change his uniform to number 9 to match his daughter's birth weight.
Remaining healthy throughout the season, Richard appeared in 46 of Montreal's 50 games. He led the Canadiens with 32 goals and finished third in team scoring with 54 points. Richard's season not only ended the criticism about his ability to play in the league, but established him as one of the best young players in the NHL. Coach Dick Irvin shifted Richard from the left wing to the right side and placed him on a forward line with Toe Blake and Elmer Lach. The trio, known as the "Punch line", formed a dominant scoring unit throughout the 1940s. The Canadiens lost only six games total after October, and went on to win the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship in 13 years. Richard led the league with 12 playoff goals, including a five-goal effort against the Toronto Maple Leafs in a semi-final game. He tied Newsy Lalonde's NHL record for goals in one playoff game (equaled by three players since), and resulted in his famously being named first, second and third star of the game. Richard was named a second team All-Star following the season. It was the first of 14 consecutive years he was named a league all-star.
50 goals in 50 games
The 1944–45 NHL season was a record setting one for Richard. He first set a new mark for points in one game when he scored five goals and added three assists in a 9–1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on December 28, 1944; his eight points broke the previous record of seven held by three players, and itself stood for 32 years until surpassed in 1976 by Darryl Sittler. Richard achieved the feat despite arriving for the game exhausted from moving into his new home that afternoon. He continued scoring at an unprecedented rate, and by February 1945 was approaching Joe Malone's NHL record of 44 goals in one season. Richard broke the record on February 25, 1945, in a 5–2 victory over Toronto. Malone was on hand to present Richard with the puck he used to score the 45th goal.
As Richard approached 50 goals for the season, opposition players resorted to increasingly violent efforts to prevent him from scoring. He had to fight past slashes, hooks, and even players that draped themselves across his back. Richard went eight games without scoring and began Montreal's final regular season game, March 18, on the road against the Boston Bruins with 49 goals. He finally reached the milestone by scoring with just 2:15 remaining in the game, a 4–2 Montreal win. He scored his 50 goals in only 50 games, a standard that remains one of the most celebrated achievements in NHL history. Richard finished the season with 73 points, seven behind Lach and six ahead of Blake as the Punch line finished first, second and third in league scoring.
Richard's critics argued that his scoring record was the result of talent dilution brought about by the war; when many players returned in 1945–46, he won his second Stanley Cup with Montreal, but his goal output was nearly halved to 27. Richard again reached lofty scoring totals, however, by leading the league with 45 goals (in a 60-game season) in 1946–47, for which he won the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player. Opponents continued their attempts to drive Richard to anger or frustration as they had learned he could be goaded into violently retaliating and fighting, therefore taking himself out of the game. One such incident occurred in the 1947 Stanley Cup Final when Richard received a match penalty for striking Toronto's Bill Ezinicki over the head with his stick in a game two loss. Richard was suspended for the third game of the series, which the Maple Leafs ultimately won.
As the reigning most valuable player, Richard sought a pay raise prior to the 1947–48 season. General manager, Frank Selke, however, refused and held firm even after Richard and team captain Émile Bouchard both held out of the preseason before capitulating and returning to the team once the season began in earnest. The Punch line was broken up during the season after Blake suffered a career-ending leg injury. Richard's season also ended early as he missed the final games of the season due to a knee injury. He finished second in team scoring with 53 points in 53 games, but Montreal missed the playoffs. After recording only 38 points in 1948–49, Richard posted a 65-point campaign the next season and his 43 goals led the NHL for the third time. A 42-goal season followed in 1950–51, and with his 271st career goal, Richard became Montreal's all-time goal leader.
All-time scoring leader
Richard missed over 20 games of the 1951–52 season due to injury, however he famously overcame another ailment in the playoffs. In the seventh and deciding game of the semi-final against Boston, Richard was checked by Leo Labine and briefly knocked unconscious after he fell and struck his head on Bill Quackenbush's knee. Though he was clearly dazed, Richard returned to the game late in the third period after a large cut above his eye was stitched up. Canadiens' coach Dick Irvin knew his player had suffered a concussion, however he sent Richard back out onto the ice in the final minutes of the contest. In response, Richard scored the winning goal in a 2–1 victory that sent Montreal into the 1952 Stanley Cup Final. Following the game, a bloodied and still dazed Richard was photographed shaking the hand of Boston goaltender Jim Henry, himself showing injuries from the series and almost bowing to Richard following the Montreal player's "unconscious goal". The iconic photograph, taken by Roger St. Jean, is among the most famous images of Richard. In the final, Montreal lost to Detroit in four straight games.
The 1952–53 season began with Richard in close pursuit of Nels Stewart's all-time NHL record of 324 goals. Richard tied the record in Toronto on October 29, 1952, by scoring two goals against the Maple Leafs; his achievement earned a rousing ovation from Montreal's rival fans. He failed to score in his following three games as frenzied fans followed each contest in anticipation of the record-breaking marker. In his fourth try, a November 8 game against Chicago, Richard scored his 325th goal at the 10:01 mark of the second period. According to the Montreal Gazette, the ovation Richard received from his fans "shook the rafters" of the Montreal Forum. He finished the season with a team-leading 28 goals – becoming the first player in NHL history to score at least 20 goals in his first ten full seasons – and also led Montreal with 61 points. Aided by Richard's 7 goals in 12 playoff games, the Canadiens defeated Boston in the 1953 Stanley Cup Final to capture Montreal's first Stanley Cup championship since 1946.
Richard led the league in goals for the fourth time in his career with 37 in 1953–54, then for a fifth time 1954–55 with 38 (shared with Bernie Geoffrion). He scored his 400th career goal on December 18, 1954, against Chicago.
Opposition players continued to try and stop Richard via physical abuse, and he often retaliated with equal violence. The situation led to a running feud with NHL President Clarence Campbell. Richard had been fined numerous times by Campbell for on-ice incidents and at one point was forced to post a $1,000 "good-behaviour bond" after he had taken to criticizing Campbell in a weekly newspaper column he authored. Richard was among many in Quebec who believed that Campbell treated French Canadian players more harshly than he did their English counterparts. An incident late in the 1954–55 season brought the simmering discontent to a head. During a March 13, 1955, game against Boston, Richard was struck in the head by Hal Laycoe's stick. Richard retaliated by slashing viciously at Laycoe's head, then punched linesman Cliff Thompson after the official attempted to intervene. Boston Police attempted to arrest Richard for assault following the incident, but were persuaded by Bruins officials leave the player alone on the promise that the NHL would handle the situation.
Following two days of deliberation, Campbell announced that he had suspended Richard – who was leading the NHL's overall scoring race at the time – for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs. In English Canada, Campbell was praised for doing what he could to control the erratic Richard; unknown to most at the time, Campbell had long wanted to suspend Richard over his previous outbursts but was often stymied by the league's owners who valued his drawing power. In French Quebec, however, the suspension was viewed as an injustice, an unfair punishment given to a Francophone hero by the Anglophone establishment. Richard's supporters reacted angrily to Campbell: He received several death threats and, upon taking his customary seat at the next Canadiens game, was pelted with vegetables, eggs and other debris by unruly fans. One fan threw a tear gas bomb at Campbell, which resulted in the Forum's evacuation and the game being declared a forfeit in Detroit's favour. Fans fleeing the arena were met by a large group of demonstrators who had massed outside prior to the game's start.
The mob of over 20,000 people developed into a riot. Windows and doors were smashed at the Forum and surrounding businesses. By the following morning, as many as 70 people had been arrested. Over 50 stores were looted during the melee and 37 people injured. Damage was estimated at $100,000 ($872,340 in 2014 dollars). Richard had also attended the game, but left immediately following the forfeit. Frank Selke attempted to persuade him to return to try and disperse the crowd, but Richard refused, fearing that he would instead further inflame the passions of the mob. He took to the radio the next day asking for calm: "Do no more harm. Get behind the team in the playoffs. I will take my punishment and come back next year and help the club and the younger players to win the Cup".
The suspension cost Richard the points title, which he lost to teammate Geoffrion by one point. Montreal fans booed Geoffrion when he surpassed Richard on the final day of the regular season. The fans continued to jeer Geoffrion into the following season. Montreal reached the 1955 Stanley Cup Final, but without Richard, lost the championship series four games to three. The defeat was a bitter loss for Richard who struggled to control his anger over how events had transpired.
Captain of a dynasty
True to his word, Richard led the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup championship in 1955–56. The season began with the arrival of his young brother Henri to the Canadiens roster. It also marked the return of his former Punch line teammate, Toe Blake, as coach. Along with general manager Frank Selke, Blake worked with Maurice on moderating his temper and responding to the provocation of his opponents by scoring goals rather than engaging in fisticuffs. He finished the season with 38 goals and 71 points, second on the team in both respects to Jean Béliveau's 47 and 88. Richard added 14 points in 10 playoff games as Montreal defeated Detroit to claim the Stanley Cup. He scored the second goal of the fifth and deciding game, ultimately the Cup clinching goal in a 3–1 victory.
Entering his 15th NHL season in 1956–57, Richard was named captain of the Canadiens by his teammates. He succeeded Émile Bouchard who retired prior to the season. With 33 goals and 62 points, Richard again finished second on the team to Béliveau. In the playoffs, he scored the overtime winning goal in the fifth game of the semi-final to eliminate New York, then scored four goals in a 5–1 victory over Boston in the first game of the final en route to a five game series win and second consecutive championship for Montreal.
Richard reached a major scoring milestone early in the 1957–58 season. In the first period of a 3–1 victory over Chicago on October 19, 1957, he became the first player in NHL history to score 500 goals in his career. As Richard celebrated with his teammates, the public address announcer blared to the roaring Montreal Forum crowd: "Canadiens' goal, scored by Mr. Hockey himself, Maurice Richard". He played only 28 regular season games that season, and scored 34 points, as he missed three months due to a severed Achilles tendon. Returning in time for the playoffs, Richard led Montreal with 11 goals and 15 points as the team won its third consecutive Stanley Cup. He scored the overtime winning goal in the fifth game of the final against Boston. It was the sixth playoff overtime winning goal, and third such of the finals, of his career. Each is an NHL record.
At age 37, Richard was the oldest player in the NHL in 1958–59. He scored 38 points in 42 games, but missed six weeks due to a broken ankle. Injuries again plagued Richard into the 1959–60 season as he missed a month due to a broken cheekbone. Montreal won the Stanley Cup championship in each season, however. Richard scored no points in four games in the 1959 Stanley Cup Final, but recorded a goal and three assists in 1960. The titles were the seventh and eighth of Richard's career, and Montreal's five consecutive championships are a record. The 1956–60 Canadiens rank as one of eight dynasties recognized by the NHL.
The playoff goal was Richard's last, as on September 15, 1960, he announced his retirement as a player. He stated in his retirement speech that he had been contemplating leaving the game for two years, and admitted that at 39 years of age, the game had become too fast for him. However, Richard had reported to Montreal's training camp in the fall of 1960 and had to be forced into retirement by Frank Selke who feared Richard was risking serious injury. Selke offered him a job as a team ambassador and promised to pay him his full playing salary in the first year.
Richard was nicknamed "Le Comet" early in his career. When teammate Ray Getliffe remarked that Richard "went in like a rocket" as he approached the opposition goal, a local sportswriter – The Montreal Star's Baz O'Meara and Dink Carroll of the Montreal Gazette have both been given credit – gave Richard his more famous nickname, "The Rocket". It described Richard's play in numerous ways as he was known for his speed, strength and determination. Teammate and coach Toe Blake said the moniker was fitting because "when he would take off, nothing got in his way that could stop him". Goaltender Jacques Plante claimed it to be one of the most appropriate nicknames given to an athlete. He made note of the fierce intensity that often showed in Richard's eyes and compared it to "the rocket's red glare" referenced in "The Star-Spangled Banner". Glenn Hall agreed: "What I remember most about Rocket was his eyes. 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".
The prime of Richard's career was played in the era immediately following the Second World War where battle-hardened players returned to the NHL and instilled a "gladiatorial" style that featured rugged, physical and often violent play. Richard's own temper was infamous, as illustrated by his actions that precipitated the Richard Riot.
A pure goal-scorer, Richard did not play with finesse, nor was he known for his passing. One of his teammates once remarked that "Maurice wouldn't even pass you the salt". Richard led the NHL in goals five times, but never in points. He was best known for dashing in toward the net from the blue line and was equally adept at scoring from his forehand or backhand. His exploits revived a Montreal Canadiens franchise that had struggled to draw fans in the 1930s. In addition to his 14 appearances on a post-season all-star team (eight on the first team, six on the second), Richard played in 13 consecutive NHL All-Star Games between 1947 and 1959.
Richard was still an active player when Gordie Howe overtook his career record for points. Howe surpassed Richard's career mark of 544 goals in 1963, while his record of 50 goals in one season stood for 20 years until broken by Bobby Hull in 1965. The Montreal Canadiens donated the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy to the NHL in 1999 as an award presented annually to the league's leading goal scorer.
After serving as a good will ambassador for the Canadiens in the first three years following his retirement, Richard was named a vice-president in 1964. He grew disgruntled, however, with a role he felt was powerless and only honorary, and resigned one year later. Richard grew estranged from the organization as his desire to be involved in the team's operations were ignored, and the split deepened when the Canadiens forced Frank Selke to retire in 1965. He eventually refused to allow his name to be associated with the team.
As Richard struggled both with the need to find new purpose to his post-retirement life and the fear of being forgotten, he attached his name to numerous endeavours. He acted as a consulting editor for a magazine entitled Maurice Richard's Hockey Illustrated, owned the "544 / 9 Tavern" in Montreal, and acted as a pitchman for dozens of products, including beer, car batteries, fishing tackle, and children's toys. He continued to use his name as a promotional vehicle for over 30 years after his retirement. Richard even briefly returned to hockey as head coach of the Quebec Nordiques of the World Hockey Association in 1972. He lasted only two games, a win and a loss, before finding he was unable to handle the strain of coaching.
Richard and his wife, Lucille, lived in Montreal where they raised seven children: Huguette, Maurice Jr., Norman, André, Suzanne, Polo and Jean. They also had 14 grandchildren. Lucille died of cancer in 1994, two years after they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Richard's companion late in his life was Sonia Raymond. It was announced in 1998 that Richard was suffering from abdominal cancer. As his health deteriorated, Richard was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and doctors feared he also may have had Alzheimer's disease. He died on May 27, 2000.
Numerous honours were bestowed upon Richard throughout and following his career: The Canadian Press named him its male athlete of the year on three occasions, and in 1957, Richard won the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's athlete of the year. The Canadiens retired his sweater number 9 in 1960, while the Hockey Hall of Fame waived its five-year waiting period after retirement and inducted him in 1961. In 1967, he was made one of the inaugural members of the Order of Canada, and, in 1998, was elevated to the title of Companion of the Order of Canada. Canada's Sports Hall of Fame honoured him in 1975, and Richard was given a star on Canada's Walk of Fame in 1999. He was appointed to the Queen's Privy Council for Canada in 1992.
While he was a popular player throughout Canada, Richard was an icon within Quebec. Author Roch Carrier explained the passion Richard elicited from the fans in his Canadian-classic short story The Hockey Sweater. Carrier wrote of how he and his friends all emulated Richard's style and mannerisms: "we were five Maurice Richards against five other Maurice Richards, throwing themselves on the puck. We were ten players all wearing the uniform of the Montréal Canadiens, all with the same burning enthusiasm. We all wore the famous number 9 on our backs". Richard's popularity persisted late in his life: when introduced as part of the ceremonies preceding the final hockey game at the Montreal Forum, Richard was brought to tears by Canadiens' fans who acknowledged him with an 11 minute standing ovation. Upon his death, the province of Quebec honoured Richard with a state funeral, a first in Quebec for a non-politician. Over 115,000 people paid their respects by viewing his lying in state at the Molson Centre.
The Richard Riot has, in particular, achieved a mythical place in Canadian folklore. The riot is commonly viewed as being a violent manifestation of Francophone Quebec's discontent with its place in primarily Anglophone Canada and some historians consider the riot to be a precursor to the 1960s Quiet Revolution. In its 40th anniversary retrospective of the Riot, Montreal newspaper La Presse opened with the following passage: "Forty years ago began one of the most dramatic episodes in the history of Quebec, and of hockey." However, Richard himself publicly dismissed his role as a catalyst for cultural or political change. He added in 1974 that he played with "English boys" and was largely unaware of the situation in French Quebec at the time.
In his book The Rocket: A Cultural History of Maurice Richard, historian Benoît Melançon disputes the importance of the riot, stating its perceived importance in history grew retroactively with Richard's myth. Melançon wrote: "The riot has become the key event in turning Richard from a mere hockey player to a symbol of political resistance (even if Richard himself was publicly apolitical and, according to this book, definitely not for an independent Quebec)... According to this popular narrative, for the first time the people of Quebec stood up for themselves; especially English Canada delights in anachronistically announcing that this was the beginning of the 1960s Quiet Revolution."
|1939–40||Verdun Maple Leafs||QJHL||10||4||1||5||2||4||6||3||9||2|
|1939–40||Verdun Maple Leafs||QSHL||1||0||1||1||0||—||—||—||—||—|
|1939–40||Verdun Maple Leafs||Mem. Cup||—||—||—||—||—||7||7||9||16||16|
|1940–41||Montreal Canadiens (Sr.)||QSHL||1||0||1||1||0||—||—||—||—||—|
|1941–42||Montreal Canadiens (Sr.)||QSHL||31||8||9||17||27||6||2||1||3||6|
Awards and honours
|First Team All-Star||1944–45, 1945–46
|Second Team All-Star||1943–44, 1950–51
Most valuable player
|Canadian Press male athlete of the year||1952, 1957
|Lou Marsh Trophy
Canadian athlete of the year
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Maurice Richard.|
- Maurice Richard's biography at Legends of Hockey
- Maurice Richard's career statistics at The Internet Hockey Database
- The Canadian Museum of Civilization - "Rocket" Richard: The Legend – The Legacy
- Biography at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
- Radio-Canada Archives - Maurice Richard: Le Rocket, héros d'un peuple (French)
- CBC Digital Archives - The Legendary #9: Maurice 'Rocket' Richard (English)
- History by the Minute: Historica Minutes (Heritage Minutes): Maurice "Rocket" Richard
- The first color captation of Maurice Richard in 1952 with comments from Ron Fournier (In french)
- Mini Biography of Maurice Richard
|Montreal Canadiens captain
|Head coach of the Quebec Nordiques
2 games, 1972
|Hart Trophy Winner
|Lou Marsh Trophy winner