For 25 years, the NHL consisted of only six teams.
“The Original Six” comprised of teams primarily based in the Northeastern United States and Canada.
Since there were so few franchises in the league, aspiring pro hockey players had to play at an ethereal level.
Maurice Richard fit that bill.
“The Rocket” played for the Montreal Canadiens for 18 seasons and brought home eight Stanley Cups.
His ability was a marvel to teammates and opponents as Richard could skate, score, and defend with seemingly little effort.
Although he played his entire career in Montreal, Richard was not respected by many Canadian citizens.
In fact, a riot caused by Richard supporters in 1955 would bring to light long-simmering tensions within the Canadian public.
This is the story of Maurice Richard.
August 4, 1921: Maurice Richard is born. The legendary No. 9 played with the Canadiens from 1942-43 to 1959-60. pic.twitter.com/UXJ8CGmQOh
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) August 4, 2017
Joseph Henri Maurice Richard was born on August 4, 1921, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
He was the oldest of eight children that were raised at the height of the Great Depression.
Richard’s future career was evident by the time he was four when he first laced up a pair of ice skates.
He would glide around local rivers and a small backyard ice surface that his father, Onesime, made for his children.
Until he was 14, Richard played informal games of hockey as well as the game “hog.”
Hog is basically a game of keep-away involving a player keeping the puck from others as long as they can.
When Richard turned 14, he joined a number of local hockey leagues. He changed his name each time so organizers didn’t know he played for more than one league.
Richard led one of his teams to three straight championships and scored an astounding 133 of the team’s 144 goals during the 1938-39 season alone.
When Richard turned 16, he dropped out of high school to work with his father as a machinist.
He then enrolled at Montreal Technical School to become a certified machinist.
However, the itch to play pro hockey kept nagging Richard.
Quick Stop in the Junior Leagues
After Richard turned 18, he joined the Verdun Juniors team. He didn’t make a name for himself initially.
During his first year, Richard only scored four goals during the regular season, then six in the playoffs.
His goal tally in the postseason helped Verdun win the provincial championship.
Richard was then promoted to the Montreal Canadiens affiliate in the Quebec Senior Hockey League.
However, he broke his ankle in the team’s first game of the 1940 season, knocking him out for the remainder of the year.
The injury would prove fortuitous as it kept him from service in the Canadian military and almost certain deployment during World War II.
Once his ankle healed, Richard returned to the QSHL.
Over the course of 978 games played with the Canadiens, Maurice Richard spent a lot of time with us. Teams from the NHL’s Original Six regularly travelled between Montreal and Toronto with CN. The puck didn’t drop ’til the train pulled in. #TBT pic.twitter.com/tYNbjap7nj
— Canadian National (@CNRailway) October 24, 2019
He would score 17 points in the team’s first 31 games before breaking his wrist during a game.
Richard returned from his injury in time to join the team for the playoffs.
After the season, Richard married his fiance, Lucille Norchet.
Richard becomes “The Rocket”
As the Canadiens were preparing for the 1942-43 season, they had a few problems.
First, they were suffering from a championship drought that had last seen them raise the Stanley Cup in 1931.
Second, the local populace soured on the team due to the lack of French-speaking players.
Third, many of the veteran athletes on the Canadiens roster were off fighting in World War II.
Thankfully, Richard checked off all the right boxes.
He was talented, could speak French, and his injuries prevented him from military service.
With that, the franchise signed Richard to a $3,500 contract for the ‘42-’43 season.
A very young Maurice Richard pictured with Tony Demers & Elmer Lach. (1942) pic.twitter.com/d2VhmSfnit
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) April 21, 2013
During his first training camp with Montreal, Richard’s talent and speed were obvious.
Canadiens winger Ray Getliffe watched his new teammate race after the puck during one practice and made a comment.
“I said ‘Look at that, he’s like a rocket,'” said Getliffe in a 2004 interview.
“Dink Carroll [a long-time sports columnist at the time] heard me and the next day it was in the Gazette. That’s how Richard became ‘The Rocket.'”
Unfortunately, The Rocket was grounded after only 16 games of his rookie season.
A broken leg ended a promising year where Richard had already accumulated 11 points that included five goals.
At the time, sportswriters and members of the Canadiens front office wondered if Richard was too fragile to play the sport.
He had spent time healing from three major injuries in three years.
Born this day 1892: Dick Irvin Sr.: @HockeyHallFame as a player, 1958, coached 4 Stanley Cup champs – @MapleLeafs (1), @CanadiensMTL (3). Here, w/ PCHA Portland Rosebuds, then @Blackhawks; w/ son & future broadcast legend Dick Jr.; young Maurice Richard, Jean Béliveau @NHLAlumni pic.twitter.com/MUrNaSQn2V
— Dave Stubbs 🇨🇦 (@Dave_Stubbs) July 19, 2019
However, Montreal coach Dick Irvin didn’t agree with the naysayers.
“Not only will he be a star, but he’ll be the biggest star in hockey,” said Irvin at the time.
Richard was initially discouraged but then aggressively rehabbed to show the franchise they didn’t make a mistake.
As he was getting ready to return to the team for the 1943-44 season, Richard’s daughter, Huguette, was born.
He then changed his jersey number from 15 to 9 to represent how many pounds Huguette weighed at birth.
Now fully healthy and with a new number in hand, Richard was about to take the NHL by storm.
Richard and Montreal Raise the Cup
Richard stayed healthy all season in ‘43-’44 and played in 46 of the team’s games.
He led Montreal in goals with 32 and was third on the team in points with 54.
It helped that Irvin switched Richard from left-wing to right-wing and put him in a lineup with Elmer Lach and Hector “Toe” Blake.
The trio was nearly unstoppable and was called the “Punch Line.”
— Mike Commito (@mikecommito) October 30, 2020
Montreal only lost six times after October and cruised into the playoffs.
Against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Semifinals, Richard scored two goals in 17 seconds during one of the contests.
He would eventually score five total goals during the same game.
Once the Canadiens dispatched the Leafs in five games they blanked the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The championship was the franchise’s first since 1931 and Richard was named a Second-team All-Star after the year.
Record-Setting Year and a Second Stanley Cup
The Stanley Cup was only the beginning of Richard’s display of talent.
In the 1944-45 season, he began scoring goals at an astounding rate.
At the end of December, he scored five goals and made three assists in a game against Detroit.
THIS DATE IN #HABS HISTORY
Dec. 28, 1944: Maurice Richard spent the afternoon moving his family from one Montreal apartment to another and that night scored five goals and added three assists in a 9-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings at the Forum.#HabsIO pic.twitter.com/by6lTWeJ5x
— Stu Cowan (@StuCowan1) December 28, 2021
That set a new NHL record for total points in a game with eight.
Richard continued accumulating goals and by February was approaching the league record of 44 goals in one season.
On February 25, 1945, Richard broke the record in a game against the Maple Leafs.
Joe Malone, who had held the record since 1918, was at the game and officially presented Richard with the record-setting puck.
As the end of the season approached, opponents tried in vain to keep Richard from notching 50 goals, an unheard-of amount at the time.
Players would hold, hook, slash, and even tackle Richard during games when he approached the net.
However, it was inevitable that Richard would reach the total and he did so on the last day of the season against the Boston Bruins.
Richard’s 50 goals (in 50 games) would be a record until the 1965-66 season when Chicago’s Bobby Hull would score 54.
— Allan Walsh (@walsha) March 19, 2021
Despite, Richard’s goal count, the Canadiens’ season ended when they lost to Toronto in six games during the Semifinals.
The following year, a number of players who had been serving overseas returned from the war.
Richard scored 27 total goals and Montreal returned to the Stanley Cup, winning in five games over the Bruins.
Richard Continues Scoring Assault
By the end of the 1945-46 season, a number of pundits speculated that Richard’s 50 goals the season prior was a fluke.
According to them, Richard had scored the unprecedented amount because the league was diluted due to the number of players serving in the war effort.
Their proof was the reduction in Richard’s goal total in ‘45-’46 from 50 to 27.
That idea was put to rest in 1946-47 when Richard scored an NHL-best 45 goals with the league supposedly at “full-strength.”
He would then win the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP for the only time in his career.
Montreal returned to the Stanley Cup that season as well but fell in six games to Toronto.
For the next several years, Richard continued to pour in goals.
During the 1949-50 season, he led the league in goals for the third time with 43.
The following year, Richard scored 42 goals which included his 271st career goal, a franchise best.
Richard Reaches another Milestone and Wins a Third Cup
Although Richard was a consistent scorer for the Canadiens, the franchise had not been able to raise Lord Stanley’s cup for some time.
Montreal lost in the Cup Finals after the ‘46-47’, ‘50-’51, and ‘51-’52 seasons.
“Old Time Hockey””The Rocket”Maurice Richard barrels through Allan Stanley during a 1952 Canadiens-Ranger game at the
“Old”Madison Square Garden.#nhl #NYR #Canadiens #Montreal #Habs #nyrangers #1950s #MSG pic.twitter.com/vWwHJMzk5R
— Tom's Old Days (@sigg20) December 19, 2021
The team finally got back on track in the 1952-53 season.
Richard paced the team that year with 61 total points and broke the league’s all-time scoring mark of 324 goals set by Nels Stewart.
On November 8 against Chicago, he got the record 325th goal and the Montreal Forum “rafters shook” with fan adulation.
Richard would also become the first player in league history to score at least 20 goals in each of his first ten full seasons.
The Rocket would then net seven playoff goals as the Canadiens defeated Chicago in the Semifinals and dispatched the Bruins in five games during the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Richard Riot
Although Richard was one of the best players in the NHL, he battled outright discrimination throughout his career.
Specifically, the citizens of Canada who spoke English (Anglophone) looked down on those citizens who primarily spoke French (Francophone).
As a Francophone, Richard was the object of ridicule and scorn by Canadian Anglophone players and fans throughout his time in the NHL.
However, he did not back down to opponents who tried to intimidate him or thwart his game.
Richard was fined numerous times by NHL president Clarence Campbell for both on and off-ice retaliation.
To make matters worse, Richard and the Quebec public firmly believed that Campbell was anti-Francophone.
They contended that Campbell treated French Canadian players harsher than English Canadian players.
The friction between the parties came to a head on March 13, 1955.
During a game against Boston, the Bruins’ Hal Laycoe struck Richard on the head with his stick.
Richard retaliated by slashing his stick at Laycoe’s head.
Linesman Cliff Thompson attempted to intervene and Richard punched him as well.
After the game, Boston police wanted to arrest Richard in the Montreal locker room.
However, the Canadiens coaching staff and players barred the officers from entering.
After pondering the matter for a few days, Campbell decided to suspend Richard for the remainder of the season and the playoffs.
Today in 1955, Maurice Richard was suspended for the rest of the NHL regular season and playoffs after a fight with the Bruins.
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) March 16, 2020
Montreal fans became incensed, especially since The Rocket was leading the NHL in goals again that season.
While Anglophone fans and residents praised Campbell’s decision, the Francophone public had enough, going so far as to send him death threats.
Questionably, Campbell attended a game in Montreal not long after the suspension was announced.
Fans immediately began throwing garbage and other debris at him.
At one point, a spectator threw a tear gas bomb at Campbell which cleared the building and led to a forfeit.
On this day in 1955, after Maurice Richard was suspended a few days earlier, the "Richard Riot" broke out in Montreal after a fan set off tear gas in the Forum during a game against the Red Wings. The chaos led to mayhem in the streets #Hockey365 #GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/xnJLT6Gf56
— Mike Commito (@mikecommito) March 17, 2021
As the spectators exited the Forum, they were met by additional protestors outside the arena.
Collectively, the 20,000+ people began to riot.
Doors and windows of the Forum and surrounding businesses were smashed, stores were looted, and dozens of people were arrested.
Richard did his best to calm the public by radio address the following day.
“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.”
By the time the rioting finally ended, over $100,000 in damage had been done (over $900,000 in current dollars).
It was 64 years ago today that the Richard Riots broke out in Montreal. A Day later, Maurice Richard took to the airwaves to call for calm. 😳🏒 pic.twitter.com/Lw1GrrRRQL
— theScore (@theScore) March 17, 2019
Five More Cups to end Richard’s Career
Richard stayed true to his word.
The year after the riot, the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup over Detroit in five games.
The 1955-56 season also marked the first time Richard and his younger brother, Henri, would play together.
Henri, also known as the “Pocket Rocket,” would become a dominant player himself and play for Montreal until the mid-1970s.
From 1956-57 to 1959-60, the Canadiens would win the Stanley Cup each year, defeating Boston and Toronto twice each.
Richard netted over 30 goals each in 1955-56 and 1956-57.
Beginning in 1957-58, he began to slow down due to an onset of injuries.
However, that same year, he scored his 500th career goal, the first player in NHL history to do so.
By 1959-60, it was clear that Richard was well past his prime. He scored 19 times, more than in his previous two seasons.
In the 1960 Stanley Cup Finals, Richard had a goal and three assists. That goal would prove to be the final one of his illustrious career.
Maurice Richard accepting the 1960 Stanley Cup. He went out as a champion, a perfect sendoff for a true legend. pic.twitter.com/tMlXh2zT9w
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) May 28, 2016
In 18 seasons, Richard had 544 goals (a Montreal record) and 422 assists for 966 total points.
He was an eight-time Stanley Cup champion, led the NHL in scoring five times, was a 14-time league All-Star, won the Hart Trophy once, the Lou Marsh Trophy once (as Canada’s top athlete), and named Canadian Press male athlete of the year three times.
Richard’s number 9 was retired by the team.
“‘The Rocket’ was more than a hockey player,” former coach Dick Irvin said years earlier. “It was his fury, his desire and his intensity that motivated the Canadiens.”
Legacy and Death
Less than a year after his retirement, the Hockey Hall of Fame waived its five-year requirement and inducted Richard.
Richard spent a few years working with the Canadiens before a falling out led to him leaving the organization.
He would then become a pitchman for several products and owned a bar in Montreal.
Richard reconciled with the Canadiens in 1981 and became a team ambassador.
In 1998, the NHL decided to name an award for the highest goal scorer in a season after Richard. It was named the Maurice Rocket Richard Trophy.
During his career, and throughout his retirement, Richard was considered a hero to French Canadiens.
It has also been debated by Canadian historians that the Richard Riot led to the “Quiet Revolution” that took place in Quebec soon after.
In 1998, Richard was diagnosed with abdominal cancer and passed away from the disease on May 27, 2000. He was 78.