Category Archives: Maurice Richard

Good Old Bookstore

I’ve had this book about the Rocket since it showed up in stores in 2000 or 2001.

And now I have two, because Sunday morning I walked into a secondhand bookstore in Powell River and bought another for five bucks.

On the inside page, it’s been autographed by the late, great Gump Worsley!

Whoever Gord is, I wonder why he didn’t want it anymore. Or maybe someday he’ll ask, “Hey honey, have you seen my Rocket book signed by Gump Worsley?

Here’s another Gump signature if you want to compare.

The Rocket And The No. 9 Thing

Recently on Hockey Night in Canada, host Ron Maclean told viewers a little story about how Maurice Richard asked to change his number from 15 to 9 during the 1942-43 season in honour of his new baby girl Hugette, who weighed in at 9 pounds.

Wikipedia also says the same thing. Along with everywhere else you look.

But the number 9 must have already held a soft spot in Rocket’s heart, because as you can see in the lineup below, he was wearing it when he was playing senior hockey, a year before he joined the big club.

Is it possible that the traditional claim from Maclean, books, and the Internet, about choosing 9 because of his baby’s weight at birth, is strictly something that took on a life of its own over the years?

Not that I want to throw cold water on the time-honoured story.

Here’s my program from the 1941-42 season in the Quebec Senior Hockey League, featuring a game between the Montreal Senior Canadiens and the Montreal Royals. Further down, the Rocket in the lineup for the Senior Canadiens, a year before he joined the Habs, and with his number 9.

Maybe he simply liked the number, and along with his 9-pound baby, convinced himself that he wouldn’t mind having it again.

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Also playing on this particular night for the Montreal Royals was Bill Durnan, who of course became a legendary goalie for the Canadiens shortly after, from 1943 to 1950, and Glen Harmon, number 12 for the senior Canadiens, who joined the Habs the following season and played for them from 1942-51.

Below, from my scrapbook, the Richard family circa 1958.

From left to right, Maurice Jr, Hugette, Lucille, dad and Suzanne, Norman (who’s my age, and whom I spoken to on the phone a couple of times), and Andre. Two others, Paul and Jean, had yet to arrive.

Vintage Me, Non-Vintage Lyla

Along with the usual health reasons for wanting to lose weight (17 pounds so far) was the fact that I wanted to fit into my jacket again.

This old Habs team jacket from the 1950s was owned by a Northern Ontario scout named Joe Delguidice, and now belongs to me. Team photos from back then show the trainers wearing them, Toe Blake would have his on during practices, and players like the Rocket and Beliveau would sometimes be photographed wearing theirs.

I had one of my kid sweaters from the late-’50s-early’60s for Lyla to wear, but it was too itchy for her. (I remember the feeling). So she’s wearing a non-itchy number from a few decades later.

Below, Toe and the trainers wearing the same type of jacket.

 

 

Habs Beaten By Blues

The Canadiens were in St. Louis Tuesday night where the boys blew a two-goal lead (Paul Byron and Tomas Plekanec), and lost 3-2 in overtime.

But that’s all I can say about this. I’m waiting for my enthusiasm to return. It’s been gone for several games now.

But I would like you to know that I’ve lost 8 pounds by walking a lot and I now look like a friggin Adonis.

And if that isn’t interesting enough, there’s this: The decision to separate opposing players in the penalty box came after October 30, 1963 when Montreal’s Terry Harper and Toronto’s Bob Pulford fought on the ice and then continued their disagreement in the box after they’d been sitting side by side.

And if ALL THAT isn’t enough, Rocket Richard once said in a questionnaire that the one man he wanted to meet in person was actor John Wayne.

Houses Of The Holy

Presenting the boyhood homes of four of the greatest players of all time.

All four photos were taken by yours truly. Not that I’m bragging or anything.

Below, the house in Bordeaux, Quebec, just north of Montreal, where Onesime and Alice Richard moved to from the Gaspe area when Onesime took a job in the big city as a CPR machinist. This is where son Maurice grew up with brother Henri and six other siblings.

When Maurice was older his dad got him a job in his machine shop for $20 a week.

rockets-house

Bobby Orr’s place in Parry Sound, across the street from the Seguin River where young Bobby learned to play the game better than anyone else, except for maybe the fourth player on this page.

This house is only a couple of hundred feet from Parry Sound’s main drag, but I’m guessing he didn’t hang out there looking for trouble, like I did in my home town.

orrs-house

Wayne Gretzky’s pad on Varadi Avenue in Brantford. A fine house on a nice tree-lined street. Bicycles and a little hockey net sit in the driveway, probably for various grandkids visiting Walter.

gretzky

And finally, Elmer Ave. in Orillia, where the smallish yet shifty Dennis Kane grew up. This is a guy who, while playing for Byers Bulldozers midget all-stars, had his shot clocked at an incredible 29 mph. And aside from seven or eight others, was the fastest skater on the team.

It’s a shame that scouts were either drunk or weren’t paying attention when Kane was playing.  It’s a shame that he was too smalI with shitty muscles. It’s a shame his shot sucked. It’s a shame that the wild and crazy 1960s came along and he got sidetracked. It’s a shame that he had a hard time focusing and would sometimes sing Beatles songs under his breath while carrying the puck down the wing.

There are several other fine excuses as well.

denniss-house

R.I.P. Gordie

Howe and Rocket

When I was a kid in the schoolyard, the conversation with my buddies would go something like this:

Rocket’s better.
Nope, Howe’s better.
No way. Rocket’s better.
Howe’s better.
Take off, hoser.
No you take off.
Shut up and your mother wears army boots. (Or words to that effect).

That’s what it was. Always the same thing. Rocket and Howe. Two completely different players, but Howe was the enemy and Rocket was my hero, so I won. And I’ve  known now for years that Howe was the better all-round player, but I didn’t then and I wouldn’t have admitted it even if I did.

In the 1990s I had breakfast with the legendary goalie Glenn Hall, who was in Powell River for the Allan Cup. Glenn was a teammate of Gordie’s in the 1950s with Detroit, and played against him while with Chicago and St. Louis.

Glenn had also faced the Rocket and Orr during his Hall of Fame career, and because he lived near Edmonton and still involved in hockey in various ways, was as familiar with Wayne Gretzky as practically anyone.

I asked who he thought was the greatest ever and he didn’t hesitate. Howe, he answered, because he could do it all, and the others couldn’t.

I didn’t tell Glenn his mother wore army boots.

But Howe could do it all. His wrist shot was something to behold, his passes pinpoint, his deft scoring touch like few others, his unequaled on-ice intelligence, the unparalleled respect he rightfully earned from other players.

And tough? You want tough?

My friend and former co-worker Gilles Gratton was a backup goalie during the 1974 WHA Canada-Russia Summit Series, and he told me about the time Gordie’s son Mark was leveled by a Soviet defenceman in dastardly fashion, so much so that an unsteady Mark initially skated to the wrong bench and had to be steered to the right one by Soviet players.

Not long after, Gordie just happened to skate by the player who nailed Mark, and the guy just happened to end up with a broken arm and was gone for the series.

You didn’t mess with Gordie or his kin.

Players in the NHL, WHA, or Russia didn’t go in the corners with Gordie. They timidly poked their sticks at the puck and then got the hell out of there before one of those famous elbows crushed their faces.

He did it all, legally or not. There was absolutely no one like him.

Several years ago Howe came to Powell River for an autograph signing and the prices charged for his signature were incredibly outlandish. Way higher than normal, maybe because Powell River is fairly isolated.

I was astonished at these abnormal prices and I wrote a column about it for the local newspaper in which I wasn’t very nice, coming down hard on him and the grocery store where the signing was held.

I regret that I did that. Extraordinary prices or not (and they were), this was a fine and friendly fellow, a legendary man, possibly the greatest hockey player to ever play the game,  and he was there trying to make a buck. What an asshole I can be sometimes.

Now he’s gone and it’s a sad day for me and you and millions of others. I can almost hear angels in heaven’s schoolyard: “Rocket’s better”. “No, Howe’s better.” “Take off, hoser”.

Gordie & Rocket

Bob Hill’s Rocket Riot Tune

From 1955, Bob Hill and his Canadian Country Boys sing about the Rocket and the events leading up to and during the Richard Riot on March 17th of that year.

It’s called Saga of Rocket Richard, and his 78 rpm record sells for several hundred clams now if one could find it.

But if you click right here you can listen to it for free on the Museum of Canadian Music site. (Just scroll down below the info and you’ll see ‘tracks.’)

It’s a fine little ditty, and I hope it makes you smile.

Because I like it when you smile.

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Saga of Rocket Richard

In this great game of hockey,
To which we do play,
There are heroes near and afar.
But the mightiest name in our national game,
Is Maurice the Rocket Richard.

When we need a man,
To encourage the fans,
He’ll shatter all records and more.
In fact quite the cream,
Of the Montreal team,
Is Maurice the Rocket Richard.

One evening in Boston, they struck at his head,
And cut him right over the ear.
With his temper so red and the way that he bled,
His thinking could not have been clear.

In the confusion,
Before they subdued him,
He’d struck an official I fear.
In so doing you know,
He’d trod on the toes,
Of Campbell, the man with no fear.

Says Campbell – young man,
That stick in your hand,
Has put you in trouble, by gar.
Though you needed five stitches,
You’re too big for your britches,
Just who do you think that you are.

Now you’ve done this before,
And you’ve made me quite sore,
And although you are a great star.
You’re through for the year,
Do I make myself clear,
Mr. Maurice the Rocket Richard.

In a terrible plight,
Was our Forum that night,
A riot got into high gear,
And when Campbell appeared,
He was slammed and jeered,
And his danger it soon became clear.

A fan tried to drop him,
The cops couldn’t stop him,
And a bomb made ’em all shed a tear.
As the president fled,
They cried “off with his head,”
Of Campbell the man with no fear.

Now our town has lost face,
And our team has disgrace,
But those hot-headed actions can’t mar,
Or cast any shame,
On the heroic name,
Of Maurice the Rocket Richard.

For he will return,
And his legend will burn,
In the annals of sport near and far.
There was never a name,
Of such stature and fame,
As Maurice the Rocket Richard.

Soup Riot

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When Clarence Campbell suspended Maurice Richard for the remaining three games of the season and all of the playoffs in March of 1955, he was not a popular man.

And of course Clarence wasn’t popular. His suspension of the Rocket was incredibly harsh, although Maurice did whack Bruins d-man Hal Laycoe a bunch of times with his stick after Laycoe had high-sticked him (which called for five stitches), and there was that coldcocking of linesman Cliff Thompson with a punch or two. But I digress.

Richard fans took to the streets, and as we all know, trashed shops along several blocks of Rue Ste. Catherine, which forever after became known as the Richard Riot, or the St. Patrick’s Day Riot.

But there was more than just smashing and looting. Only ordinary greaseballs just smash and loot.

One disgruntled Habs fan came up with a much more creative protest – design, print and cover Campbell’s (no relation to Clarence) soup cans with Maurice Richard labels, and for a short time after the incident, various stores sold their tomato soup this way.

 

The Big House For Tony

In almost all ways, Tony Demers, who played for the Montreal Canadiens from 1937 to 1943, was just another in a long line of players who came and went and are mostly forgotten now because they were never a Richard or Beliveau or Lafleur.

But unlike others who at one point in the lives had that cup of coffee in the bigs, Demers’ story carried a slight twist, one that is rarely discussed, and it’s a story with details that remain sketchy even today.

The beginning is about hockey.

In my house, I have a really nice photo of Demers posing with the Rocket and Elmer Lach on a line, so they gave him a shot with the big boys, I suppose. He looked like a guy poised to replace Toe Blake at some point on the Punch Line.

But Demers played parts of just five seasons in Montreal as he bounced up and down from the minors. He scored only 20 goals in total and was no star, not by a long shot. His short career ended during the 1943-44 season when he played one game with the New York Rangers, and that was that.

Sort of.

In 1945, Demers was fined for an assault on a hotel keeper. Then, the next year while playing senior hockey in Sherbrooke, he became involved in a gambling situation and was given a ten-game suspension. Things were bad up to this point, but they were about to get worse.

In 1949, Demers was hauled in to the police station regarding the death of a woman who was later revealed to be Demers’ girlfriend. The story issued was that the two had been drinking heavily, they had gotten into an argument, and that he had hit her.

Hospital officials said it was more than a simple hit, it was a thorough beating. Demers claimed she had gotten all her bruises from jumping from his moving car. And he didn’t take the unconscious woman to the hospital until the following day which was far too late, and tragically, the lady passed away.

The court didn’t buy the ‘jumping from the car’ story and Tony Demers was found guilty of manslaughter, given 15 years in the maximum security St. Vincent de Paul penitentiary in Montreal, and he served eight years of the fifteen before being released.

In the late 1980s, while I was living in Ottawa, it was announced that this notorious St. Vincent de Paul was finally closing its doors after about 100 years, and the public was invited to tour the closed prison for a dollar. So I took my family to Montreal for the day to have a look.

The penitentiary was a horrendous place. They had left the cells the way they were, so clothes, writings, and graffiti on the walls were there as they had been. It was dirty and dark and my kids were nervous. I think it might have set them on the straight and narrow from that day on.

In Roger Caron’s book Go Boy, he described St. Vincent’s as the meanest and most dangerous prison in Canada, and he knew what he was writing about because he had served most of his adult life in different institutions across the country. It was a prison that served its purpose in the most brutal of fashion..

It sure didn’t seem a fitting place for a hockey hero. While the Rocket, Blake, and Lach thrilled the Forum faithful with big goals and Stanley Cups, an old teammate, one who had once shared the dressing room, train rides, restaurants, and hotels, sat in a dark cell inside Canada’s worst prison, maybe listening from time to time on the radio as his old friends carried on.

Demers went mostly into obscurity after his release eight years later, did some youth coaching from time to time, and eventually died in 1997. It has to be one of the sadder stories in the 100-plus years of the Montreal Canadiens.

Below, Demers, Lach, and Richard.

Hi Normand, You Don’t Know Me But…

JIM WITHERS: FOR USE WITH STUBBS COLUMN IN EDITIONS OF MONDAY, MARCH 15, 2010: Canadiens legend Maurice (Rocket) Richard tapes a stick in the Canadiens dressing room during the 1959-60 season, the final season for the Habs great, watched by sons Normand (centre) and Maurice Jr. A new bilingual, two-DVD set featuring the Rocket is being released now, shortly before the 10th anniversary of his death, and Maurice Jr. says he's amazed at the enduring popularity of his late father. CREDIT: DAVID BIER STUDIOS, GAZETTE FILES

The Rocket tapes his stick during the 1959-60 season, while sons Normand and Maurice Jr. watch carefully.

Normand is the same age as me, and when I was living in Montreal a couple of years ago, I phoned him. Twice.

The first time I called, I opened with “Hi Normand, your dad was my hero!”, or something like that. The second time was more along the lines of, “Hi, it’s that guy again who called that other time.”

Normand was very nice and seemed just fine with the fact that some stranger was calling. I appreciated that.

Both times I called we talked for about 20 minutes or so, and during the second chat he agreed to meet me for coffee, although he said he was driving a friend’s car to Florida the next day and we’d have to wait until he got back.

I was very excited. I wanted to tell him that when I was a kid, I often wondered what it would be like to be the Rocket’s son. And I wondered if we’d need menus.

I wanted to be Normand’s friend back then, and I wanted to be his friend now.

But it wasn’t to be. Mainly because when he got back from Florida, I was back in Powell River.