It was, of course, the Rocket Richard riot in Montreal, and many feel feel it was the beginning of the French-Canadian voice being heard louder, and the germ of Quebec separation ideas.
It began during a game previously, in Boston, and the Rocket, while skating past the Bruins’ Hal Laycoe, who had previously played for the Habs and had considered himself a friend of Richard’s, clipped the Rocket on the head with his stick. Richard became quite upset and whacked Laycoe with two different sticks, breaking the second over Laycoe’s back. He even found a third stick and hit the Bruin again.
Then the biggest problem of all occurred. Richard punched the linesman who was trying to control this mightly pissed-off number nine.
League president Clarence Campbell, who was basically a puppet to the owners, and a man the French considered an arrogant English asshole, (L’asshole anglais), then pulled the shocker. He suspended the Rocket for the remainder of the regular season and all of the upcoming playoffs.
This, of course, didn’t sit well with almost everyone except the other teams and their owners. In fact, the owners had thought for awhile that the Rocket was getting too big and needed to be reigned in. He sure was reigned in. But the angry mobs weren’t
On St. Patrick’s night, with Detroit in town, Campbell sat down with his future wife to enjoy the game. Instead, he got slapped in the face by someone, then others started pelting him with tomatoes, and then someone let off a smoke bomb.
The game, naturally, was cancelled, with the win given to Detroit, and outside, all hell broke loose. Store windows were smashed, looters looted, and in general, it wasn’t Woodstock by any stretch of the imagination.
So to wrap this up, a few different things came out of this that I find interesting. It was Montreal sports writer Red Fisher’s very first day on the job covering the Habs. Bernie Geoffrion overtook Richard to win the scoring title. The Red Wings took out Montreal in the playoffs. The Rocket went on the radio to plead for peace on Ste Catherines Street. And the smoke bomb was later found out to be police-issue. You can read what you want into that one.
Personally, I’d love to know who the culprits were who slapped Campbell, threw the tomatoes, and let off the smoke bomb. They set history in motion.