Tag Archives: Maurice Richard

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.

 

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.

Letters On My Shelf

Many of these letters were written to me, while some I collected along the way. If you find these boring, please don’t tell me.

Beginning with –

Red Fisher (1965) (after I complained to him that Stan Mikita swore at me when I asked him for his autograph at a Hawks-Leafs exhibition game in Peterborough during the Leafs training camp).

Red

Phyllis King (1951) – Clarence Campbell’s secretary and future wife.

Phyllis

Here’s Clarence and Phyllis on their romantic date at the Forum, which helped spark the 1955 St. Patrick’s Day Richard Riot.

coverofTHN

Legendary sports editor Elmer Ferguson (1929). The Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award is presented to outstanding hockey journalists and includes the likes of Jacques Beauchamp, Red Burnett, Trent Frayne, Red Fisher, Andy O’Brien, Michael Farber, Roy MacGregor and others.

Elmer

Sam Pollock (1964). By far my favourite letter.

Claude Mouton (1985)

Irving Grundman (1983)

Almost three months to the day after General Manager Grundman wrote this letter, he was fired by the Canadiens and Serge Savard would take his place.

Forum secretary Manon Bruneau (1984)

Letter from Sam Pollock to Habs prospect Michel Lagace (1962). This is the kind of letter I would have liked to receive.

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Looking for tickets at Maple Leaf Gardens (1965 & 1966)

Two replies from Claude Mouton (1983) about my request for a stick. He gave me a Bob Gainey stick, signed by the entire team, which I picked up at the Forum after driving from Ottawa after graveyard shift.

Jean Beliveau (1984)

I decided I needed an 8X10 glossy of the Rocket shaking hands with Sugar Jim Henry, so I went right to the top. I wrote a letter to La Presse and it ended up on the desk of editor-in chief Gerard Pelletier (1964)

Pelletier would later serve in the Pierre Trudeau government, and was eventually awarded the Order of Canada.

Frank Selke Jr. (1961)

Happy 2016

New Year

Wishing all of you a fantastic New Year, with great health and happiness throughout.

I know the year will be a beauty for me because when you add up each digit in 2016 it totals 9, which was of course the Rocket’s number, and which has always been my special number because of.

And because I’m feeling good about that and other things, I’ve decided to give you a gift:

THE hangover cure.

Drink a bottle of Gatorade before you get into the alcohol. After you’ve finished enjoying your alcohol, drink three more Gatorades and have a nice bowl of chicken soup.

If that doesn’t work, smoke eight joints, drink a case of beer, and go to bed for two days.

nine

The Finest Jacket And Crest

Rocket’s jacket –

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Jean’s jacket –

Jean's jacket

My jacket –

Roy's jacket

My jacket belonged to a man I knew when I was a kid, Roy Faubert, who was a part time scout for the Canadiens. It came up in an auction in 2013 and I made sure I got it.

I knew it was Roy’s because I happened to be working at Classic Auctions in Montreal at the time, where it was put up for bids, and I saw his name and date on the inside pocket.

It was my job to write the description of the jacket for the auction catalogue, and when I saw Roy’s name, I couldn’t believe it.

(The fact that this jacket came back into my life after more than fifty years is weird, don’t you think?)

But before I even knew Roy, I was already after that unusual Habs crest, because the Rocket had one in the picture above which is in my scrapbook.

I was eleven when I wrote the Canadiens asking about the crest, and below is Frank Selke Jr’s reply.

Those Were The Days

What, you say I never played for the Habs?

Then who’s that in the middle of the back row?

59-60 Habs

Yes, I remember it well. Me and Rocket and Doug sticking lit firecrackers in Boom Boom’s pajamas as he slept. Stealing Toe’s fedora and blaming it on Hicke. Putting Ex-Lax in Plante’s hot chocolate. Finding Backstrom’s paycheque and giving it to the Conservative Party.

But for all the hilarious hi-jinks, we still won plenty of games and were on top of the world. And I like to think that as a smallish-yet-shifty right winger, I did my part.

Those were the days, my friends.

Thanks to a great guy, Ed Wolk in Ottawa, for sending me this big surprise – the only known photo of me with the Habs. (I tried to stay out of the limelight).

 

Rocket In Orillia

I recently posted the photos below on an Orillia Facebook page called “If You Grew Up In Orillia You Remember….”, and lots of Orillians did remember that big night in 1962 when the great Rocket Richard came to town.

It was a big night for me, that’s for sure. Number 9 was my hero, which is something that’s never changed over the years.

Somehow the local sports editor, Lynn Jones, heard about me having a Montreal Canadiens scrapbook with plenty of pictures of the Rocket in it, so he called and asked if he could borrow one for the program they were putting together. I was very proud.

The Rocket signed it, but the pen was beginning to run out of ink.

After these pictures went on the Orillia site, an old baseball and hockey friend of mine, Warren Howes, sent a team picture from that night, with his younger brother, the goalie, in the front row.

As you can see, the entire team is wearing Habs sweaters but it appears they might have been worn to make Maurice happy.  The kids had either their team sweaters underneath, or Leafs sweaters, which is what Warren thinks.

You can see the Rocket standing behind the boys. And in my pile of Habs stuff here in Powell River is a helmet identical to the one the kid in the front row, third from left, is wearing.

Rocket 3

Rocket 2

Orillia Var

Rocket in Orillia

Habs Blast Jets

biplane-crashv

Such a fine way to begin November, with a dominate 5-1 win over the visiting, and sometimes belligerent, Winnipeg Jets.

But Dustin Byfuglien and his pals can take solace in knowing they got hammered by the best team in the league, which should make them feel better when they’re out breaking curfew tonight.

Backup goalie Mike Condon, between the pipes for injured Carey Price, allowed just one goal, which means the big fellow has let in just six goals in his first four starts, all wins, which is impressive to say the least.

Also impressive is the Habs scoring a total of 21 goals during these four Condon games.

Adding to the impressiveness – the David Desharnais, Tomas Fleischmann, and Dale Weise line, which tallied seven points in all. This line was flying all game, Fleischmann was on fire, but the team as a whole had their legs moving in fine style.

It’s hard to imagine these guys in another 30 years when they’re fat and can hardly skate.

The Jets, meanwhile, sat quietly on the tarmac, not going anywhere.

And then there was Paul Byron, listed as 5’7″, 153 lbs, playing like the much bigger Henri Richard, listed as 5’7″, 160 lbs.

Byron opened the scoring in the first period when once again, as he had done in Calgary two nights prior, burst in on a shorthanded breakaway to light the lamp. A fine deja vu moment to be sure.

Two goals and an assist for Byron in his three games, while Alex Semin sits in the press box each night now, wondering, drinking coffee, eating hot dogs, and asking Marc Bergevin if he can get him anything.

The Canadiens opened the scoring in the first, which is always such a nice thing, when lefthanded shot David Desharnais burst down the right side the way the Rocket once did, and after being stopped, Tomas Fleischmann banged home his first of the night.

In the second period it would be Fleischmann doing the bursting down the right side, with his shot eluding Jets goaltender Michael Hutchison. The starting goalie would soon be replaced by Ondrej Pavelec after allowing a fourth goal, a DD marker when he barreled in with Fleischmann and Nathan Beaulieu on what was basically a 3 on 1.

Lars Eller would direct the puck off his skate on the power play to widen things to 5-1, and in the third, the lone goal past Condon came from Winnipeg’s Chris Thorburn, who looks like the Band’s Richard Manuel, who’s been dead for 29 years.

Random Notes:

The 7 points from the DD line included Fleischmann with 2 goals and 1 assist, DD a goal and 2 assists, and Weise 1 assist).

Canadiens outshot Winnipeg 26-19.

The team has now recorded 50 goals in 13 games, an average of 3.84 goals a game. Some serious fire wagon hockey going on with this league-leading team.

Next up – The dastardly Ottawa Senators pay a visit to the Bell on Tuesday.