I feel just a small break from the stress of the Boston-Montreal series is needed right now. Montreal fans were so optimistic going into round one, but the team hasn’t played well, and going into game seven Monday night, Boston carries all the momentum and good feelings.
So I feel we need a change of pace, go back to our roots, and check in with the maestro, the hero of so many, the man who wore the CH not just on his sweater, but also on his heart, the great Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard.
On March 11, 1996, following a game between Dallas and Montreal, the Canadiens and fans said goodbye to the Montreal Forum. The lights were dimmed, and Montreal Canadien captains from over the years walked onto the Forum ice. Emile Bouchard, Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, Yvon Cournoyer, Serge Savard, Bob Gainey, Guy Carbonneau, Pierre Turgeon, and of course, number nine, Maurice Richard.
A torch was lit and was passed to Butch Bouchard. Bouchard then passed it to the Rocket, and the emotional fans in the beautiful old building, the wondrous Forum, erupted in an explosion of cheers, tears, memories, and thank you’s to the greatest Hab ever. Fans weren’t only saying goodbye to the old building, but were also saying thank you to the Rocket, who had done so much to create the mystique that is the Montreal Canadiens, a man whose deeds, fire, passion, success, and humility continues to make all Montreal fans, young and old, proud of the team, and a man the emotional Quebec Habs fans embraced and clung to through rocky political and cultural times in the province.
The Rocket was my boyhood hero, stayed that way long after he retired, and remains my hero even today. I met him once, but that’s a story for another day.
Here’s a small clip of that night in 1996, when Montreal Canadiens fans, in a 16 minute standing ovation that left most in tears, said thank you to The Rocket. And he wasn’t even sure why. Because he would always say, “I’m just a hockey player.”