Maurice Richard life and biography

Maurice Richard picture, image, poster

Maurice Richard biography

Date of birth : 1921-08-02
Date of death : 2000-05-27
Birthplace : Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Nationality : Canadian
Category : Sports
Last modified : 2010-08-02
Credited as : NHL Ice hockey player, ,

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Maurice “The Rocket” Richard has been called a force of nature. But does that really explain the kind of player he was? His power, speed, finesse, guts, brains, toughness and ferocity came together in a decidedly unnatural brew that made him the most loved, hated and feared man in the NHL during the 1940s and 1950s. Maurice was always on the edge of costing the Montreal Canadiens a game, or winning one singlehandedly. The victim of countless on-ice muggings, he was the perpetrator of countless more. The Rocket was “Old School” and then some—and with apologies to Wayne Gretzky, the most dynamic, spectacular and beloved athlete Canada has ever produced.

Maurice Richard was born August 4, 1921, in Montreal, Canada. The first of eight children, Maurice was raised in a French-speaking home. Like many families in the city, the Richards spoke French at home exclusively, while the kids also attended French-speaking public schools. Maurice grew up in the city’s tough Bordeaux section and learned the game of hockey as he came up the youth ranks—parish teams, and midget and juvenile leagues. He would not pick up the English language, however, until he reached the NHL.

Maurice was one of those kids who was good at every physical activity he tried. The more will power and reaction speed a sport required, the better he was at it. He was a top boxer and wrestler, and a good baseball and softball player. The second the mercury plummeted and the Riviére des Prairies froze, however, it was back to his first love, ice hockey.

It was on this river that Maurice often chose to skate to school, and over the years he developed tremendous strength, stamina, speed and technique. He became a master stickhandler in games of shinny at school long before he met his first hockey coach.

As a kid, Maurice rooted for Howie Morenz and Aurel Joliat, the stars of the Canadiens. Along with the Maroons, they were one of two NHL franchises in the city. The Canadiens had a lineup made up primarily of French-speaking players, while the Maroons were led by English-speaking stars. The Canadiens won back-to-back Stanley Cups when Maurice was nine- and 10-years-old, but fell on hard times later in the decade. Unable to afford a ticket to a game, Maurice often dreamed of watching the Canadiens play. Saturday nights on the radio was as close as he ever got.

As a teenager, Maurice gravitated to Montreal star Toe Blake. The youngster loved it when the announcer shouted, “Blake lance, y comte!” (Blake shoots—he scores!). As fate would have it, Blake would eventually become Maurice’s linemate, and later his coach with the Canadiens.

By the late 1930s, Maurice was making headlines in Montreal, playing six games a week in park leagues and for Montreal Technical High School, where he trained as a machinist. He was a talented teenager who drew the attention of local amateur squads, and he played briefly for Parc Lafonatine, the Verdun Maple Leafs and Montreal Royals before joining the Canadiens in 1942. Wrist and ankle injuries delayed his ascent to the NHL, which could have happened two years earlier.

It was during this period that Maurice, who shot left-handed, switched from left wing to right wing. His skating style was more suited to the right side, and coupled with his lefty shot, the results could be electric. Coach Dick Irvin knew exactly what he had in this voracious young scorer. Maurice had already started to reawaken Irvin’s moribund squad when he snapped an ankle 16 games into the 1942-43 campaign, but no one doubted he would return better and hungrier than ever.

The 1943-44 season was Maurice’s first full campaign with the Canadiens, and also the year that his nickname began making the rounds. Sportswriter Baz O’Meara, impressed with the rookie’s speed, dubbed him “The Rocket” in a column and it stuck. Maurice had game-changing skating ability, but he also showed a strong and deadly accurate backhand shot. And there was nothing shabby about his playmaking, as he proved in a December game when he tallied eight points. That record would stand until 1976.

In 46 games that season, Maurice netted 32 goals and added 22 assists for 54 points. He joined Elmer Lach and Toe Blake on what would go down in history as the famous “Punch Line.”

Montreal went 38-5-7 and outdistanced the second-place Detroit Red Wings by the unheard of margin of 25 points. The Habs had an advantage over the U.S.-based NHL clubs, which suffered appalling manpower losses that season due to World War II. The Toronto Maple Leafs, who were spared this fate to some degree, still proved no obstacle in the first round of the playoffs, bowing to the Canadiens in five games.

In the Stanley Cup Finals, Montreal met the Blackhawks. Goalie Bill Durnan shut down Chicago snipers Bill Mosienko, Clint Smith and Doug Bentley. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks’ star defenseman, Earl Seibert, was overwhelmed almost from the opening faceoff, as the Canadiens won the opener 5-1. Game Two was all Rocket, as he scored a hat trick in a 3-1 victory.

Chicago put up a good fight in the next two games, but lost both for a Montreal sweep. In Game Four, Maurice scored a pair of third-period goals to erase a 3-1 deficit, and Durnan stopped a penalty shot by Virgil Johnson to force overtime. Lach netted the Cup-winner nine minutes later. In all, the “Punch Line” accounted for 10 of Montreal’s 16 goals in the series. The Conn Smyth Trophy was not given out until 1965, but had an MVP be selected, it probably would have been Maurice.

The 1944-45 campaign was one of incredible highs and lows for Montreal fans. Maurice was unstoppable, scoring 50 points in 50 games. Not until Mike Bossy in 1981 would an NHL player reach that plateau faster. No one in 1945 had seen anything like the player Maurice had become. He drove relentlessly toward the net, daring opponents to ride him, slash him or drag him down. Often these tactics were fruitless, and when successful they were usually met with fist to the face, or worse.

Maurice would terrorize NHL goalies for a dozen more years. Glenn Hall later described his eyes as “flashing and gleaming like the lights of a pinball machine.” Maurice literally looked and played like a man possessed, and the Canadiens fed off this energy to dominate the standings once again. Lach ended up out-pointing his young teammate, and won the Hart Trophy as MVP. As consolation, Maurice was named the NHL’s First-Team right wing for the first of six times in a row. It would take Gordie Howe to ultimately unseat him in 1950-51.

By this time, Maurice was gaining a reputation as an overly aggressive player. Official watched him like a hawk and sent him off constantly for his dirty play. To go without such a dynamic scorer would have hampered most teams, but the Canadiens found that if they allowed a goal while Maurice was in the penalty box, he would come out like a maniac and frequently get it back.

With the entire season to study the Canadiens, the Maple Leafs devised a strategy aimed at slowing the Montreal offense to a crawl. It took a near-perfect series by Teeder Kennedy to do so—and some miraculous goaltending by Rank McCool—but the Leafs managed to pull off a six-game upset to bounce the favorites from the first round of the playoffs.

Montreal returned to the top of the heap in 1945-46, as all three members of the “Punch Line” finished among the NHL scoring leaders. Maurice, now the center of the defense’s attention on every shift, was limited to 27 goals. The Habs finished first again, but with players returning from Europe and the Pacific, the rest of the league was starting to close the gap. Montreal became a better team, too, especially with Kenny Reardon and Butch Bouchard blossoming into the top defensive tandem in hockey.

The Canadiens got past Chicago in the playoffs four games to one, setting up a Finals showdown with the Boston Bruins. Maurice got Montreal off to a solid start, netting the overtime winner in Game One. Game Two also went to the Habs in overtime, on a weird deflection off Reardon that eluded Boston’s Frank Brimsek. The Canadiens won Games Three and Five to take the Stanley Cup, with Blake getting the nod from most sportswriters as the series’ best player. Maurice finished the postseason with 11 points in 10 games.

Although still feted for his wonderful 50-goal season, Maurice Richard had a far better campaign in 1946-47. He finished with 45 goals in 60 games playing every shift against top-flight talent. His 26 assists gave him 71 points for the year, one short of Max Bentley’s league-leading 72. Maurice was an easy choice for the Hart Trophy, the one and only of his career.

The Canadiens finished first for the fourth year in a row, but were shadowed by the Maple Leafs, who had been infused with some terrific young post-war talent. They met in the Finals, and Montreal took the opener in a 6-0 laugher. Maurice looked to intimidate the Leafs in Game Two, swinging his stick at Bill Ezinicki. The referees interceded, however, throwing Maurice out of the game. He was suspended him for Game Three, as well. Toronto took advantage of the momentum shift and won both, then stole Game Four 2-1 in overtime.

Maurice stepped up in the next contest with a pair of goals and some teeth-rattling hits on the young Leafs, as Montreal seemed to regain control with a 3-1 win. The Habs took an early lead in Game Six, but veteran keeper Turk Broda shut them down the rest of the way and Kennedy scored the Cup-winner to put an end to Montreal’s war-era dominance.

The Canadiens went into a free fall in 1947-48, finishing 20-29-11 and failing to qualify for the playoffs. Maurice had a decent year with 28 goals and 25 assists, but the team was aging and changes were in the wind. In 1948-49, the team improved its victory total to 28, but lost in the first round of the postseason. Maurice’s goal total fell to 20, and his penalty minutes soared into the triple digits for the first time. Although he edged Howe for First-Team honors at right wing again, it was not a happy year.

In 1949-50, Maurice returned to the top of the goal-scoring charts, lighting the lamp 43 times in the expanded 70-game season. Montreal finished second and prepared to play either Toronto or Detroit in the Stanley Cup Finals. Unfortunately, there was the small matter of the Rangers first. New York ambushed Montreal in five games in one of the franchise’s most disheartening playoff losses.

The Canadiens finally returned to the Stanley Cup in 1951. Maurice, who once again topped 40 goals, joined Lach and Durnan to provide veteran leadership, but it was Doug Harvey—just coming into his own as a defensive force—who was often the difference-maker in close games. The Canadiens made it to the championship round by defeating the Red Wings, who were coming off hockey’s first 100-point season.

The Finals, against favored Toronto, was a battle between the pipes between Durnan and Broda. The teams split the first two games, both of which went to overtime. Maurice netted the winner in Game Two. Incredibly, the next two games also went into an extra period, with the Leafs winning both times to take a 3-1 series lead.

Maurice opened the scoring in Game Five with a brilliant wrap-around, but Montreal could not hold off the feisty Leafs, who sent a fifth straight game into OT. Bill Barilko netted the Cup-winner for Toronto, on the final shot of his career. He would perish in a plane crash weeks later.

Montreal was not to be denied, making it back to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1952. A new group of players had cracked the lineup, including Tom Johnson, Bernie Geoffrion, Dickie Moore, Bert Olmstead and Gerry McNeill. But it was now Detroit’s time to build a hockey dynasty, and the Canadiens fell in four games to Terry Sawchuck’s brilliance in goal.

Maurice’s big moment that postseason came in the semis against the Bruins. In the final game, Leo Labine knocked him cold with a vicious check. Maurice, semiconscious at best, willed his way to the goal that sent the Canadiens into the Finals.

Early in the 1952-53 season, Maurice, now 31, scored his 326th goal to surpass Nels Stewart for the NHL’s all-time lead. He finished the year with 28, as Montreal skated to a second-place finish. The first-place Red Wings—clearly the class of the league—ran into an aggressive Boston offense and a hot goalie in Sugar Jim Henry, and were bounced out of the playoffs in the opening round. Montreal barely survived its series with the Blackhawks, recovering after coach Irvin pulled McNeill out of goal and sent unknown Jacques Plante into the fray. Plante turned the series around, and Montreal now had two netminders for the Finals.

After splitting the first two contests, Montreal won the next two to take a 3-1 series lead. Game Five was scoreless after 90 minutes, but the Canadiens won the Cup in overtime on a great pass from Maurice to Lach, who would soon call it a career. Maurice hugged his teammate so hard during the post-goal celebration that he broke Lach’s nose.

The Red Wings asserted themselves over the next two campaigns, edging Montreal in the standings and beating the Canadiens in a pair of thrilling seven-game Finals. In 1954, the Canadiens battled back from a two-game deficit, but lost the decider on a fluke goal by Tony Leswick in overtime. In 1955, Montreal was hampered by the absence of their Rocket, when he was suspended by the NHL after he completely lost control during a late-season game and attacked a linesman. Maurice was leading the NHL in scoring at the time. He finished with 38 goals and 37 assists to finish a point behind his teammate, Geoffrion.

When president Clarence Campbell showed up for a game at the Forum on St. Patrick’s Day, he was pelted with eggs and the game was ultimately forfeited because of the crowd’s unruliness. As they fans spilled outside, a riot ensued and caused a half-million in property damage. Campbell lauded the Rocket’s competitiveness in a prepared statement, but would not allow him to return to the Montreal bench until the following season.

That season turned out to be a great one for Maurice and Montreal. The team hired a new coach, Maurice’s old linemate, Toe Blake. Blake had always known how to chill Maurice out, and with his temper essentially costing Montreal the Stanley Cup, this now became a priority.

The Blake hiring was sheer genius. The Canadiens turned in their first 100-point campaign in 1955-56, and Maurice eclipsed 35 goals for the third straight season. The team’s transformation was finally complete, with Jean Beliveau and Maurice’s 20-year-old brother, Henri, displaying brilliant playmaking, and Plante installed full-time between the pipes. (Maurice and Henri were occasionally paired on the same line later in the decade, and the pride was clearly visible on Maurice’s face.)

The Canadiens gained their revenge against the Red Wings in the 1956 Stanley Cup Finals, beating Detroit four games to one. Maurice averaged better than a point a game in the playoffs.

In 1956-57, Maurice topped 30 goals again in the regular season, but Detroit edged the Canadiens for first place. The anticipated showdown between these clubs in the Finals did not materialize thanks to the Bruins, who rode a hot unknown goalie named Don Simmons past the Red Wings in the opening round.

Simmons, however, could not do much about Montreal’s ceaseless attack. Maurice netted the first goal of the Finals, then added three more to account for almost all the scoring in a 5-1 win in the opener. Maurice was all over the ice during the rest of the series, which went to Montreal in five games.

Early in the 1957-58 season, Maurice became the first NHL player to reach 500 goals. He would be slowed all year by a sore Achilles tendon, but the truth of it was that all the years of reckless skating were finally catching up with him. During his final three seasons, he would miss nearly 100 games and never score 20 goals again. Maurice still had his moments, though. In the 1958 Stanley Cup rematch with the Bruins, he and Henri scored all three goals in a Game Three shutout that proved to be the key contest in a series victory for Montreal’s third straight championship.

Maurice played sparingly in Montreal’s 1959 championship, which saw them become the first team in league history to win four straight titles. His last postseason goal came a year later, in Game Three of the Finals versus Toronto, on the way to a fifth straight Montreal championship. .

Maurice retired with 544 goals and 421 assists in 978 regular season games. He scored 82 times in 133 postseason contests, and averaged just under a point a game in the playoffs. His name was etched on the Stanley Cup eight times, and he was enshrined in the Hall of Fame less than a year after his retirement, with the customary three-year waiting period waived.

Maurice enjoyed his status as a living legend in Montreal during the 1960s, and stayed involved in hockey in a variety of unofficial ways. In 1972, when the World Hockey Association was formed, he agreed to coach the Quebec Nordiques, but quit after he began missing his family. He angled on and off for a front-office job with the Canadiens, but was unable to convince the team of his talent-judging capabilities, even after begging them to draft Mike Bossy in 1977. Finally, in 1980, he joined the team in a community relations role.

In 1998, Maurice was honored by the NHL when it named a new trophy after him. It would be presented each season to the league’s top goal scorer. He presented the first trophy in 1999 to Teemu Selanne. On May 27, 2000, Maurice passed away, a victim of cancer. He was given a state funeral—the first time this honor had ever been accorded to a Canadian athlete.

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