I don't write about sports heroes very often on the website. While I love all manner of sports ranging from professional football to underground Russian competitive slap-fighting, generally speaking I like to take the time to differentiate between a guy who's really good at something and a guy who is badass. Maurice Richard was both.
Professional Ice Hockey is one of those sports that breeds badasses. Not only is the game itself utterly over-the-top violent as fuck, with giant dudes body-checking each other with an endless series of mid-ice Newtonian collasions that give head-on car accidents a run for their money, but there's also something to be said for the fact that there are provisions explicitly built into the rule book solely for the purpose of letting you bare-knuckle kick the shit out of your opponents when the numbers on the scoreboard aren't going your way (or simply just because the other guy looks like a smarmy jacknut that needs to get the symmetry of his face realigned by a haymaker right hook to the jaw). In a somewhat-awesome twist, his game is so damn violent, brutal, and bloody that most pro teams actually have guys on their rosters who can't skate, shoot, or pass for shit, but who are just on the fucking roster because they're gigantically huge and capable of kicking the snot of out anyone on the other team. These Enforcers are key components of any lineup, solely because they keep the other team's goons from pummeling your team's best players. It's kind of like Battle Golf, only the guys playing it are about a hundred pounds heavier and they're launching themselves as fast as possible on a thin sheet of ultra-slick ice with the intent of murdering the man across from them.
|In most sports, cold-cocking an opposing player repeatedly in the face with a series of gigantic Slovakian uppercuts would get you a multi-game suspension without pay.
In hockey, it means you have to sit in the penalty box for five minutes.
If I was going to run a hockey badass in honor of the current Stanley Cup finals, the obvious choice would be to use one of those hard-as-fuck Goon Squad Enforcers, since guys like Dave Schultz and Peter Worrell were basically little more than professional old-school bare-fisted boxers who happened to own a set of ice skates and a hockey stick. But the legendary Maurice Richard of the Montreal Canadiens, a man believed by most hockey people to be one of the top five greatest players in the history of the game, was a bit of an anomaly – he was his team's best goal-scorer, and he also doubled as his own enforcer. Also he was scary as fuck, and one of the hardest no-bullshit bastards to ever play the sport. This guy was like the LeBron James of the NHL, only if instead of flopping on his ass every time someone slapped him on the wrist, he gritted his teeth and head-butted the offending party so hard the guy's eyes shot out through the back of his head like a pair of rubber bullets.
The oldest of six kids born to a French Canadian family outside Montreal, Richard grew up at a time when boys were forged into real men and for some bizarre reason every time our grandparents wanted to go anywhere they had to walk uphill through knee-high snow drifts infested with arctic wolves, radioactive nuclear fallout dust, and man-devouring Yetis. Maurice grew up playing baseball, boxing in local Gold Gloves tournaments, practicing hockey on the thin ice of a frozen river so dangerous it was permanently closed to the public, and helping his dad perform hard-ass fucking labor as a railroad machinist. When World War II broke out in 1939 and every Canadian was required to do his duty to kick Hitler's balls off, Richard attempted to enlist in the infantry, but he was rejected because the 18-year old had already broken both ankles, his femur, and both wrists while playing junior hockey, and none of his injuries had really healed up properly. When Richard couldn't fight in the trenches with a rifle, he still wanted to serve his country, so he tried to enlist as an Army machinist. He was rejected because he had dropped out of school at 16 to become a professional machinist and now he didn't have a high school diploma or an official trade certificate as a machinist (you have to love Army logic). With his dream of bayoneting Fascist stormtroopers on blood-soaked battlefields now unable to be fully realized, Maurice Richard decided that the closest thing to knife-fighting Nazis was playing professional ice hockey, so he took all four of his previously-broken limbs to play for the Montreal Canadiens.
Richard, seen at right locking a submission hold on the
lifeless corpse of a man he has just ripped in half.
It's really beyond the scope of this article to get into an endless, largely-meaningless string of stats, figures, and Sabermetrics bullshit minutiae, so I'll keep this paragraph as brief as I can. In 1944, Maurice "Rocket" Richard became the first person to score 50 goals in the first 50 games of the season – a feat that has only been repeated by 4 other people in history. His 50 goals stood as a single-season record until 1961, when some guy beat it after they'd increased the number of games in the regular season from 50 to 70. In 18 seasons with the Canadiens, the Right Winger won 8 Stanley Cups, went to 14 All-Star games, and led the league in goal scoring five times. He nearly doubled up the career NHL goal-scoring record (which had been set at 324) by notching 544 goals in his career, and to this day he's the only person in history to be awarded all Three Stars in a single game – meaning that he was voted the first, second, and third best player of the game. He was so good that the Hall of Fame waived the 3-year waiting period for induction, taking him into the Hall immediately upon his retirement, and nowadays the award given out to the NHL player who scores the most goals in a season is called the Maurice Richard Trophy. Let's just say that he was really fucking good at hockey and leave it at that.
But Richard's badass cred doesn't come from being an amazing goal scorer or a talented hockey player – it comes from the fact that even though this 5'10" hardass wasn't anywhere close to being the biggest or the strongest guy on the ice, he never put up with anyone's obnoxious bullshit. He didn't go out and start fights – he was more than happy to kick your ass on the scoreboard and call it a night – but if people fucked with him, this scrappy French Canadian brawler would drop the gloves, cave in your face with his fists, and then score the game-winning slap shot by shooting the puck off your back like you're his own personal human golf tee. This motherfucker was so over-the-top awesome and hotheaded that the only way to strategize against the Canadians was to send your Goon Line out there and have guys constantly try to provoke him into flying off the handle and drawing a penalty, since every minute Richard was in the penalty box serving five for Fighting was a minute when he wasn't skating over your star Defenseman's groin or whipping a puck through your Goalie's abdomen.
No, this isn't a picture of prisoner torture in an underground military facility,
it's just Maurice Richard taking his uniform off after another routine day at the office.
The stories of Maurice Richard's badassitude are legendary. Like, one time he bought a new house for his family and spent all morning moving boxes, lugging furniture, and hauling a fucking grand piano into his new place (even in his prime Richard only made $25k a year, so he didn't have a ton of money to hire movers or anything – you have to love the days when athletes weren't all a bunch of overpaid primadonnas whining about how they only make ten million dollars a year when they should be making twelve), and when Richard showed up at the arena looking dead-ass tired and barely able to stand up his own buddy went out and put a bet down that the Rocket wouldn't score a point that night. Maurice went out and notched five goals and three assists, setting an NHL single-game scoring record.
Another time, Richard was skating hard to the goal, and a gigantic 210-pound Defenseman named Earl Siebert smashed into him with an earth-shattering check – not only did Richard remain on his feet and in control of the puck, but when Siebert jumped on his back, draping his arms and his legs around the Rocket like a goddamned chimpanzee, but Richard fucking carried the dude 60 feet on his back, put a deke on the Goalie, shot the puck into the back of the net, and then shook the Defenseman off, dumping Siebert unceremoniously into the corner boards.
Another awesome story involving Richard comes from Game 7 of the 1952 Stanley Cup semifinals. Early in the game, Richard took a two-handed stick swing to the face – a brutal blow that knocked the Rocket out on the spot, his body dropping to the ice like a sack of balls. Richard woke up in the locker room, groggy as hell, laying out on a trainer's table with a bunch of stitches in his face. He immediately got up, stumbled back up the tunnel, took a seat on the end of the bench, and asked the dude next to him what the score and the time were, since his post-concussion vision was so blurry and fucked up he couldn't read the scoreboard. As soon as Richard heard it was a tie game with only a few minutes remaining, he went over the boards, got into the game, took the puck, faked out a defender, and scored the game-winning goal with a bandage still strapped to his face, sending his time to the Stanley Cup Finals. The concussion Richard suffered was so intense that the next day he didn't even remember the game.
Richard (right) shaking hands after the game while bleeding profusely out of his head.
Maurice Richard partied hard (one time he was so pumped up after scoring a game-winning goal that he broke his teammate's nose with a head-butt), but, like I said, he was also something of a total fucking hothead as well. One time he was doing a rehab start for the minors, and with the game well in hand Richard was ordered to sit out the third period, so he changed into street clothes and watched the end of the game from the stands. Well some idiot fan started talking shit about how Richard should have been out there playing, so Richard responded by calmly standing up, deliberately straightening his suit, and then knocking that douchebag fan unconscious with one lightning-quick punch, touching off a brawl/riot where players and fans all battled in the stands. The next day, when Richard asked if he was going to be getting sued for almost single-handedly taking on the entire stadium of fans in hand-to-hand combat, his coach told him that the guy that got cracked in the face was so pumped that he'd received a black eye from Maurice Richard that he was running around town showing his busted eye to everyone who would look. Richard was never sued or arrested for the incident.
But that wasn't even close to the biggest riot Maurice Richard helped to instigate. During one particularly-violent game 1955, Le Rocket got high-sticked in the face with a nasty slash that opened a massive wound in the Rocket's head. Bleeding out-of-control from a gushing head wound wasn't enough to deter Richard from beating ass though, so the Rocket immediately skated up to the motherfucker that cheap-shotted him and smashed that suckbag twice with his stick, snapping the stick in half on the dude's body. When Richard dropped his gloves and went in for some good old-fashioned beat-down action on the man down on the ice in front of him, some moron ref came up to break up the fight so Richard, his vision almost completely obscured by blood, cracked the ref in the face twice, knocking that guy the fuck out as well. Local cops showed up in the locker room to arrest Richard for assault while the Rocket was back there getting 5 stitches in the face, but his teammates threw the police out of the locker room. The NHL President (a guy Richard had called out in the newspaper as "a dictator") suspended Richard for the rest of the season, since it was Richard's second incident of violence against referees (he'd slapped a linesman in the face over a bullshit call a few months earlier). The dictator President then had the balls to show up to the a Canadiens' home game the day after announcing the suspension, so rabid Richard fanatics greeted the Prez by slapping him in the face, throwing fruit at him, and then lobbing a tear gas grenade into his luxury box. The game was called on account of chemical warfare, and then 6,000 insane hockey fans went completely batshit crazy, tearing up the streets of Montreal in an over-the-top riot that did id="mce_marker"00,000 of damage to the city. Today the incident is known as "The Richard Riot".
True story: Many photographs of Maurice Richard are known to secret pure testosterone deposits.
Today Maurice "Rocket" Richard is something of a hero not only among Canadians and hockey fans, but also among his Quebecois brethren. I'm not going to pretend that I understand anything about the civil rights situation of French Canadians in the 1950s, but it's my understanding that the Quebecois were something of an oppressed minority, and that they saw Richard as a cultural hero to their people, and they all looked up to him as a great sports hero. I don't know much about this, but I do know that any time you read anything written by a person who saw the Rocket play live, there's like an eerie reverence in their words – almost like they're talking more about a god than a mere mortal. I don't know much about that, either, but any god who straps steel blades to his feet and breaks wooden sticks on his enemies' backs is a god I'm pretty sure I can get on board with.
Maurice Richard died in 2000 at the age of 78. Over 11,000 people lined the streets of Montreal to attend his funeral.
"What a terrifying sight for a goalie – there was nothing like Richard at top speed."
- Sugar Jim Henry, Boston Bruins goalie
Legends of Hockey
Montreal Canadiens Site
Falla, Jack. Open Ice. John Wiley, 2008.
Fischler, Stan and Shirley. Who's Who in Hockey. Andrews McNeel, 2003.
Melancon, Benoit. The Rocket. Greystone, 2009.
Stewart, Monte. Great Right Wingers. Heritage House, 2006.
Zweig, Eric. Twenty Greatest Hockey Goals. Dundurn Press, 2010.