Tag: Maurice Richard

Maurice Richard

Revisiting the Richard Riot to explain Habs coaching controversy


The general consensus outside Quebec is that it doesn’t matter what language the Canadiens’ coach speaks as long he helps the team win.

Even within the province there’s a healthy portion that feels the same way. As the Montreal Gazette’s Red Fisher wrote today, “Players who know how to win have made this franchise great….That’s where it begins. That’s where it ends – and should.”

But for those who are struggling to understand why many French-speaking Quebecers are upset at the appointment of head coach Randy Cunneyworth, even on an interim basis, the Richard Riot of 1955 is a good place to start.

To the Wikipedia-mobile!

On March 13, 1955, Montreal’s Maurice “Rocket” Richard – the game’s best player – got high-sticked by the Bruins’ Hal Laycoe in a game in Boston. In response, Richard went berserk.

Richard skated up to Laycoe, who had dropped his stick and gloves in anticipation of a fight, and struck him in the face and shoulders with his stick. The linesmen attempted to restrain Richard, who repeatedly broke away from them to continue his attack on Laycoe, eventually breaking a stick over his opponent’s body before linesman Cliff Thompson corralled him. Richard broke loose again and punched Thompson twice in the face, knocking him unconscious.

Consequently, Richard was suspended by NHL President Clarence Campbell for the rest of the season, including the playoffs.

Habs fans subsequently lost their minds. When Campbell, an anglophone, attended the next Montreal home game on March 17 at the Forum, they demonstrated their displeasure.

The 15,000 in attendance immediately started booing Campbell. Some fans began pelting them with eggs, vegetables, and various debris for six straight minutes. At the end of the first period, Detroit had taken 4–1 lead, and the barrage began again. Despite police and ushers’ attempts to keep fans away from Campbell, a fan, pretending to be a friend of Campbell’s, managed to elude security. As he approached, the fan extended his hand as if to shake Campbell’s. When Campbell reached out to shake his hand, the fan slapped him. As Campbell reeled from the attack, the fan reached back and delivered a punch.

Yada, yada, yada, there was a riot.


Here’s the important part:

Richard was considered the embodiment of French-Canadians and was a hero during a time when they were seen as second-class citizens. He was revered when he fought the “damn English” during games. In his book, The Rocket: A Cultural History of Maurice Richard, Benoît Melançon compares Richard to Major League Baseball’s Jackie Robinson by stating that both players represented the possibility for their minority groups to succeed in North America.

During the 1950s, Quebec’s industries and natural resources were controlled primarily by English Canadians or Americans. Québécois were the lowest-paid ethnic group in Quebec, which resulted in a sense that control rested with the Anglophone minority. Because of this and other factors, there had been growing discontent in the years before the riot.

And in the years after the riot, the discontent grew. A lot. For more on that, read this.

Anyway, not defending or supporting angry Habs fans when it comes to Cunneyworth’s appointment, but you can’t really look at this issue in a vacuum. There are years and years of history and emotion behind it.

Best and worst sweaters of all-time: Montreal Canadiens

Brian Gionta

When you’re the franchise with the most Stanley Cups in NHL history, having a look that remains timeless after decades that instills pride in your fans and burning hatred in your rivals is a wonderful thing. Being able to say that everyone from Maurice “Rocket” Richard to Jean Beliveau to Guy LaFleur to Patrick Roy to Brian Gionta have all worn the same sweater is an impressive and staggering thing.

Love them or hate them, the Montreal Canadiens legendary sweater is one for the ages.

Best: If you think I’m going to go off the rails and be funny and pick something other than the classic red Habs sweater, you’re wrong. Dead wrong. It’s the most classic, most iconic, most outstanding sweater in all of hockey. The iconic logo set atop a band of blue and white striping on top of a red sweater. It’s elegant perfection and it’s been virtually unchanged since 1917. When you get it right immediately, there’s no reason to ever change. It’s perfection in a sweater.

Worst: Of course, sometimes you can make major mistakes at times and that’s something the Habs did as was highlighted by their 100th anniversary celebration when they broke out a bleu, blanc, et rouge striped barber pole sweater from the Habs days in 1912-1913. Such horrors cannot be unseen and for a team that ended up with such a legendary and perfect look, thing started off so very badly for the Canadiens. Most of the Canadiens anniversary special sweaters weren’t much to write home about, but the barber pole one ranks out as one of the worst of all time.

Honoring the past: That said, I give the Canadiens a ton of credit for breaking out modern versions of ancient sweaters. Since most fans have only seen such things in photos or not at all, it was a great touch to honor those old teams by dressing up the way they did. Sure, seeing the Habs take the ice in an all-blue get up or a sweater that looked like something more fit for a Christmas game is jarring, but doing it for a good (albeit self-congratulatory) reason is a good thing.

Assessment: The Canadiens are still rolling with the perfect, traditional look they’ve had for seemingly eons now and if that’s an issue to anyone other than Bruins or Maple Leafs fans, then there’s something wrong with your hockey fashion sensibilities. The Habs don’t need to have third jerseys or alternate looks at all because when you mess with greatness, you get mocked for it. Heavily. There’s no need to do anything more with the Canadiens sweaters other than just appreciate the hell out of them.

NHL.com lists Ovechkin, Datsyuk among its most exciting players of all-time

Alex Ovechkin

If the Sidney Crosby-free but highly successful 2011 playoffs proved anything, it’s that there is plenty of star power to go around in the NHL. That being said, there’s a difference between watching the star of the moment and a witnessing a force of sheer entertainment. We’re talking about the kind of player whose over-the-top skills won’t be forgotten and whose abilities make them worth the price of admission.

To some extent, a player can often be memorable for being ahead of his time or for utilizing methods that simply should not work. Bobby Orr captivated hockey fans in Massachusetts and beyond with the kind of skating skills and two-way abilities that made others pale in comparison. It’s tough not to least ask if he would be as special in the modern NHL, though. In retrospect, it’s almost as if he traveled back in time to revolutionize his position.

However you explain exactly why those players are or were so special, NHL.com’s John Kreiser compiled an interesting list of the most exciting players of all-time. It’s pretty tough to argue with his list, but let’s look at (and expand upon) his arguments. We’ll begin with two active players who should be on the tip of any unbiased hockey fan’s tongue.

Alex Ovechkin (2005-06 – present)

… But it wasn’t just how many goals Ovechkin scored — it was the way he scored them. A spectacular goal against Phoenix in his rookie season, scored falling down on his back, told the hockey world he was something special, and he’s added to his library of “how did he do that” moments with each passing year.

Pavel Datsyuk (2001-02 – present)

The 1980s had the “Savardian Spin-o-rama.” The 2000s had the “Datsyukian Deke.”

Pavel Datsyuk’s offensive numbers with the Detroit Red Wings won’t match his countryman Ovechkin’s totals with Washington — they are different types of players. But while Datsyuk may not ring up 50 goals, he doesn’t have to take a backseat to anyone when it comes to highlight-reel moments.

Describing what makes Ovechkin and Datsyuk special is the hockey equivalent to a music critic trying to contextualize the impact of the Beatles or Bob Dylan’s most famous works; after a while you run out of ways to skin that cat. One could argue that Ovechkin is the choice of casual fans while “connoisseurs” might prefer Datsyuk, but in the grand scheme of things they’re both able to ply their on-ice art in a time in which teams are better prepared to stop scorers than ever before. (Although defenses were certainly given more freedom to impede scorers in the Dead Puck Era.)

Kreiser provides some bullet-proof great choices from earlier eras, tabbing Orr, Bobby Hull, Guy Lafleur, Denis Savard and Maurice “The Rocket” Richard.

Maurice Richard (1942-43 – 1959-60)

Maurice Richard did one thing better than any player of his generation — put the puck in the net. He was as unstoppable from the blue line to the net as any player in NHL history. The sight of Richard, eyes ablaze as he attacked the goal, was enough to send a shiver down the spine of any NHL goaltender.

Two semi-recent stars Kreiser mentioned were Pavel Bure and Dominik Hasek. “The Dominator” was such a unique goaltending presence that Kreiser lead off his article by discussing the one of a kind Czech goalie.

By the time Hasek arrived in the NHL, with Chicago in 1990, the butterfly was in full vogue. But Hasek was more than just a butterfly goalie — he would do anything, use anything, to keep the puck out of the net. That could mean flopping, rolling onto his back, doing a snow angel, leaving his stick on the ice or gloving the puck with his blocker — he never gave up on a shot, and found ways to keep pucks from entering the net that other goaltenders hadn’t even dreamed of. His unorthodox style may have driven his coaches crazy, but it drove opposing shooters to distraction while earning him the nickname “The Dominator.”

Hasek’s excitement quota was off the charts — you never knew what new move he’d come up with to keep the puck out of the net.

Tim Thomas might be our closest answer to Hasek, but he admitted that he couldn’t use a Hasek-type sprawling move after a few years at the NHL Awards in June. Thomas said players have gotten too adept at lifting the puck for him to use the type of spinning save that Hasek used in the past (see No. 6 and No. 2 in this countdown for a solid example of what Thomas was talking about).

Hasek might be a solid example of what I was talking about earlier, then: a force ahead of his time. Maybe Hasek’s slinky-spine tactics wouldn’t work quite as well – and maybe Orr’s innovative game wouldn’t have been so impossible to match – in a higher skill league today, but perhaps that’s part of what made them such sites to see in their primes?

Either way, hockey fans should enjoy every chance they get to watch Ovechkin and Datsyuk. Players with their jaw-dropping skills don’t come along every day.

Soon-to-be-former Canadiens president discusses team’s problems with language barrier

2011 Heritage Classic - Spectator Plaza Day 2

If you’ve even loosely followed the history of the Montreal Canadiens, then you’re probably aware of the undercurrent of language-related political tension that surrounded the great franchise. The most obvious moment revolved around Habs legend Maurice Richard, whose 1955 suspension generated a riot after many assumed the decision was made because of Richard’s francophone heritage.

Those tensions rarely boil over on a comparable level now, but those problems still linger under the surface.

Departing Canadiens team president Pierre Boivin discussed that (and many other issues, including social media and the shared experience the Canadiens create in that community) when he looked back at his career with the Habs in a discussion with the Montreal Gazette. Boivin spoke of the demand for French-Canadian representatives – both on the roster and in the front office – that creates what he called a competitive disadvantage.

“If you had a star francophone player, nobody would be counting. You could have two – a star and a fourth-liner, and everybody would be happy. If you don’t have the star, then they want seven or eight, because it’s all about sens d’appartenance (a sense of belonging).

“If it’s a star, a Maurice (Richard), a Jean (Béliveau), a Guy (Lafleur), a Patrick (Roy), that’s all they need to feel the cultural and linguistic connection. If they don’t have the star, they want a whole bunch (of francophones) because one day they hate them, the other day they love them.”


The team’s general manager and coach should be bilingual, he says, which means the Habs “are severely competitively disadvantaged.”

Added Boivin: “There’s one general manager in the league this year who speaks French and he’s in Montreal. If Pierre Gauthier gets hit by a bus, what does (team owner) Geoff Molson do? Every other team says: ‘There are 29 others out there, how many contracts are up?’ Thirty assistant GMs might be prepared to step up, like a Steve Yzerman (in Tampa), and then there’s 30 AHL managers.

“So they have a pool of 90, (even if) not all are good or are available. We have a pool of three, four, five maybe? Sometimes none? It’s the same thing with coaches. And that’s a huge disadvantage when human capital is your most important asset. So we have to groom them.”

On the bright side, the Canadiens organization has indeed shown an aptitude for grooming successful coaches, even if other NHL teams often reap the benefits. The Montreal Gazette points out that three (Guy Boucher, Claude Julien and Alain Vigneault) of the four bench bosses in the 2011 conference finals coached the Habs and/or one of their farm clubs at some point in their careers.

Yet that coaching problem underscores the team’s decades-long dilemma. Leaning toward French-Canadians was fine in the team’s golden era in which they could poach young players without having to worry about the NHL draft and faced a smaller quantity of bidders for that talent. Now that the sport is more international than ever (and boasts 29 other teams), having to meet an unspoken quota of francophone players must feel like a burden.

Perhaps the team won’t be able to break through until they groom a general manager with a stubborn and unyielding view to simply construct the best team possible, regardless of cultural or political factors. That would take a very brave individual who deflects criticism with a deft touch. It won’t be easy to “groom” such a person, though.

(Be sure to check out the full article from the Montreal Gazette, which includes additional – and fascinating – insight from Boivin.)

Video: Celebrating 135 years of ‘hockey pucks’


It’s been featured in all kinds of facets of pop culture, including the insult comedy of Don Rickles. The vulcanized disk of rubber has decided many contests, from high-profile professional sporting events to the bragging rights between obscure groups of friends. Wayne Gretzky put 894 of them past NHL goalies during the regular season and 122 more in the playoffs.

135 years ago today, a Montreal newspaper provided the first known mention of the word “hockey puck.”

To commemorate that quirky anniversary,  David Keon Jr. discussed some of the most famous pucks in the history of hockey for NHL.com. The video below includes the puck Maurice Richard shot to become the league’s first-ever 500 goal scorer, the piece of rubber that was on the end of Gretzky’s stick for his 802nd goal and one of the pucks Terry Sawchuk never allowed to find the twine during his 100th shutout.

(Screen shot via NHL.com.)