“Henri Richard, the Pocket Rocket, doesn’t want to be a little gale in the wake of a rumbling hurricane. He wants to swirl through the National Hockey League under his own power, creating his own storms, if any, and reaping the respect of his rivals strictly on his own merits.”
That was the opening to a Vince Lunny cover story for Hockey Pictorial in March of 1956, towards the end of the younger Richard’s rookie season in the NHL. It didn’t take long, of course, for Henri, who died on Friday at the age of 84, to skate up a storm of his very own alongside Maurice, 14 years his elder. It was only two years later that Milt Dunnell took to Hockey Pictorial’s columns with Maurice’s take on how Henri was faring in the league. “The Rocket gives the opinion faster than he breaks over a blueline,” Dunnell wrote in April of 1958: ‘Henri is a better skater than I ever was. He’s a better stickhandler, he’s a better puck-carrier. Henri is a better hockey player.”
Rocket’s view wasn’t, perhaps, universal at the time — Canadiens’ coach Toe Blake, for one, wasn’t yet willing to declare Henri supreme among Richards. All these years later, the question of which brother was the more valuable player might well still start a debate that wouldn’t necessarily finish. What we do know is that Henri played 20 seasons with Montreal, amassing 1,175 points in 1,436 games, regular season and playoffs, winning an unmatched 11 Stanley Cups along the way. He captained the Canadiens from 1971 through to his retirement in 1975. The team retired his number, 16, that year; he was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1979.
It’s true that Henri’s literary legacy doesn’t measure up to Maurice’s. A quick check of the bookshelf tells the tale: the elder Richard’s life and riotous times have been the focus of at least 12 books over the years, from Gerry Gosselin’s Monsieur Hockey (1950) to Jean-Marie Pellerin’s Maurice Richard: L’Idole d’un Peuple (1998) to The Rocket: A Cultural History of Maurice Richard (2009) by Benoît Melançon. No-one (to date) has published Henri’s biography or devoted a volume to his place in hockey or Quebec history.
That’s not to say the younger Richard doesn’t figure in more general histories of the game. Stan Fischler’s 1971 Hab history The Flying Frenchmen, for instance, delves into the brothers’ relationship during Henri’s early days in the NHL and offers up this telling anecdote:
The Canadiens were in the midst of a workout when Henri rounded the net at full speed from one side and Maurice approached on the same track from the other direction. They collided violently and both fell to the ice unconscious. When they were finally revived, both were escorted to the first-aid room where Maurice needed 12 stitches to close his wound and his kid brother, six stitches.
Then, in a masterful understatement, Maurice intoned: “You’d better watch yourself. Henri. You might get hurt.”
Henri rates a chapter in Michael Ulmer’s Canadiens Captains (1996). And he’s a voice throughout Dick Irvin the Younger’s 1991 oral history, The Habs. That’s where you’ll find Henri doing his best to explain his infamous 1971 outburst wherein he called Al MacNeil the worst coach he’d ever played for:
“I didn’t really mean it, but it came out because I was mad. Al was a good guy. But I was just mad, and they made a lot of things about that in all the papers. Even Guy Lafleur, in his book. He said I said to MacNeil that he shouldn’t coach the Canadiens because he didn’t speak French, and all that shit. I never said that in my life.”
Trent Frayne’s Henri essay in his 1968 anthology of hockey profiles, It’s Easy, All You Have To Do is Win is worth seeking out. While you’re arranging that, maybe settle in with the inimitable Frayne’s 1958 Maclean’s Henri profile, which is archived here.
So far as odes and obituaries published in the days since Henri’s death, recommended readings would start with this piece by Dave Stubbs at NHL.com, which includes reflections from Lafleur and Yvan Cournoyer.
If you missed Friday’s broadcast of CBC Radio’s As It Happens, you can download the March 6 podcast here (and should) to listen to Carol Off’s conversation with Henri’s Canadiens teammate Ken Dryden. It gets going at the 37.40 mark.
On Saturday night, Hockey Night in Canada opened with Ron MacLean’s conversation with Dick Irvin, which includes his thoughts on the origins of the nickname Pocket Rocket. There’s tape of that here, and worth your attention, if you didn’t catch it on the night.
One more? That would be Michael Farber’s Richard tribute at TSN, which you can find over this way.
(Top image: John Taylor, about 1960, silver salts on film, gelatin silver process, MP-1999.5.5032.4, © McCord Museum)
Hockey cards or chocolate bars? Growing up in Nova Scotia, Ken Reid always knew the answer to the question.
“I remember as a kid my grandfather giving me 25 cents and I’d walk down Union Street in Pictou,” Reid told Curtis Rush of The Toronto Star in 2014. “I’d go to Mr. Fraser’s corner store and the decision was always easy. I could look at candy or I’d look at a pack of cards. To me, it was always a pack of cards.”
Reid lives in Toronto now, where he co-anchors the weeknight prime-time edition of Sportsnet Central with Evanka Osmak. If his hockey-card collection has grown over the years — it’s an accumulation, now, of more than 40,000 — his love of sports is what it always has been: intense. In a career in media spanning 20 years, he’s covered Grey Cups and Super Bowls, Olympics, and Stanley Cup finals. His books are all hockey-minded: he followed Hockey Card Stories: True Tales from Your Favourite Players (2014) with One Night Only: Conversations with the NHL’s One-Game Wonders (2016). For his latest, published this fall, he collaborated with an eponymous prolific former Washington Capital on Dennis Maruk: The Unforgettable Story of Hockey’s Forgotten 60-Goal Man.
Today, as part of Puckstruck’s ongoing series, Ken Reid recalls his first brush with NHL hockey.
The thought of seeing real life NHLers live and in colour was always a childhood dream for me — and when I say dream I mean dream. I grew up in Pictou, Nova Scotia. Basic geography tells you that’s a long way from any NHL rink, especially for a hockey-obsessed 10-year-old.
In fact, my grade 5 teacher Mrs. MacLean, even wrote a message in my yearbook: “You’ll get to see the Canadiens at the Forum one day.”
It turns out that one day was a very long two years later. Two years is a snap of the fingers for an adult, but an eternity for a kid. After years of prodding, we finally broke my Dad down. He was going to take my brother Peter and me to the Forum to see our first NHL game. (I went to an exhibition game in Nova Scotia a year earlier, but it was in a local rink, so I considered this to be the real deal.)
Peter and I hopped on a plane for the first time. We flew to Montreal with Dad and checked in to the Queen Elizabeth Hotel.
That night, Saturday, March 14, 1987, we saw the Montreal Canadiens play the Philadelphia Flyers.
The ice was so white. And so far away. We were at the top of the Forum, way up behind one of the nets. I remember having to bend down to see the play at the other end of the ice.
But I was there. The NHL was right in front of me. I couldn’t get over how clean the Forum was. And the building had escalators. Escalators in a rink! I can’t recall who won off the top of my head — although a quick check on the web tells me the game ended in a 3-3 tie. More than just the game sticks out — things like strolling Saint Catherine’s Street with my brother and Dad quickly come to mind. My brother and I were terrified of the big city on day one. By day two, we couldn’t get enough of it. And Dad took us to eat at the famous Bar-B-Barn.
On the Sunday night we saw Team Canada ’72 and the USSR play in a 15th anniversary game at the Forum. Then Monday, we were in the expensive seats for the Habs and the New York Islanders. We didn’t have to bend down in our seats to see the action that night: it was all mere feet away.
I was 11 years old and in heaven at the Forum. Thanks, Dad.
Saturday night’s Flyers game saw goaltender Ron Hextall play his best game in weeks, according to the Philadelphia papers. The Flyers were riding high atop the NHL’s Patrick Division; Canadiens were second in the Adams. Canadiens got goals from Mats Naslund, Guy Carbonneau, and Claude Lemieux. Dave Poulin, Mark Howe, and Scott Mellanby scored for Philadelphia to take the game into a fruitless overtime.
The ’72 game that Ken Reid saw on the Sunday night was the middle game in a three-game series pitting an assemblage of oldtimers most of whom had played in the epic Summit Series against a similarly staffed touring team of Russians. The latter, featuring Vladislav Tretiak, Valery Vasiliev, and Aleksandr Yakushev, had trained for three months ahead of the rematch; the Canadians, coached by Winnipeg Jets’ GM John Ferguson, were described in several newspaper reports as “mostly overweight and over 40.” Paul Henderson was there from the original squad, along with Mavoliches Pete and Frank, Dennis Hull, Serge Savard, Ron Ellis, Bobby Clarke, Brad Park, Rod Gilbert, Bill White, Red Berenson, and Yvan Cournoyer. (Ken Dryden had offered to play defence, but management had turned him down.)
The Canadians won the opening game in Hamilton by a score of 6-5, with Clarke, the 37-year-old Flyers GM, leading away with a pair of Flyer ringers as his wingers, Reggie Leach and Bill Barber. With Ken Reid watching in Montreal, a 41-year-old Jacques Lemaire took a break from his day job as Canadiens’ assistant GM to register a goal and two assists in a 6-2 Canadian win. The final game, in Ottawa, finished in a tie, 8-8. Yvan Cournoyer, 43, scored a hattrick for Canada. “After 15 years,” he said, “we realized that they are nice people, and maybe they realized that we are nice people.”
The New York Islanders were running second to the Flyers in the Patrick Division. Monday night saw Canadiens blank them 3-0 on the strength of Brian Hayward’s first shutout in four years. Gaston Gingras, Ryan Walter, and Claude Lemieux scored for Montreal.
I always thought I was. Even now, today, put me in front of a tabletop hockey game and I’ll be working those rods with same desperation as I did as a seven-year-old. Shunting those damned rods forward to shift those tin wingers down their little rink-grooves as though I could force them to finesse as the puck that wasn’t even a puck skittered away to that dead spot behind the net that was out of range for every player on the not-ice.
And still, as it was back in the rec room, I’m always only ever a flicker of the wrist away from alchemizing all that shoving and ricocheting into actual stickhandling and deking.
This is going back to the early 1970s when I first took up at table-hockey in the basement in Peterborough, Ontario. I was — six? seven? My older brother wouldn’t play, wasn’t interested. I probably volunteered my sister to duty, but she would have been too young to appreciate the responsibility involved in pushing around her Don Levers and Bobby Schmautzes with serious enough intent to make the game worth my while.
So it would have been up to my parents. They were patient if not always entirely willing. I was — obviously; always — Montreal.
Donald Munro started it all, table-hockeywise. That’s the story. In Toronto, 1932, in the dimlit Depression, he built the first mechanical hockey game as a Christmas present for his children. Coathangers and butcher’s twine figure into the telling, lumber cadged from coalbins. Then Munro built more, sold them at Eaton’s. It was more of a pinball affair in those years, with a flipper standing in for Charlie Conacher on the wooden wing, a ball-bearing pretending to be a puck.
By the time I got my Munro in the early 1970s, the game had developed without really having evolved. For all the molded plastic and bright NHL colours, the aesthetic was still fairly coathanger. I did love the flat simplicity of the players, even though, disappointingly, none of their grinning faces resembled any of the Canadiens I knew from TV. I was fond of the tiny nets, too, which I’d unmoor and carry with me, sometimes, just in case.
My Munro was a basic model, I think. The old ads I’m looking at show the Bobby Orr edition (regularly priced in 1972 at $29.95) and the Bobby Hull ($16.95). I don’t know that mine was Bobby-branded, though. The “working scoretower with puck-dropper” on the basic Coleco ($11.97) sounds familiar. “Pass, shoot, block and check — complete hockey fun,” the Munro ads promise; “over 1,000 square inches of exciting, action hockey.”
It wasn’t, though, was it? Yes, okay, I’ll accept there, from the physics point of view, that there was plenty of action. I’ll allow that there was much blocking and even, why not, the many inches — but there was never any hockey to the thing. No ice, no skates, nothing approximating a deke or shot, no rules, no penalties, no saves by the goalies. It was slow, rhythmless, much interrupted. It was only like hockey insofar as you could bring your imagination to bear to conjure Cournoyer and Lemaire and Dryden doing what they did and you couldn’t. There was risk in that, too, though: watching the actual Habs on Hockey Night in Canada, I’d find myself muttering at flesh-and-blood #29 for the 16 soft goals he’d allowed down in the rec room. Some of them, he’d hardly even moved.
I’m not saying it wasn’t fun. Frustratingly, and for hours and hours, it was fun.
Michael Winter played in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. He grew up there, and goes back. A couple of years ago when he was home he quarried out his old Munro, packed it up, flew it to Toronto. Now he and his son now sometimes carry on in the cause of trying to emancipate those poor old wingers.
I e-mailed Winter when I saw this painting of his. Pretty sure this is the same model I had in Peterborough, I wrote, the one where the puck slotted so pleasingly into the top of the gondola before, after a moment, dropping in for the opening face-off.
He wrote back:
I’m astonished at how my old instincts and training have kicked in, defeating the youngster with passes using finger-twirl muscles I haven’t activated in forty years.
I believe it’s a Munro 1974 model, though I could be off a year or two.
It comes with four teams: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Buffalo.
Yes, it has that very satisfying drop of the puck from gondola.
I found it under the stairs in the basement last time I went to Corner Brook.
Air Canada managed to break a corner of it during transport to Toronto, but I’ve patched it. Serge Savard, when he’s digging out the puck, says he doesn’t mind.
Read Winter’s book Into The Blizzard: Walking The Fields of the Newfoundland Dead, I suggest. For scores and updates, find him on Twitter @michaelwinternet34 , or (and) on Instagram, @michaelwinternet.
Ships sailed our coasts this year in celebration of Canada’s 150 years of Confederation, and there were concerts on Parliament Hill. There were discussions, too, of whether the fanfare needed more context, given this country’s thousands of years of Indigenous history. Amid all this, maybe you missed the big horticultural tribute that’s ongoing in a park in Quebec not far from Ottawa. MosaïCanada 150/Gatineau 2017 features 33 topiary wonders representating Canadian icons and animals and cultural touchstones, including musk ox and polar bear, a lumberjack, and a mounted RCMP officer. Paul Henderson’s there, too, with Yvan Cournoyer by his side to embrace him in commemoration of that famous Moscow goal that ended the Summit Series with the Soviets on this day in 1972.
MosaïCanada 150 continues until October 15 at Parc Jacques-Cartier, in Gatineau, Quebec, just over the bridge from Ottawa, near the Canadian Museum of History. For more information, there’s a website.
(Image: Dawn Smith)
Lanky law student was an epithet applied to Ken Dryden in 1971, the year he burst into the NHL by way of the Montreal net, helping the Canadiens to win the Stanley Cup. Phil Esposito was one prolific shooter he stymied that spring and he’s the one generally credited as the first to call the 6’4” Dryden an even-toed ungulate. Stan Fischler told the tale in Boys’ Life in 1972:
Somehow, Dryden managed to blunt Esposito’s best shots with his 42-inch arms or block them with his enormous chest. At one point the enraged Esposito crashed his stick against the protective glass, glared at Dryden and shouted: “You thieving, four-story giraffe!”
Born on this day in 1947, Dryden turns 69 today. That seems like reason enough to excerpt an interview he gave in 1976 to an unnamed writer for Maple Leaf Magazine, Toronto’ game-day program:
Q: Is there anything about hockey that is not so much fun?
A: Practices are not much fun. The least fun of all is being inactive. There is very little satisfaction in being a non-participant; those games I can do without. I watched a couple of games from the press box this year and I couldn’t stand it. Jeez, I felt like an idiot.
Q: Is that a comment about sportswriters, with their hot dogs and beer?
A: What I’m saying is that I felt uncomfortable, partly because I don’t enjoy sitting out hockey games and partly because the press box has got to be the worst place in the world to watch a hockey game. It is so far removed from the action. Very few customers, I think, would pay to sit there. You can’t blame the club owners for sticking the press way up at the top, back out of the way. You wouldn’t want all the press guys taking the expensive seats. But I have never yet seen an exciting game from the press box. You’re so far away that the game is slowed down to nothing. Cournoyer looks like a dump truck idling down the ice.
Q: You seem to be the original Cool Hand Luke, one of hockey’s great unflappables. Don’t you get just a little nervous down there, or are you good at hiding it?
A: Cool Hand Luke. You gotta be kidding me. He ate 50 hard-boiled eggs. Are you trying to say I’m one of hockey’s great egg-eaters? Or do you mean I play hockey with egg on my face?
Q: No, no. I was just trying to find out if you get nervous.
A: I rarely get nervous anymore. Very infrequently. Sometimes a bit nervous during the day of an important game. Most of the time I feel like I’m prepared, ready to play, without the physical elements such as butterflies or throwing up that are a part of being nervous. The most nervous I’ve ever been in my whole life was a few minutes before the end of Game Seven in Moscow in 1972. Paul Henderson had just scored the goal that had put us ahead of the Russians 4-3. I was watching from the stands. I already knew I had the starting assignment for Game Eight. The seconds ticked away. I realized that if we could hold on, Game Eight would be the decider. Were my knees jelly? Were my legs shaking? You bet they were. I had no idea what it was like, even though I’d already played in the Stanley Cup playoffs. From that point on and for the next two days I began to feel worse. My stomach started to churn. My legs got weaker by the hour. It stayed with me right up until game time.
(Maclean’s cover painting by Peter Swan)
“Mon captain,” Yvan Cournoyer said this month, tearfully, “mon captain. Bon voyage.”
With Jean Béliveau’s death on December 2, the country remembered, and paid homage.
“Like a prince, like a king,” said Sportsnet’s Stephen Brunt. “Our royalty.”
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman: “For all the feats he has accomplished and all the accolades he has received, Jean Béliveau has always symbolized the little boy whose only dream was to play for the Montreal Canadiens. Hockey is better because of the realization of this dream.”
“In all of my thoughts about Jean Béliveau,” wrote TSN’s Dave Hodge, “I hear Danny Gallivan’s voice.”
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau stood in the House of Commons. “Mr. Speaker,” he said,
I had an extraordinary childhood during which my father introduced me to kings, queens and presidents, but he was never more proud than when he was able to introduce his eldest son to Jean Béliveau.
Every time I met Mr. Béliveau thereafter and shook his hand, I saw what an impact he had not just on me, but on everyone around him. He was a man who epitomized dignity, respect and kindness.
Jean Béliveau was a man of class, of strength, who demonstrated the kind of leadership that inspired not just players but all who watched and met him. He will be greatly missed, but he will continue to inspire generations of not just young hockey players but of Canadians across this great country.
“Beyond being one of the greatest players in NHL history, Jean Béliveau was class personified,” said Mario Lemieux. “He was a hero to generations of his fellow French Canadians and hockey fans everywhere. Our sport has lost a great ambassador. He will be missed.”
Hockey, meanwhile, carried on.
Connor McDavid mentioned that he had a favourite Canadian Tire memory.
Dave Bidini took issue with a newspaper’s use of the word “belted” to describe a puck propelled by Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf that ended up in Carolina’s net.
“If you can build off a game we lost, we can keep our heads high,” Philadelphia captain Claude Giroux told CSN Philly after his team lost a fifth game in a row.
Though goaltender Steve Mason had a different take. “We’re all tired of moral victories,” he told Ryan Dadoun from NBC Sports. “The team played a good game but you don’t win it. It’s not good enough. Enough of the moral victories. We got to go out and start winning hockey games. Everybody is frustrated and ticked off, but it’s a matter of going out and winning now.”
“Belted” was James Mirtle’s word, in The Globe and Mail:
… Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf belted in his second goal of the season with three minutes left in the second.
Legitimate usage or no? Bidini felt that it belonged on baseball grass and dirt, not ice.
Sidney Crosby the latest NHL player to have the mumps
was a headline, this month.
Kevin Klein Loses Part of an Ear, Helps Rangers Down Pens
“Say what you want about hockey players,” mused New York coach Alain Vigneault after that particular game, “but they’re tough SOBs.”
Toronto is likely to miss the playoffs, a professor of economics at the University of Waterloo suggested this month. Dr. Phil Curry is his name, and he works with a group called the Department of Hockey Analytics, gathering up and crunching advanced statistics to (quote) better understand the game. Using a model that incorporates both points and Score Adjusted Corsi, he contends that Toronto will be on the outside looking sadly in when the post-season gets going next spring — oh, and the Calgary Flames are due for collapse, too. Continue reading
“His father was a fire captain” is a phrase you sometimes see in biographies of Guy Lapointe, who’s 66 now, usually right before a mention that he was all set to become a policeman before hockey claimed him. Tonight, just before the Montreal Canadiens raise Lapointe’s number 5 to the rafters of the Bell Centre, a few notes on his career might be in order. For example:
Growing up, in Montreal, his favourite player was Jean Béliveau. He only started playing hockey at the age of 13, and never dreamed of playing for the Canadiens: he didn’t think he was good enough. When he was invited to his first Montreal training camp, his dad had to browbeat him to go. He thought his chances of making the team were zero.
When he turned professional, he spoke not a word of English, according to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Teammates laughed at him, until he threw one of them over the boards. The first time he sat in the Montreal dressing room, getting ready to play his first game, he could hardly tie his skates, due to nerves and the excitement of looking at Béliveau across the way. His first year in the NHL, Montreal won the Stanley Cup. It was unbelievable.
That’s what he said, not me. Also him: from the moment you’re a Hab, you learn about winning. You can’t accept even a single loss.
He was a dominant force, says the Hall, and to be reckoned with. He was one of The Big Three, obviously, with Larry Robinson and Serge Savard.
Youthful inconsistency is a phrase you sometimes come across regarding his play before he graduated to the Habs. Less obtrusive were words applied to his style in 1973, compared to Bobby Orr and Brad Park. “He’s strong,” said Béliveau. “Not just when he shoots, but in everything he does. He does everything strong.”
In 1973, just before the Canadiens won another Cup, he was the undisputed choice for the Conn Smythe Trophy, according to The Gazette in Montreal. Coach Scotty Bowman thought so, as did his counterpart from Chicago, Billy Reay. Lapointe was the one to pick the team up when they floundered, I guess, plus he was playing the powerplay and the penalty-kill and also scoring and, too, in the dressing room, he charged up his mates with some spicy invective.
But then Yvan Cournoyer won the Smythe instead — Le Chinois. I don’t know what happened.
Lapointe’s nicknames included Pointu and Le Pompier. He does a lot of swearing in Ken Dryden’s The Game (1983). He did 20 push-ups every night and another 20 when he woke up in the morning, while also playing a regular game of handball, fast. He was almost always the last player to leave the ice at practice. In The Game, Dryden alludes to this while also pinpointing personal burdens that may have affected Lapointe’s game before adding this:
… when the slate is clean and it is just him and the game, Pointu plays with the unrestrained joy of a boy on a river, uncomplicating the game for all of us.