Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Born on this date, Leap Day, in 1936, Henri Richard knew at a young age what he wanted to do in life, but it's easy to be influenced by your older brother when he plays for the Montreal Canadiens.
"I was positive that I, too, was going to play for the team, although I never imagined playing with Maurice. Our age difference was 15 years. I hardly knew him; he married when I was a boy, and then he was so busy with hockey. He was more like and uncle than a brother. It's funny, but Maurice never talked to me about hockey, even when were were teammates. We did our talking on the ice," Henri recalls.
He began his path to the NHL with the Montreal Nationale in 1951-52 and 1952-53, scoring 50 goals and 118 points in 95 games over the course of two seasons. For the 1953-54 season, he joined the Montreal Jr. Canadiens where he averaged more than a goal per game with 56 goals in 54 games on his way to 109 total points, a two point per game average. The following season Richard was limited to 44 games, but scored 33 goals and 66 points for a still impressive 1 1/2 points per game.
Richard arrived on the scene in 1955-56 with the Montreal Canadiens at the ideal time, as the club was loaded with talent and in the midst of the longest run of consecutive appearances in the finals in league history (10 from 1951-1960) and on the verge of the longest championship dynasty the NHL has ever seen, as Richard kicked off his career with five consecutive Stanley Cup Championships from 1956 to 1960. He was an immediate producer, scoring 40 points as a rookie in 1955-56 and just two seasons later set his career high with 80 points from 28 goals and 52 assists in 1957-58.
"We had quite the team and won the Stanley Cup in my first five years. We almost got bored winning. It was better to win after a loss, much more enjoyable."
After taking a backseat to the Toronto Maple Leafs run of cups in the early 1960's, the Canadiens were back on top again in with back-to-back championships in 1965 and 1966, and again in 1968 and 1969, the latter of which gave him nine for his career, breaking his brother Maurice's record of eight.
Richard was a model of consistency and durability during his 20 year career. From 1957 to 1970 he scored between 50 and 80 points in 13 out of the 14 years, playing no less than 53 games every season. His highest goal total was 30 in 1960 and his career-best 52 assists in 1958 and 50 in 1963 lead the NHL both times.
Richard was named captain of the Canadiens in 1971 after the retirement of Jean Beliveau. "The oldest player usually got the "C," and at the time, it seemed a normal transition to be voted captain. I never said much to the players, but I had always tried to lead by example. Now that my playing days are over, I see the tradition, the honor, more clearly."
Richard would win the Stanley Cup again in 1971, one he considers the sweetest. "I had had a few arguments with coach Al McNeil but went on to score the tying and winning goals in the seventh game," said Richard. This after being benched in Game 6 of the finals by McNeil.
He would win the cup one final time in 1973, giving him a total of 11, more than any other player in NHL history. "I won 11 Cups in total, a record that may never be broken. The structure of the league, with the draft and free agency, prevents the creation of dynasties like the one we had in Montreal," Richard speculated.
Richard laments, "In all my years with the Canadiens, I never played a shift on the power play. With the great teams we had, I couldn't get on that line." He continues, "I might have had that chance on another team, and though I was tempted by a large contract offer from Houston of the WHA, I'm thankful to have finished as a Montreal Canadien."
Richard retired in 1975 after 1256 games, 358 goals and 688 assists for 1046 points. He participated in the playoffs an astounding 20 times in 22 seasons, totalling 180 games, 49 goals and 80 assists for 129 career playoff points along with his 11 Stanley Cups. That's championships in half of the seasons he played in! Richard was also named the winner of the Masterton Trophy in 1974.
"I saw the younger guys coming on and retired when I knew I wouldn't play regularly anymore. After my retirement, the team went on to win four more cups in a row. I had declined a contract offer from Montreal for those years. I opened a tavern, and the guys would come for a beer and tease me with, "We really missed you out there, Henri." But I've no regrets."
The Canadiens retired Richard's #16 in 1975 and he was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame shortly afterwards in 1979.
Today's featured jersey is a 1972-73 Montreal Canadiens Henri Richard jersey as worn during the final of his record-setting 11 career Stanley Cup championships, the most of any player in NHL history.
The classic Canadiens bleu, blanc et rouge jersey pre dates even the National Hockey League, as it can be traced back to the 1912-13 National Hockey Association season when the Canadiens needed an alternate sweater due to their red, white and blue barberpole style being too similar to the red, black and white barberpoles worn by the Ottawa Senators.
The original red sweater with a blue band across the chest was decorated with a white "C", which became a "C" with a letter "A" (for "atheltique") contained inside from 1913-14 through 1915-16. The logo was then changed in 1916-17 for the final NHA season to the now familiar "C" with the letter "H" inside, with the "H" standing for "hockey" (coming from the team's official name "le Club de hockey Canadien" and not the often assumed "habitants", which comes from the club's unofficial nickname of "The Habs".
Aside from some tweaks and eventual modernization of the logo, the Canadiens jerseys have now remained essentially unchanged for nearly 100 years.
This particular variation of the Canadiens sweater dates back to 1966-67 when the sleeve numbers moved into the white bands on the arms and remained in use through the 1974-75 season, the last for the lace-up collar, which was then replaced by a more modern v-neck style.
Today's first video selection is the "Legends of Hockey" profile of Henri Richard with commentary by both Henri and Maurice Richard, along with Jean Beliveau, a real treat to see.
Next up are highlights of the 1971 Stanley Cup Finals Game 7, where Richard scores both the tying and winning goals as the Canadiens come from behind to win the championship.