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Maurice Richard

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Just to give everyone a heads up - the excellent tribute to Maurice Richard web site by Habs fan Marco Spelten is still up!!!

Visit at http://www.spelten.com/mauricerichard/

I wrote a story for that site which was called "Meeting My All-Time Favorite Athlete", which will be in the text below. Not only did I get to talk to Maurice Richard, but also to Henri Richard and Jean Beliveau among the Canadiens players.

I also talked to Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull about playing against the Rocket.


Maurice "Rocket" Richard

By Larry Launstein, Jr.

The Montreal Canadiens have been my favorite team since I was a boy. At the time I was growing up, the Canadiens were still dominating the National Hockey League, seemingly winning Stanley Cups year after year. If they did not win, they were a major threat to do so. I am from Michigan, Detroit Red Wings country, but when I was young, the Wings were very bad, a far cry from the glory years of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, and Terry Sawchuck in the 1950s and the more recent years, when they won two Stanley Cups in the 1990s.

I became captivated with a team from Montreal in the 70s (when I first started in high school) that seemed not only to win often, but win in dramatic and sometimes breathtaking fashion. And, the more I learned about them, I became fascinated with one of the most exciting athletes ever, Maurice "Rocket" Richard. I thrilled reading about his exploits, and checked the book "The Flying Frenchmen - Hockey's Greatest Dynasty" out from the library every chance I got. I eventually wound up getting a copy of the book, which Richard co-authored with legendary hockey writer Stan Fischler. Richard tells his own story in this book, and there is an excellent history of Montreal hockey, not just the Canadiens, from the beginnings, to 1970. Richard displayed a sense of humor in this book to go along with his seriousness.

I was very fortunate to meet and talk with Richard twice about hockey, and those were great days for me. I got a first-hand example of Richard's deadpan humor in 1988, when I met him for the first time in Dearborn, Michigan. He had his brother Henri with him, and I got to talk to him as well. At any rate, Richard gave me something I will always remember him by. I told him that he had been my hero since I was x-tall (I gestured to show how young I was when I first started thrilling to his exploits), and he came back at me with " I retired before you were born" with half a smile on his face and nodding his head up and down. I have to admit, I was a bit embarrassed at first, but it did not take me very long to realize he was trying to have a bit of fun with me. I have nephews (and a niece) who have played hockey at one time or another, so I asked the Rocket what he felt was the most important fundamental in hockey, and naturally, obviously, he said skating. I also asked him and Henri what the greatest moments of their careers were, and they said that winning the Stanley Cup and scoring winning goals were their biggest thrills.

I came out of that one very happy, and have a large color autographed picture of Maurice and Henri Richard hanging on my wall.

A few years later, in 1991, I had the chance to meet him again, this time, in Westland, Michigan. This time, he had Jean Beliveau with him, and I got to ask them about hockey now compared to their heyday in the late 1950s, especially where it concerns hockey roughness. Richard and Beliveau told me that hockey was much rougher in their day than it is now. I found Beliveau to be a very nice person, every bit as advertised. Another couple of things I remember from that day: There was a long line going outside the door and around the sports collectors place where

Richard and Beliveau were. One of the people in line was a gorgeous lady whose husband had to work that day, and she was there in his place. She was only a few people ahead of me, and when she finally got to where Richard and Beliveau were at, she was just so happy about meeting them and getting their autographs. The other thing I will never forget about that day was after I got done talking to Richard and Beliveau, I talked for awhile with the people who ran the store, telling them about the first time I met Richard. The autographed picture I sent Marco Spelten for his site was the one I got from that second meeting. Yet another thing I will never forget: I have always loved the name Jean Beliveau. When I walked away after talking to him and Richard, I could not resist: J-E-A-N B-E-L-I-V-E-A-U said long and slow.

I have had a chance to meet a couple of Richard's rivals, Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull, and they both had some stories to tell. Howe attended a Flint (Michigan) Bulldogs game a few years back. The Bulldogs were in Flint only for a couple of years, and then the Generals came back with a whole new team after the Bulldogs left Flint. One of Howe's sons, Mark, was in the Bulldogs organization, and Gordie was a guest of the team, and was signing autographs as well. Gordie was renowned for his graciousness and his sense of humor, and he did not disappoint me when I asked him about his battles with Richard. Howe told me "Oh, those were the easiest nights of my career ... I had to show him a few corners". Anyone who knows anything about hockey history at all would know that the battles between Howe and Richard (The Red Wings and Canadiens) were all-out war. They were extremely bitter rivals. I got a kick out of what Howe said, and I knew he was having fun with me. But, just to pursue it further, after the game, in the Blue Line Club restaurant in the Flint IMA Sports Arena, I got the chance to talk to him again. On my way out of the IMA Sports Arena, I asked him again "Was Richard really that easy"? and he nodded his head yes with a big grin on his face. I left the IMA Sports Arena laughing my head off. If anyone noticed, I didn't care. Howe gave me a special moment of his own.

I had the chance to meet Bobby Hull twice. The first time he came to Flint, he showed me his 1961 Stanley Cup championship ring. He put it right up to my eyes and said "You see this? This is what we play for". He then told me about ending the Canadiens five consecutive Stanley Cup streak in 1961 (The Canadiens, with Richard helping lead the way, won the Cup from 1956 to 1960, and is still considered by many to be the greatest hockey team ever iced), and then upsetting Detroit in the final.

The second time Hull came to Michigan, he was in Birch Run, north of Flint. The sports collectors store where I first met Hull moved there, and Dennis Hull came along with Bobby this time. Believe it or not, Bobby remembered showing me his Stanley Cup ring, and Bobby, Dennis and I talked for a few minutes about Bobby's encounters with Richard. Bobby said Richard was a very tough player. I was just about to walk away after getting his and Dennis' autographs on a Chicago Black Hawks hockey puck when Bobby called me back. He had me introduce myself, and he and Dennis and I talked a bit more hockey, and Bobby was asking me about what I do, desktop publishing, graphic art and web design.

I hope I see Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull again, as well as Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard.


Since that story appeared on Spelten's Richard web site, I had two nephews play (one of them the one mentioned in the story), and my niece also played women's hockey at the University of Southern Maine. She has since transferred to Michigan State University, one of my two old schools I graduated from, where they have no women's hockey team. I made sure they understood how I felt about Richard and why. And why I'm a long-time Montreal Canadiens fan.

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