Henri Richard’s death on Friday came as no surprise. The eighty-four-year-old Richard had been in ill health for some time. But for Canadiens’ fans of my generation, his passing represents the beginning of the sunset on an era and a dynasty that will never again be matched in professional sports. While the Pocket Rocket may not have been the greatest Hab ever, he was certainly one of the most legendary players in the team’s rich history.
Richard may have come into the league in Maurice’s shadow but he emerged as a star in his own right. Richard ranked first in Club history with 1258 games played. During his Hall of Fame career, he scored 358 goals and 688 assists for 1,046 points, ranking third to only Guy Lafleur and Jean Beliveau in team history (yes, Henri scored 80 more points than his legendary older brother’s 966 points). And his eleven Stanley Cups rank alongside Wayne Gretzky’s point totals as two NHL records that will never be broken.
Playing in an era when analytics were far from the mainstream, Coach Toe Blake would marvel at the younger Richard’s ability to retain possession. And like most champions, Henri was always at his best when the Stanley Cup was on the line. Richard scored two Cup-winning goals: one in 1966 and another in 1971.
It was the 1971 Cup-clinching goal that sealed this scribbler’s passion for the Montreal Canadiens. Trailing 2-0 midway through the second period to the Blackhawks in Game 7 of the 1971 Stanley Cup Final, Jacques Lemaire rifled an innocent looking slap shot that Tony Esposito mishandled. That was all the opening that Henri needed. Richard scored two goals for the Habs, the winner early in the third period. Rookie and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Ken Dryden then held off a furious rally by the Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita led Blackhawks to win the tenth Stanley Cup for Richard and Jean Beliveau, with that game being the denouement of Jean Beliveau’s great career.
While Game 7 of the 1971 Finals was just one of many great moments in Henri Richard’s brilliant career, for a seven-year-old boy from Ontario’s Niagara Region, Richard instilled a passion for the Canadiens that will be around as long as I am.
Thank you, Henri Richard. Your legacy lives on.