Henri Richard, the younger brother of Maurice “Rocket” Richard and a 20-year veteran of the Montreal Canadiens died Friday after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
He was 84.
Although his nickname “The Pocket Rocket” was in reference to his short stature (he was five-feet-seven inches tall) and a play on older brother Maurice’s nickname, Richard became a legend in his own right after leading a storied 20-year career with the Montreal Canadiens that saw him win 11 Stanley Cups.
“Richard was a great player and a great ambassador for the Montreal Canadiens organization. His passing is a great loss for all,” Canadiens owner Geoff Molson tweeted.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called Richard “one of the true giants of the game.
“The entire National Hockey League family mourns the passing of this incomparable winner, leader, gentleman and ambassador for our sport and the Montreal Canadiens,” Bettman said in a statement.
Born Feb. 29, 1936, Richard spent his youth on many of the same skating rinks as his brother, who went on to become one of the most famous Habs to grace the Montreal Forum’s ice.
When the shorter, younger brother joined the Canadiens in the 1955-56 season, it was at first dismissed as a publicity stunt.
“A lot of people said I wouldn’t make it in the NHL,” Richard told the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003.
But as time went on, and as Richard went on to help the Habs win 11 NHL championships, it was clear there was more to him than what met the eye.
“No one’s going to break that record, it’s impossible,” Richard said of his Stanley Cup rings. “I say that without boasting. There are too many teams now and the best players are too spread out.”
Richard wore his number 16 for 20 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens until his retirement in 1975, two more seasons than his brother, who died in 2000. He was the ninth player in the NHL to achieve 1,000 points, which he did in 1973.
He shared the ice with many of the Canadiens’ most legendary players: Jean Béliveau, Jacques Plante, Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion and Dickie Moore. He succeeded Béliveau as the Habs’ captain in 1971.
On top of it all, Richard was loyal to a fault. Besides the Canadiens’ junior team, he never played for another team during his career.
“Because of the age difference, I didn’t think it would be possible but I played with my brother for five years (1955-1960). Maurice used to say that if I hadn’t been there, he wouldn’t have played that long,” Richard told the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“Some people say it was destiny, but I just think I was in the right place at the right time. That was a great team. There were so many great hockey players. I wouldn’t have said it before, but now that it’s all over, I thought winning like that was normal.”
Twice Richard scored the Cup-winning goal, first in 1966 and again in 1971 for his 10th Cup. He called that the most memorable of his career because of the controversial circumstances.
He had been left out of the lineup for Game 5 of the final by coach Al MacNeil. Feeling insulted and unhappy with the atmosphere on the team, Richard blasted the coach in public, calling MacNeil “incompetent.”
“I was angry and I said some things I probably shouldn’t have said,” Richard said in a 2009 interview. “I spoke out because I thought it was necessary.
“I’m not saying it’s right because it’s important to respect the coach, but I just wanted to play hockey.”
Richard played 1,258 regular-season games, another Canadiens record. He scored 358 goals and had 1,046 points, third in team history behind Guy Lafleur (1,246) and Beliveau (1,219)
He added 129 points in 180 playoff games.
Known for his tenacity and playmaking skills, Richards twice led the NHL in assists, with 52 in 1957-58 and 50 in 1962-63. He had nine 20-goal seasons, including a high of 30 in 1959-60.
He won the Bill Masterton Trophy for sportsmanship and perseverance in 1974 and was selected to four league all-star teams.
Richard is survived by his wife Lise, their children Michèle, Gilles, Denis, Marie-France and Nathalie, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.