"He’s always been known as the Rocket’s brother.” – Bertrand Raymond
The player referenced was Henri Richard, the brother of famed – and more oft-celebrated – Montreal Canadiens Captain, Maurice “The Rocket” Richard. Perhaps it was the internalization of the audio clip referencing Henri in combination with the visual of my eyesight lining up with Maurice’s exhibit across the way, but as I stood there I began to ponder. Why is it that a Hall of Famer with such an illustrious career is still seen, remembered, and cast within the shadows of his brother, even today? Of course, Maurice’s incredible footprint on the game of hockey in Canada truly speaks for itself and should not, in any way, be deemed unworthy of the recognition that it and his accomplishments command, however, for such an exceptional career, the shadows are no place for Henri. He was, after all, a shining example of what it meant to be a hockey player.
Henri was given the nickname the “Pocket Rocket” as a result of his diminutive dimensions (5’7” compared to Maurice at 5’10”) and the fact that he was 15 years younger than his brother, but true to his tenacious character and gritty play on the ice, Henri battled hard to establish a name for himself. It was this drive, and incessant pursuit of success that Henri should be remembered and respected for.
Forever united by their familial ties, Henri and Maurice also shared a cardinal tenet and defining characteristic in their legendary careers; the uncanny ability to win with incredible consistency. With an unprecedented 19 combined Cups, there is no question that both Richards were true champions of the sport, but despite these similarities, they were rather different players. Maurice, the left-handed winger, was a dogged goal-scorer, becoming the first player to ever reach the 50-goal plateau in '44-'45. Henri was a right-handed centre and more of a play-maker having led the league in assists twice, and ultimately earning 11 of the above-mentioned championships, a feat that has never, and likely will never be eclipsed.
By the time Henri’s career was finished, he had the unique distinction of celebrating more Stanley Cup victories than he did birthdays, as he was born in a leap year. Though rather peculiar, this detail serves to cement Henri’s career as truly one-of-a-kind. Despite not having the goal-scoring talent that his brother did, Henri was not a passenger on those championship teams by any means. The bigger the stage, the better Henri was as those who remember, he scored the overtime Stanley Cup clinching goal in the 1966 Finals. Even in the latter stages of his career, Henri showed the hunger for victory that defined him when he scored the tying and winning goals in a Game 7 match-up with the Chicago Blackhawks for the Stanley Cup in 1971, no less at the age of 35.
For this naturally leadership abilities, the Pocket Rocket was recognized with the elite honor of being named Captain of the Montréal Canadiens when legend Jean Béliveau retired.
While it’s easy to see why Maurice Richard is celebrated with such veneration – again, very deservedly – it’s disheartening to see the rather pedestrian-like manner that Henri Richard’s career is remembered with by some of today’s fans. For example, there exists a slight struggle amongst the younger generation of fans in particular to identify what number Henri Richard wore (#16), but the immortalized #9 Habs sweater is recognized with immediacy. Information and history is at our fingertips in today’s world, so perhaps it’s time to get reading, but before then, here’s a quick lesson: When asked to comment on the extensive list of great stars that played for him – a list that includes Jean Béliveau, Elmer Lach, Doug Harvey, Jacques Plante and Maurice Richard – Frank J. Selke’s prompt response was “I’ve been fortunate to have some of the greatest players in NHL history, but game in, game out, I think the most valuable player that I’ve ever had, was Henri Richard.”
If that doesn’t inspire you to dust off the history books, then I don’t know what will.