March 31, 2008

The Rocket's Unconscious Goal

It is April 8, 1952. The Montreal Canadiens have forced this Game 7 in the semi-finals against Boston. For Montreal, the most important event in the world is happening at the Forum.

The game is tough because this is a great rivalry in a Game 7. Boston has done everything they can to shut down Rocket Richard and the Canadiens have replied in kind. Everyone is bruised and tired.

Big Boston defenceman Leo Labine smashes into Rocket Richard in the second period. Stunned, the Rocket falls to his knees. Bill Quackenbush knees Rocket in the head and Rocket is spread-eagle on the ice. Roch Carrier, author of Our Life With the Rocket, described it best:

“The Rocket collapses onto his back, spread-eagled, arms outstretched. Fans think of the crucified Christ. At this time of year, in the Catholic province of Quebec, thoughts are on Good Friday, the day when Christ died on the cross. The silence in the Forum is distressing. The people would like to get down on their knees. Easter, the day of His resurrection isn’t far away either…Suddenly the Rocket moves. The crowd explodes. Christ is resurrected!”

Rocket, his face bloody, supported by the team doctor, makes his way to the clinic to thunderous applause. The doctor says he ought to go to the hospital. Rocket refuses. He gets the necessary six stitches and wants to get back to the bench. He has no memory of what just happened.

Back on the bench, Rocket asks the score. 1-1 is the reply. Moments later, he’s forgotten again. His vision is blurry and he’s obviously dazed.

There’s four minutes left in the third. If the Canadiens don’t win, they’ll be eliminated. Once again, the Rocket asks the score. Once again he’s told it’s a tie. He wants to score the goal the Canadiens need. He goes over the boards and into the game.

Play is in the Canadiens’ zone. Behind the goal, Butch Bouchard snatches the puck from Woody Dumart. He looks up and sees Rocket on the ice. Surprised, Bouchard passes the puck to him. Rocket takes off for the Bruins’ zone.

In his way are Quackenbush and Bob Armstrong. Quackenbush won’t give up, even though he’s skating backwards. Rocket has drifted too far and can't shoot. Instead of heading behind the net, he surprises the big defenceman by turning and heading to the front of the net. Boston goalie “Sugar Jim” Henry prepares himself.

The Rocket takes his time preparing his shot. The Bruins begin crowding him. He pushes them out of his way with one hand while he stickhandles the puck with the other.

Waiting patiently, he sees his opening.

Rocket Richard shoots.

The crowd explodes.

“Halte la, halte la, halte la, les Canadiens sont la!” they chant. They think the Canadiens will win the Cup this year.

After the game he shakes hands with the Bruins. Someone captures him shaking hands with Sugar Jim, both of them bruised and Richard with blood on his face. It later becomes one of the most iconic images of hockey.

With a still bloody face, Maurice Richard makes his way to the locker room. He still can’t remember the score.

In the locker room, his father Onesime is waiting. Maurice collapses on the bench. His father puts his hand on Maurice’s shoulder and suddenly the Rocket is sobbing uncontrollably.

Despite Rocket’s heroic goal and the team's best efforts, the Canadiens lose to the Red Wings in the finals, but that Game 7 of the semi-finals is what the fans remember most from that season.

Written by Jennifer Conway

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