April 20, 2013

Great Moments In Hockey History: Maurice Richard's 50 Goals in 50 Games

Maurice Richard's pursuit of 50 goals in 50 games in the 1944-45 season was a most welcome distraction during the height of World War II.

Canadians all over were fascinated by Richard's historic chase, but nowhere more so than in Richard's home province of Quebec. Few athletes in any sport have transcended their sport. For the man they dubbed the Rocket, this was, for all intents and purposes, marked his undeniable arrival.

A broken ankle limited Richard to five goals in 16 games as a rookie in 1942-43. In 1943-44 Richard emerged as a superstar, scoring 32 goals in 46 games before adding an amazing 12 more goals in 9 playoff games to help the Montreal Canadiens win the Stanley Cup.

But it was his seemingly impossible 50 goals in 50 games quest that captivated the hockey world like few others in the history of the game.

Playing on the legendary "Punch Line" with Elmer Lach and Toe Blake, Richard "was an arrow whizzing through the defense" who "did not know caution." Everything Richard did was "spectacular."

After 48 games he had 49 goals. He seemed destined to become the first player in the history of the game to reach the magical 50 goal mark in a game against Chicago at the Montreal Forum. Referee King Clancy nearly started a riot when he disallowed a Richard goal, much to the dislike of the Forum faithful who badly wanted to celebrate the achievement. The Blackhawks shut him down the rest of the way in Montreal's final home game of the season.

That set the stage for Montreal's showdown against the Bruins at the Boston Garden on March 18th, 1945. His historic goal, which came against goaltender Harvey Bennett, came in typical dramatic Richard fashion. With the game tied at 2 and with just over 2 minutes left in the third period Richard scored the game winning goal. A little over a minute later he set up Elmer Lach to make the final score 4-2 for the Habs.

Richard would go on to become the first player to score 500 goals in a career. Years after he retired the NHL awarded the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy to the league's annual goal scoring leader.

Is Rocket Richard the greatest goal scorer of all time? You get no argument out of me, but the most common argument I hear against Rocket Richard concerns his magical 50 goals in 50 games season of 1944-45. People tell me all the time that those 50 goals came in a watered-down season because many of the NHL's good players were serving in the Canadian military in World War II efforts.

To which I always respond with "Okay, if I grant you that, how do you dismiss the 521 goals he scored after the war. Or his 82 playoff goals, of which 18 were game winners and 6 in sudden death?"

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