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August 12, 2014

1954-55: Rocket Richard Riot Rocks Montreal

The Three Stars

The Rocket Richard Riot: Reacting to a high stick from Boston's Hal Laycoe in a game on March 13, 1955, Rocket Richard attacks Laycoe with a stick three times and punches out linesman Cliff Thompson. Richard is ejected from the game, but the real punishment is handed out by NHL president Clarence Campbell - a man who has had a long history disciplining Richard. This time Campbell suspends Richard for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs, costing Richard a shot at his only NHL scoring title, and hurting Montreal's chances of success in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The next night Campbell attends the game in Montreal and fans show their unhappiness by hurling insults and debris at the NHL chief. During the first intermission things get out of hand when a tear gas bomb explodes, causing mass panic. The game is forfeited to Detroit as the angry crowd gathers outside the Montreal Forum and rioting begins. Damage and looting to local businesses is estimated in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Montreal Fans Boo Boom Boom: As mentioned, Rocket Richard's suspension likely cost him his only chance at winning the NHL scoring title. When teammate Boom Boom Geoffrion did officially pass Richard and claim the NHL scoring title with 75 points, Montreal fans boo their own player for "stealing" the scoring title away from their beloved Rocket.

Zamboni Debuts: A new ice resurfacing machine makes its NHL debut on March 10th, 1955. The Zamboni debuts at Maple Leaf Gardens and quickly becomes standard equipment at all NHL arenas. Other firsts: Out of town scoreboards in every arena, and zebra-striped sweaters for refs and linesmen.

Season Highlights:
  • Changing of the Guard: We see several veteran coaches/managers exit the game. Conn Smythe retires as managing director of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Art Ross ends his 30 year association with the Boston Bruins. And, despite winning a Stanley Cup in 1954, Tommy Ivan exits as coach of the Detroit Red Wings to become GM of the Chicago Blackhawks.
  • Montreal's Doug Harvey had one of his finest seasons, establishing a NHL record for assists by a defenseman with 43 while scoring 6 of his own. Harvey has clearly taken the torch from Detroit's Red Kelly as the best defenseman in the game, and is rightfully awarded the Norris Trophy as such. 
  • Toronto Maple Leafs great Teeder Kennedy retires following the Leafs exit from the playoffs. He is later awarded the Hart Trophy as league MVP, though it is seen as more of a "career achievement" nod than a true season's best recognition.
  • The Detroit Red Wings win another Stanley Cup, their 4th in 5 years, establishing a true sports dynasty. The Red Wings needed 7 games to knock off the Rocket Richard-less Canadiens. Gordie Howe set a NHL post season record with 20 points, while Dutch Reibel and Alex Delvecchio also had strong performances. 

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