March 09, 2016

Rocket Richard's Rift With The Montreal Canadiens

Rocket Richard will forever be synonymous with the Montreal Canadiens, the team he starred with for 18 years.

Yet did you know that following his retirement Richard had a rift with the team that also lasted 18 years?

Things became frosty when the Habs nudged Richard into retirement in 1960. He wasn't read to hang up the blades, even though serious injuries over his last three seasons, noticeably slowing down the Rocket. Montreal GM Frank Selke did not want the legendary Rocket to hang around past his peak. He wanted him to go out on top, and forever be a hockey immortal.

So after Richard hoisted his final Stanley Cup in 1960, he retired in the following training camp. Selke offered Richard a public relations job at his player's salary for the next three years. But Richard really had trouble adjusting to the front office.

"I never stopped thinking I should be helping the team," he said in Chrys Goyen's and Frank Orr's book Maurice Richard: Reluctant Hero. "That meant a hand in the hockey operations and decision-making side of things. Such an offer was never forthcoming. I felt I could seriously contribute off the ice, but I wasn't given the opportunity."

Richard hated his assigned duties.

"I guess people still wanted to see me because i went to banquets, hockey tournaments, charity events, six or seven days a week, all year round. I went all over Canada and some spots in the United States, too. I spent no time with my wife and kids. It was no life."

So after two years of touring and shaking hands he asked to have his schedule reduced. Selke complied, but also halved his salary, which went against his original word. That did not sit well with the Rocket.

"I finished that year, then I quit the job altogether. I went home a free man who could do what he wanted. It was one of the best days of my life out of hockey."

Richard renovated a rundown bar in downtown Montreal, reopening it as Tavern Number Nine. That lasted for three years before selling it at a tidy profit.

Richard turned that money into a small fishing line company that he operated out of his house for the next 23 years. If there was anything Richard loved as much as hockey and his family, it was fishing.

Richard supplemented his income by doing promotional work for cars, tea, hair dye and fuel products. 

"I only worked because I liked it."

He briefly tried getting back into big league hockey, as a surprising choice as the original coach of the Quebec Nordiques of the WHA. Rocket didn't last long though, stepping down after just 2 games. He was honest with himself and knew it was not what he wanted to do.

Richard did patch things up with the Canadiens and came to accept his publicity appearances with the team. He enjoyed playing with the Habs alumni, later serving as the referee.

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