March 06, 2020

Henri Richard: Hockey's Most Underrated Superstar

Getting your name engraved on the Stanley Cup is every Canadian boy's dream. Very few achieve this dream. In fact, many of hockey's greatest stars never tasted champagne from Lord Stanley's mug such as Gilbert Perreault, Brad Park, or Marcel Dionne, to name just a few. Henri Richard has his named engraved on the Stanley Cup. In fact, he has his named engraved a record 11 times! Only Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics can match that claim to most professional team sport championships.

When Henri showed up at the Montreal Canadiens training camp in 1955, many speculated it was nothing but a publicity stunt. Bringing in Rocket Richard's kid brother seemed like nothing but a gimmick. It soon became clear that it was not a stunt.

Once told that he was too small by none other than former Montreal great Elmer Lach (Lach was Richard's junior coach) Henri was a creative center who combined skill and leadership to be one of hockey's true legends for two decades.

While many fans expected Henri to be a replica of his brother Maurice, the two were different types of players. Maurice was a powerful monster who struck fear in the hearts of the opposition. Henri too struck fear in the opposition, but with his incredible stickhandling and skill. He was quick as a hiccup, probably an all around better skater than Maurice. He was strong, though not as over powering, and determined though controlled.

Hall of Fame defenseman Fernie Flaman had a unique memory of Henri as well.

"One of the things he used to when he went wide on me was lean into me and actually grab my knee. We'd both go down, and I would get the penalty for holding, because it was impossible to see what Henri was doing! It used to drive me crazy!"

Henri also earned a reputation as one of hockey's most relentless forecheckers of all time.

Great Montreal general manager Frank Selke Sr. agreed with that completely. "I have been blessed with a lot of great stars over the years. But game in, and game out, Henri Richard may have been the most valuable player I ever had.
Head coach Toe Blake had the best view to watch each of these siblings. "The Pocket became a better all around player than Rocket was. But its asking an awful lot of any man to be the scorer that Rocket was. He was the greatest scorer under pressure that I've ever seen."

Perhaps Henri best sums up the difference between him and his more famous brother.

"My brother's biggest thrills came when he scored many goals. I am most satisfied when I play in a close game and do not have any goals scored against me. Sometimes people have asked me whether it helped or hut having Maurice as an older brother. It was not easy, because many people expected me to be as spectacular as Maurice. But I believe it also helped me as well as hurt me. Don't forget, Maurice was a great scorer, and he could get goals that many other players could not get. That helped my passing because I knew that he would always be near the net waiting for a shot. But Maurice never gave me any advice. I never asked him for it and he never really offered it. "

There is no comparing Henri Richard to his brother Maurice. The Rocket is an immortal legend, the image of the Quebecois, the Montreal Canadiens ultimate icon. Henri, no matter what he accomplished, was always the little brother.

And Henri, who was fine with the lack of attention, accomplished a lot.

In fact, most people don't realize Henri was a far more complete player than Maurice, and one of the best two way players of all time. While Maurice was busy scoring spectacular goals, 544 compared to Henri's 358, Henri lasted longer (20 seasons compared to 18), played more games (1256 to 978), scored more points (1046 to 965), scored more playoff points (129 to 126) and, most importantly, won more Stanley Cups (11 to 8).

For a man with his bloodlines and with the good fortune to play in Montreal, Henri Richard knew he was a fortunate soul. But no one worked harder for their good fortune. One of the smallest players in NHL history, he had to overcome his brother's immense shadow, prejudice against his size and a lack of English early in his career. But Henri let his play on the ice do the talking for him.

Not unlike Toronto's Dave Keon, the undersized pivot faced off against the opposition's top gunner every night. In doing so he was as instrumental any figure in any of Montreal's championships in the 1950s and 1960s.

He was also a leader. Just ask Jean Beliveau.

"Henri was definitely a leader, even before he became captain. His leadership came from his determination on the ice and the fact that he was a team player."

He and Beliveau provided the perfect one-two punch down the middle, much like a modern day Gretzky-Messier, Lemieux-Franics or Yzerman-Fedorov combination.

Henri was one of the last greats from Montreal's Original Six glory years to retire. Before he did, he was named captain and had a great impact on many of the young stars that would lead the Habs to glory later in the 1970s, most notably Guy Lafleur.

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