Longtime Montreal Canadiens centre Henri Richard dead

The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — Henri Richard, the speedy centre who won a record 11 Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens, died Friday after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.

He was 84.

The Canadiens confirmed his death on Twitter.

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"The Montreal Canadiens are saddened to learn of the passing of one of the organization's greatest legends and ambassadors, Henri Richard, this morning," the Canadiens tweeted. "Our thoughts and sincere condolences go out to the Richard family."

Richard was captain of the Canadiens from 1971 to his retirement in 1975, succeeding the legendary Jean Beliveau, with whom he shares the record of playing 20 seasons for the NHL club.

He was better known as the younger brother of superstar Maurice (Rocket) Richard and was nicknamed the Pocket Rocket for his five-foot-seven, 160-pound frame.

"Richard was a great player and a great ambassador for the Montreal Canadiens organization. His passing is a great loss for all," Canadiens owner Geoff Molson tweeted.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called Richard "one of the true giants of the game.

"The entire National Hockey League family mourns the passing of this incomparable winner, leader, gentleman and ambassador for our sport and the Montreal Canadiens," Bettman said in a statement.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also paid tribute to Richard on Twitter.

"A legend on and off the ice, in Montreal and beyond, Henri Richard was one of the fiercest competitors in hockey history. And as an 11-time Stanley Cup champion, he set a record that no one has matched. Rest in peace, Pocket Rocket," Trudeau tweeted. 

Despite his small stature, Henri Richard played 1,256 regular-season games, another Canadiens record. He scored 358 goals and had 1,046 points, third in team history behind Guy Lafleur (1,246) and Beliveau (1,219).

He added 129 points in 180 playoff games.

His 11 Stanley Cups, one more than Beliveau and another former Canadiens captain Yvon Cournoyer, is unlikely ever to be surpassed. Seven were won when the NHL had only six teams.

"No one's going to break that record, it's impossible," Richard once said. "I say that without boasting. There are too many teams now and the best players are too spread out."

He was also hockey's most famous leap year boy, having been born on Feb. 29, 1936.

Hall of famer Serge Savard said he had "nothing but good words" for his former teammate of eight seasons.

"Obviously, his record of 11 Stanley Cup wins will never be beaten. Even though he played in the shadow of his brother and of the other big stars who made their mark with the Canadiens — who are all in the Hall of Fame by the way — (Richard) found the way to leave his own mark."

Savard said the last conversation he had with Richard occurred three or four years ago at the Bell Centre in Montreal. "He was still able to hold a conversation, but couldn't remember your name." Savard said he tried to visit his friend a few weeks ago but Richard's wife said it wasn't a good idea.

It was the same thing for Cournoyer, who tried recently to see the legend and said he was told by Richard's wife, Lise, "you wouldn't want to see him in the state he's in."

Cournoyer said, "Henri was a little like me: not very big! With his determination, he proved he was able to play in the NHL.

"Many compared Henri to his brother or put them into competition with each other. But Maurice was Maurice and Henri was Henri. Each had their own style and Henri proved he was an excellent hockey player."

Cournoyer said Richard "was my teammate, but after, he was my friend for life. We played golf together."

Known for his tenacity and playmaking skills, Richard twice led the NHL in assists, with 52 in 1957-58 and 50 in 1962-63. He had nine 20-goal seasons, including a high of 30 in 1959-60.

He won the Bill Masterton Trophy for sportsmanship and perseverance in 1974 and was selected to four league all-star teams.

The Canadiens retired his No. 16 on Dec. 10, 1975, and he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979.

After a brilliant career with the Junior Canadiens, including 56 goals and 109 points in 1953-54, Henri Richard joined his brother on the NHL club in 1955, just in time for the Canadiens to start on a run of five consecutive Stanley Cups.

He proved himself right away, notching 19 goals and 21 assists in 64 games in his rookie season.

Maurice Richard, who was 15 years older, retired after the 1960 campaign.

Henri stayed on and won four more Cups over a five-year span from 1965 to 1969. A highlight was in 1966, when Richard's only goal in the final was the Cup-winner in overtime in Detroit.

Five years later, he did it again, scoring the series-deciding goal in the third period of Game 7 in Chicago. Richard said later he considered that 10th Stanley Cup the most memorable of his career because of the controversial circumstances.

He had been left out of the lineup for Game 5 of the final by coach Al MacNeil. Feeling insulted and unhappy with the atmosphere on the team, Richard blasted the coach in public, calling MacNeil "incompetent."

"I was angry and I said some things I probably shouldn't have said," Richard said in a 2009 interview. "I spoke out because I thought it was necessary.

"I'm not saying it's right because it's important to respect the coach, but I just wanted to play hockey."

Two years later, in 1973, Richard won his 11th Cup, his only one as captain of the Canadiens.

After his playing career, he worked as a public relations "ambassador" for the team.

He is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Lise, five children and 10 grandchildren.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2020.

Michel Lamarche, The Canadian Press

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