God Bless the Heroes
After the emotional funeral and tributes to Maurice “The Rocket” Richard, and hearing yet another journalist (Peter Mansbridge with Dick Irvin) remark that most people there had not seen M. Richard play, I want to remind Winnipeggers who may have seen him play as I did — on January 17, 1969 in an old timers game at Winnipeg Arena.
He was 47, retired only 9 years, and was a member of the Montreal NHL Old-timers in a game against the Western Canada Old-timers. I was 8 years old, hadn’t played organized hockey yet, and this was my first exposure to the old arena and big-time hockey. After, I was in my glory getting autographs from Butch Bouchard, Frank Selke, Gerry McNeil… even Jack Wells!
Though my dad was certainly a Canadiens fan, I know he was not particularly fond of Mr. Richard and his fiery style of play. He preferred Jean Beliveau’s gentlemanly conduct, and often encouraged me to make him my hockey hero.
After the game, when in an almost confrontational manner he called out to the Rocket to sign his son’s program, I didn’t know what to expect. Mr. Richard turned, put his bag and overcoat down, and spoke to my Dad while signing my program. What they said I can’t recall, as I think I was in some state of embarrassed shock. I still have that program to this day:
26 years later I had the opportunity to take my dad to an NHL oldtimers game in which Mr. Richard was honorary referee. This time it was me who yelled to Richard to autograph a book for me. I still have that one too.
God Bless the heroes.