There was a time when an eery chant would rise up from the stands of the old Montreal Forum sending shivers up the spines of opposing players.
"Rocket, Rocket, Rocket!"
That chant was something special, as was number nine, Maurice "Rocket" Richard.
There wasn't a player in hockey that could intimidate opponents with the glare of his dark eyes and the shot off his stick like Richard. How would you like to be a goalie with those eyes staring down at you?
As a child, Richard played hockey as much as he could, sometimes twice per night.
In fact, he adopted the alias 'Maurice Rochon' so that he could play on more than one team.
In 1942, Richard tried out for the Montreal Canadiens and made the cut, but he was considered a risk to take on because of previous injuries.
The Canadiens tried to trade him to the New York Rangers, but the Rangers refused the deal.
Imagine what a mistake that would have been for the Canadiens!
Richard, who had been wearing number 15, decided he needed a fresh start. That's when he donned the celebrated number nine, choosing the number after the birth weight of his first child, Huguette.
The switch seemed to work.
That season Richard had a night that would forever be a highlight. In a game against their rivals from Toronto, Richard scored all five goals for the Canadiens in a 5-1 victory and was awarded all three stars!
In a monumental game on December 28, 1944, Richard solidified his place in the annals of hockey.
He had spent the day moving to a new house and was exhausted. His brother-in-law, who had witnessed and helped in the move, bet against Richard scoring any goals that night. Not a smart decision.
Richard mustered up the energy to play, and play he did! Rocket scored five goals and had three assists that night, in a 9-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings.
If that wasn't impressive enough, Richard scored one of his goals while carrying Red Wings defenceman Earl Siebert, who weighed 210 pounds, on his back!
Richard skated in, scored the goal and shook Sibert off and threw him in the corner like it was nothing. Boy, what I would have given to be a fly on the wall during that game!
Richard became the first player to score 50 goals in 50 games, and the first to score 500 goals in a career. He finished his career with 544 regular season goals and 421 assists for a total of 965 points in 978 games, rewriting the record books of his day.
He also won the Stanely Cup eight times with Montreal, and in 1961 took his rightful place in the NHL Hall of Fame. At the closing of the Montreal Forum, in 1996, a tearful Rocket received the longest standing ovation in the city's history. Over 16 minutes of adulation poured over him, chanting his nickname over and over again.
Richard, always the reluctant hero, looked around in surprise for the first few minutes. When he realized the crowd was not letting up and their love for him was real, he broke down in tears while waving and mouthing "thank you."
A fitting tribute to one of hockeys all-time greats.