On This Date in Sports October 19, 1957: 500 Rocket
In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
Montreal Canadiens Captain Maurice Richard becomes the first player in NHL history to record 500 career goals. Richard’s 500th goal is a perfect 20-foot slapshot past Chicago Black Hawks Goalie Glenn Hall, leading the Habs to a 3-1 win at the Montreal Forum. With the win, the Canadiens remain unbeaten on the season at 4-0-2. Maurice “Rocket” Richard would finish his career with 544 goals in 1960, leading Les Canadiens to a Stanley Cup in his final five seasons.
Maurice Richard was born in Montreal on August 4, 1921. Late in his junior career, Richard suffered an ankle injury that prevented him from serving in the Canadian Military during World War II. It also slowed the early part of his career, as Maurice Richard played just 16 games in his first NHL season. With some questioning his future, Richard was finally healthy in the 1943/44 season scoring 32 goals as the Canadiens captured the Stanley Cup. One year later, Maurice Richard became the Rocket, scoring 50 goals in 50 games to set a new NHL record; the nickname came about to how fast he seemed the carry the puck on the ice.
Some initially argued that Richard’s 50-goal season was helped by a lack of talent in the NHL due to the war, as he only scored 27 goals the following season, though the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1946. The detractors were silenced in 1947 when he again led the NHL in goals with 45. The Rocket would lead the NHL in goals five times in his career as he became the face of the Canadiens franchise.
In 1955, Maurice Richard was suspended late in the regular season for punching an on-ice official. The outrage in Montreal led to a St. Patrick’s Day Riot in Montreal when NHL President Clarence Campbell attended a game at the Montreal Forum. Many in French Speaking Quebec felt that Campbell was part of the English Canadians trying to humiliate French Canadiens and subjugate them to second-class citizenship. Many historians trace the Quebec separatist movement to having its roots in the Richard Riots.
The 1955 season was the final season that Maurice Richard led the NHL in goals scored. Though his last five seasons saw the Canadiens win the Stanley Cup each year. Maurice Richard retired in 1960 with 544 goals. He would stand alone in the 500-goal club until 1962, when he was joined by Detroit Red Wings star Gordie Howe, who eventually topped his record. The Montreal Canadiens donated a trophy to the NHL in 1999 named the Rocket Richard Trophy, given annually to the league’s top goal scorer. A year later, Richard died at the age of 78 and was given an official state funeral in Montreal.