Original broadcast CBC:March 17, 2005
Maurice Richard's temper is as fiery as his nickname, and the Rocket is no stranger to the penalty box. The francophone star is frequently at odds with the man in charge of league discipline, NHL President Clarence Campbell, seen by many as a symbol of the anglophone elite. Richard has been given several fines and suspensions, but on March 13, 1955, he goes too far. During a scrap with the Boston Bruins, Richard deliberately injures an opponent and then punches a linesman.
Clarence Campbell responds by suspending Richard for the remainder of the season as well as the playoffs, a move that jeopardizes Richard's scoring record, the Canadiens' first place position, and their shot at winning the Stanley Cup. Worse, Campbell has the gall to attend the Canadiens' next home game. The provocative move is too much for Habs faithful, who are spoiling for a fight. They pelt the league president with food and then set off a tear gas bomb.
The Montreal Forum is evacuated, and violence spills out onto the streets of Montreal. Rioters smash windows, loot stores, and clash with police. The riot of St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1955, is seen by many as a seminal moment in the evolution of Quebec's modern nationalist movement. Fifty years later, CBC Television looks back at the milestone "Richard Riot."
The 'Richard Riot'
• As the undisputed star of the top team in the league, Maurice Richard was regularly antagonized by opposing defenders. But the Rocket gave as good as he got. He led the league in penalty minutes in 1952-53, and amassed 1,285 career penalty minutes.
• On March 13, 1955, Boston Bruins defenceman Hal Laycoe gave Richard a high stick, cutting his head open. Richard retaliated by chopping at Laycoe repeatedly with a stick. When officials intervened, Richard struck linesman Clifford Thompson.
• Two days later, Richard was hauled into league president Clarence Campbell's office. Richard had struck an official in Toronto three months earlier, and Campbell had had enough. With just three regular season games remaining, he made the unprecedented move of suspending Richard for those games plus the playoffs. (On at least one previous occasion, a player had been allowed to play in the playoffs, serving the rest of his suspension at the start of the next season.)
• NHL President Campbell was vilified in the press, but announced that he would attend the next Montreal home game. Despite urgings from Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau to stay away from the Forum, Campbell attended the game with his secretary (and future wife), her sister and a nurse. On their way in, they ran a gauntlet of 2,000 shouting fans.
• Inside the Forum, the angry crowd ignored the game and became increasingly hostile toward Campbell as the first period progressed.
• Angry fans pelted Campbell with eggs and vegetables, and then someone set off a tear gas bomb. The Forum was evacuated, and the game was ruled a forfeit to the Red Wings, who had a 4-1 lead.
• As fans poured out onto Ste-Catherine Street, the crowd turned violent. Stores within 15 blocks were looted and vandalized, causing an estimated $500,000 damage. At least 60 people were arrested, and 25 civilians and 12 policemen were injured in violence that lasted until 3 a.m.
• Maurice Richard had been sitting in the stands during the game, and was eventually convinced to go on the radio and plea for calm. "I would like to ask everyone to get behind the team and to help the boys," he said. "I will take my punishment and come back next year to help the club and the young players win the cup."
• As a result of the forfeited game, the Red Wings won the regular season. They then defeated Montreal in the seven-game Stanley Cup final.
• Maurice Richard lost the season's scoring title to his teammate Bernard (Boom Boom) Geoffrion on the last day of the regular season.
• You can hear a 1955 CBC Radio report on the riot or listen to a full-length documentary on the Richard Riot in our additional clips.
• Some academics and historians point to the Richard Riot as the beginning of Quebec's Quiet Revolution. For his part, Maurice Richard always downplayed his cultural and political role. He said he had always played hockey among "English boys" and that he had many English fans (some of whom also took part in the 1955 riot). He said he didn't really know what was going on in French Quebec at the time. "I'm not responsible for what's going on today," he told CBC Radio's Quebec Now in 1974.
The 'Richard Riot'
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: March 17, 2005
Guest(s): Jules Bélanger, Clarence Campbell, Maurice Richard, Red Storey
Host: Wendy Mesley
Reporter: Michel Godbout
Hockey footage: NHL
Photo: Hockey Hall of Fame
April 20, 2006