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From the Archives: Maurice Richard's Greatest Goal

If you're wondering why the National Hockey League presents an annual Maurice Richard Trophy, Stan Fischler is here to present why.
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If you're wondering why the National Hockey League presents an annual Maurice Richard Trophy, I'll be delighted to provide Exhibit A.

It was one moment in one game that has been embedded in hockey history as one of the best goals, in one of the most exciting playoff clinchers since the invention of the round puck.

And in my archives, I found not only the (now defunct) Montreal Star newspaper and stories about the Rocket's red glare, but also one of the finest hockey columns by legendary journalist, Baz O'Meara, who also wrote the game story.

The first-round playoff game at Montreal's Forum featured the Habs against the very-much-hated Bruins. It was Game Seven on April 8, 1952 with the winner going up against Detroit for The Stanley Cup.

Underdogs in the series, Boston dropped the first two games in Montreal and then surged back with three straight victories. The Bruins seemed primed to clinch the series at home except for one thing – the Habs objected.

The Game Six heart-throbber extended into a second overtime before Montreal's emergency recruit, Paul Masnick, beat Sugar Jim Henry in the Beantowner's net, setting up the all-time classic final in Habtown.

During the game, Henry's face was struck by a puck that broke the goaltender's nose, blackened both eyes and significantly dimmed Sugar Jim's eyesight during a 17-minute break for repairs. But the valiant puck-stopper returned for the climactic seventh game.

Once again the Bruins gave Montreal considerable grief. With the score tied 1-1, Richard had gone into high gear but guarded by Boston defenseman Hal Laycoe with tough Beantown forward Leo Labine coming up from the rear.

Richard didn't see Labine who bulldozed the Hab and harshly bayoneted him in the face. The Rocket bounced off Laycoe while Rocket's head then hit Hal's knee. "In all my years," Laycoe later said, "I never saw Rocket hit so hard like that."

Maurice's helmetless head thudded off the rink rendering him unconscious while blood flowed from his forehead.The sellout Forum crowd gasped in horror when stretcher-bearers rushed out but were rebuffed by the Habs doctor.

"Rocket would have to be dead to allow himself to be carried off like that," the medic said. Sure enough a few teammates escorted their buddy to the Forum infirmary.

"Richard was in a partial coma for a while," O'Meara wrote in The Star, "his head fuzzed up from pain, his eyesight impaired with dull noises ringing in his ears."

Six stitches were sewn into the head and the infirmary consensus was that Maurice was through for the night. "I was too dizzy to see," Richard later recalled.

Except, the Rocket didn't believe he was through and eventually returned to the home bench. The third period pulsated with excitement as the teams continued battling in the 1-1 tie.

A mean-spirited high-sticking duel between Laycoe and Montreal's Billy Reay resulted in dual penalties. That thinned the sides to four skaters each. "It gave The Rocket a real chance for maneuvering," wrote O'Meara.

With just over five minutes remaining in the third period, Richard took the ice with center Elmer Lach, left wing Bert Olmstead and defenseman Butch Bouchard. Elmer took a look at his buddy and wondered. "Rock's eyes aren't fixed."

Up in the press box, former Canadien and Richard linemate Toe Blake turned to O'Meara and said: "The Rocket will get one in the last five minutes."

Richard's legs were fine and when Bouchard distributed the puck to his right wing, the Rocket moved past the pursuing Bruins in full flight until All-Star defenseman Bill Quackenbush had the Hab all lined up.

Quackenbush: "I stayed with him all the way. Actually got him into the right corner and figured that that was that. But it wasn't – not with Richard."

"Rocket did a deft cut (left toward the goal) and let fly a low squeaker," O'Meara wrote, "into a short opening and Henry, confused by his fast foray, fanned on that one.

"Richard has received ovations in his day the likes of which have never been seen in the staid, old Forum, but the ensuing roar, which lasted for fully a minute, followed by a paper shower, left all others in the also-ran class."

Rocket staggered off the ice while Lach slumped onto the bench and passed out for seconds, "without anyone being aware of it."

Former NHL star Art Chapman echoed what just about everyone was thinking: "Only Richard could score like that."

It was the series clincher although Reay added an open-netter to finalize it at 3-1. At the end Bruins goalie Sugar Jim Henry – both eyes blackened – bowed and shook hands with Richard at center ice. Blood still was gushing from the Habs' forehead.

Minutes later in the winner's dressing room, Rocket's dad, Onesime Richard, put his arms around his son's shoulder and posed for pictures. Maurice then told reporters he couldn't remember much about his goal but coach Dick Irvin did.

"Rocket didn't know where he was going," said Irvin. "He did it by instinct. He could hardly see yet he scored that great goal."

Then, a pause: "There is only one Rocket."

My Archives issue of the Montreal Star summed up the melodrama on a full page with three sets of headlines attached to O'Meara's game story:

RICHARD'S GLITTER GOAL HURTLES HABITANTS INTO CUP FINAL

MAESTRO OF MOMENTUM SCORES DRAMATIC TALLY

SWINGS TIDE WHEN GROGGY FROM BEING KNOCKED OUT AND STITCHED – SCORE 3-1.

A pair of photos accompanied O'Meara's report and column. One picture depicted Rocket's goal and the other his post-game reunion with his dad.

It truly was a night to remember, along with my scrapbook story to record the unique event.

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