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Leap year baby Henri (Pocket Rocket) Richard to celebrate 18th birthday

MONTREAL - Some 35 years after he won his 11th Stanley Cup, Henri (the Pocket Rocket) Richard will finally be old enough on Friday for the NHL rookie draft.

"You know, I wouldn't mind getting drafted this year," Richard chuckled in an interview.

"I could make much more money today."

Canada's most famous leap-year baby turns 18 on Friday, joining some 20,000 Canadians who celebrate their birthdays every fourth February.

Richard will also finally be of legal drinking age in Quebec, some 23 years after he sold his famous Montreal tavern.

"Finally, I'll be able to drink beer," said Richard, who is turning 72 in regular years.

"I guess I've been doing it illegally all these years."

Richard, who played his entire career with the Montreal Canadiens, won 11 Stanley Cups, a record that is "unlikely ever to be broken," according to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

While the odds of winning 11 cups are extremely long, leapers are relatively more common. Statistically, they account for one out of every 1,461 births.

Some of the best-known leap-year babies include motivational guru Tony Robbins (1960), band leader Jimmy Dorsey (1904), Polish-French painter Balthus (1908), and Paul III (1468), the last Renaissance pope.

The first leap year dates back to Roman Emperor Julius Caesar.

In 46 BC, mathematicians and astronomers told Caesar it actually takes 365.25 days for Earth to make its way around the sun.

Caesar weighed several options, including adding six hours to every year. He decided instead to add the full day to every fourth year.

So Richard rendered thanks unto Caesar in the 1950s and 60s, when he would often go four years without receiving his annual driver's licence renewal.

"Once I got stopped by the police, and I just had to explain to him," Richard said. "He understood."

Ruth Ashby, who is celebrating the Sixth Worldwide Leap Year Festival in Anthony on the New Mexico-Texas border, says such problems still pop up, even in the computer age.

"There are people who still have licences that say Feb. 28, because even nowadays it still causes problems," Ashby said.

Ashby said about 120 "leap-year people" will attend the festival, along with a few hundred other party-goers.

The leap-year festival includes hot-air balloon rides, golf and a wine tasting.

"They don't come in droves but it's a big event for them," Ashby said. "And it's a big deal for this little town."

The Pocket Rocket plans to tip a cool one with family to mark his birthday. He's expecting 18 candles.



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