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Travelling exhibit looks at life of hockey legend Maurice Richard

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

MONTREAL - Everyone knows Maurice (Rocket) Richard for his relentless drives to the net as a Montreal Canadien.

Fewer know him for his bread. But there it sits - or at least one of the product's wrappers around a fake loaf - in a glass display case in Montreal's Chateau de Ramezay Museum as part of a travelling exhibit chronicling the hockey legend's storied 18-year career.

The enriched white Rocket Number Nine bread wasn't made by Richard. It's among the stuff he licensed his name to when he left the game in 1960 to supplement an income that pales beside that of current NHL stars.

Richard always said he played for the love of the game, and that drive catapulted him to an iconic status that still endures.

"He's a source of inspiration to me," said David Turenne, a 30-year-old hockey fan, whose only up-close encounter with Richard was when Turenne paid his respects to the hockey player as he lay in state before his funeral in 2000.

"He gave me a source of courage that I have never let down," Turenne said after studying the artifacts in the three-room exhibit.

The exhibit, titled "Rocket Richard - The Legend The Legacy," was first mounted by the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Que., and is now making a stop in Richard's hometown. It will head to Newfoundland and Labrador in 2008 after it has been refurbished.

The exhibit takes viewers back to a simpler but no less competitive time in hockey history.

"It tells all the story about the Rocket's career - his goals, his performance, his trophies and also all the products produced with his image and his name," said Andre Delisle, the Chateau de Ramezay's director and curator. "Skates, of course, but also a radio, lamps and even bread."

Richard's sticks are also there. There's a gallery of photos spanning his life and many of his fabled jerseys are present, a little worn, but still giving off an almost saintly glow as they hang bathed under strategically placed overhead lights.

The exhibit is also interactive and people can watch clips from games and documentaries, hear Richard talk and listen to songs extolling the puckmeister.

But diehard hockey fans won't be the only ones tickled by the exhibit. There's a lot of fun facts to go along with the history.

Take for example one of Richard's contracts, jotted down on a calendar sheet, giving him $12,000 for the 1956-57 season. There's the story behind why he changed his number from 15 to the revered No. 9 - his first daughter weighed nine pounds when she was born.

And don't forget the soup. Maurice Rocket Richard Soup, with its striking red, white and blue label complete with a number nine in a star, hit the shelves to feed rabid Richard fans who boycotted the popular Campbell's soups.

That's how seriously fans took it when National Hockey League boss Clarence Campbell - who actually didn't have any connection to the famous Campbell's soup empire - suspended Richard in 1955, sparking the famous Richard Riot.

One of the cans of Rocket soup sits in a display right under a familiar photo of hockey fans duking it out in the streets of Montreal.

Many have said that riot and Richard's outspokenness about discrimination against French-Canadian players in the NHL were some of the first steps that took Quebec to its modernization in the Quiet Revolution. Richard, however, always denied he was political and summed himself up as "just a hockey player."

"We also talk about the social impact the Rocket had on our society, especially with the riot in 1955 after he was suspended," Delisle said. "At the end of the exhibition, we talk about the end of his career and the real myth that he became. For hockey fans but also for our society, he's a real national hero."

Turenne said he enjoyed seeing the Rocket's sweaters and jerseys.

"It's great," he said of the show. "It's vast compared to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. There's a lot of pictures that I haven't seen before, also some artifacts like the jerseys and the sweaters. I also discovered some songs that I never heard before and I never imagined that those had been created before."

The jerseys were also a favourite of Delisle's.

"The sweater worn by Maurice Richard himself in 1959 is my favourite," he said. "It's something really unique. But I can see that for hockey fans, for example, seeing the stick for the 50th goal in 50 games and some trophies also would be really interesting."

He said it's hard to pinpoint the rarest item in the show.

"It always depends on your interests. Like I always say, hockey fans will really enjoy this exhibition but also history fans. So it could be a puck or a ring - a Stanley Cup ring or the Hall of Fame ring is something special.

"But for others, seeing products from the '40s, '50s, with the image of Maurice Richard or old pictures and magazines can also be interesting and rare."

Most of the artifacts in the exhibit, which runs until April 20, were owned by Richard.

His children attended the recent opening of the show and Delisle noted with delight how they remembered one son wearing a tiny Rocket Richard jacket and how they recalled who was responsible for looking after a specific trophy.

Delisle noted they all wore a Stanley Cup ring. Richard was on eight Stanley Cup teams and Delisle said he couldn't resist ribbing the famous family a little when he saw the jewelry.

"I asked them if they put in an order with their father to bring them back a Stanley Cup ring."


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