Wednesday, October 24, 2007
My Non-Encounters with The Rocket
It's beyond me to do anything resembling a full treatment of the man here and now, but this past weekend was a milestone of sorts for the famous Rocket, or Maurice "Rocket" Richard, or just "Rocket" Richard. He was the first hockey player to ever score 500 goals in his career, and last weekend was the anniversary of that event. That's him up there in the photo.
He was a prodigious goal scorer on the famous Montreal Canadiens, often dubbed as The Flying Frenchmen, of the fifties and earlier. There are not many athletes who become one nickname wonders. While many obtain nicknames, they are usually an adjunct, such as Wayne Gretzy also being known as The Great One, but when he was playing announcers would seldom have been know to say, "The Great One has the puck." They would call The Rocket just that, however; nothing additional had to be added and seldom was.
My memories of him are dim. I know that I saw him play on television, but I was young, and he was pretty well past his prime by the time I began to pay attention. However, I do recall two in-the-flesh sightings.
One Sunday afternoon, a small grocery store one street over in Montreal had a bit of a to do. Some Habs (a nickname for Les Canadiens) including himself were to be there, and they were to be giving away some hockey sticks. He was sitting on the back of a convertible, and I remember him getting a wee bit testy with some kids who wanted to snatch sticks before it was time to disperse them. But there was a big crowd, and it became obvious that little me wasn't about to get one of those sticks, so I didn't linger to watch the proceedings.
My second sighting was some years later after he retired and I was probably fourteen or fifteen years old. The Rocket happened to be at a bowling alley where I was enjoying a game with a friend. We were done and on the point of departing when I spotted The Rocket talking with a couple of kids in this near empty establishment. Well, I was English, and he was French, and I didn't know how welcome my intrusion would have been so I simply observed him briefly and continued my exit. Besides: the star culture and autograph collecting frenzy era was not quite upon us, and we tended not to accost strangers back then.
There you have it: my two non-encounters with perhaps the most famous and dynamic hockey player ever to lace up. He was a French Canadien and an iconic man for his people, but we Montreal Anglos were also in thrall with him and the team.