MONTREAL — Henri Richard, the speedy centre who won a record 11 Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens, died Friday after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
He was 84.
The Canadiens confirmed his death on Twitter.
“The Montreal Canadiens are saddened to learn of the passing of one of the organization’s greatest legends and ambassadors, Henri Richard, this morning,” the Canadiens tweeted. “Our thoughts and sincere condolences go out to the Richard family.”
Richard was captain of the Canadiens from 1971 to his retirement in 1975, succeeding the legendary Jean Beliveau, with whom he shares the record of playing 20 seasons for the NHL club.
He was better known as the younger brother of superstar Maurice (Rocket) Richard and was nicknamed the Pocket Rocket for his five-foot-seven, 160-pound frame.
“Richard was a great player and a great ambassador for the Montreal Canadiens organization. His passing is a great loss for all,” Canadiens owner Geoff Molson tweeted.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called Richard “one of the true giants of the game.
“The entire National Hockey League family mourns the passing of this incomparable winner, leader, gentleman and ambassador for our sport and the Montreal Canadiens,” Bettman said in a statement.
Despite his small stature, Henri Richard played 1,256 regular-season games, another Canadiens record. He scored 358 goals and had 1,046 points, third in team history behind Guy Lafleur (1,246) and Beliveau (1,219).
He added 129 points in 180 playoff games.
His 11 Stanley Cups, one more than Beliveau and another former Canadiens captain Yvon Cournoyer, is unlikely ever to be surpassed. Seven were won when the NHL had only six teams.
“No one’s going to break that record, it’s impossible,” Richard said. “I say that without boasting. There are too many teams now and the best players are too spread out.”
He was also hockey’s most famous leap year boy, having been born on Feb. 29, 1936.
Known for his tenacity and playmaking skills, Richards twice led the NHL in assists, with 52 in 1957-58 and 50 in 1962-63. He had nine 20-goal seasons, including a high of 30 in 1959-60.
He won the Bill Masterton Trophy for sportsmanship and perseverance in 1974 and was selected to four league all-star teams.
The Canadiens retired his No. 16 on Dec. 10, 1975, and he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979.
After a brilliant career with the Junior Canadiens, including 56 goals and 109 points in 1953-54, Richard joined his brother on the NHL club in 1955, just in time for the Canadiens to start on a run of five consecutive Stanley Cups.
He proved himself right away, notching 19 goals and 21 assists in 64 games in his rookie season.
Maurice Richard, who was 15 years older, retired after the 1960 campaign.
Henri stayed on and won four more Cups over a five-year span from 1965 to 1969. A highlight was in 1966, when Richard’s only goal in the final was the Cup-winner in overtime in Detroit.
Five years later, he did it again, scoring the series-deciding goal in the third period of Game 7 in Chicago. Richard said later he considered that 10th Stanley Cup the most memorable of his career because of the controversial circumstances.
He had been left out of the lineup for Game 5 of the final by coach Al MacNeil. Feeling insulted and unhappy with the atmosphere on the team, Richard blasted the coach in public, calling MacNeil “incompetent.”
“I was angry and I said some things I probably shouldn’t have said,” Richard said in a 2009 interview. “I spoke out because I thought it was necessary.
“I’m not saying it’s right because it’s important to respect the coach, but I just wanted to play hockey.”
Two years later, in 1973, Richard won his 11th Cup, his only one as captain of the Canadiens.
After his playing career, he worked as a public relations “ambassador” for the team.
He is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Lise, five children and 10 grandchildren.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2020.
Michel Lamarche, The Canadian Press