One thing I regret being born in 1973 and growing up in Texas, where NHL games were seldom on television is that I never got to see Maurice “Rocket” Richard play. They say he was absolutely marvelous, a star for the Montreal Canadiens during a time when they owned the NHL.
And, true to the form of other hockey greats like Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr and, later, Wayne Gretzky and Steve Yzerman, Richard was a fierce competitor on the ice but a humble man off of it.
A few years ago, while a journalist working for an Air Force newspaper in San Antonio, Texas, I did a news-feature article about an Air Force colonel about to run the Boston Marathon. He was from Boston and would be returning home for the race.
Lieutenant Colonel Richard.
That's an odd surname, I thought, sounds like it's French.
“Oh, like Montreal Canadiens star Rocket Richard,” I said, knowing that the surname Richard is fairly common among French Canadians.
“Actually, he’s my third cousin,” Colonel Richard replied.
“No kidding?” I asked. “Wow! You must’ve been the world’s biggest Canadiens fan.”
He laughed. “Nope. Actually, growing up in Boston, I’m a diehard Boston Bruins fan.”
Those familiar with hockey know that long before the Colorado Avalanche/Detroit Red Wings rivalry and the Darren McCarty/Claude Lemieux feud, there was the Canadiens/Bruins rivalry. On more than one occasion, the two teams dropped the gloves and slugged it out.
Pretty ironic, isn’t it?
Rocket Richard has since passed away and the colonel told me that while he never met his famous cousin, he did send him Christmas cards.