This much is certain: On Dec. 28, 1944, Canadiens forward Maurice “Rocket” Richard set an NHL record with eight points in a single game by scoring five goals and contributing three assists in Montreal’s 9-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings at the Forum.
The story, repeated as fact and embellished over three-quarters of a century, is that the Rocket had spent that entire game day moving his wife, Lucille, and their infant daughter, Huguette, across town in Montreal, hauling furniture up a winding staircase to the second floor of a duplex in near-freezing temperatures made colder by strong winds and snow mixed with sleet.
But based on Richard’s comments to a Montreal French-language newspaper columnist almost 15 years later, discovered in archived microfilm, the fiery forward had moved the day before and spent game day unpacking in his new home. It does nothing to diminish the achievement of his record-setting night, but it clearly tweaks one of the truly great Rocket stories.
The details, as forever reported, have Richard arriving at the Forum for the Dec. 28 game and trying to beg off, telling coach Dick Irvin that he was exhausted from the move. He dressed at Irvin’s request, told that if he was too tired after a shift or two, he could pull himself from the game.
Richard scored 67 seconds after the opening face-off, apparently decided he was good to go and went on to electrify the packed Forum with a performance for the ages. His five goals were Nos. 20-24 of 1944-45, putting him nearly halfway to becoming the first NHL player to score 50 in a season.
1944-45 Montreal Canadiens. Back row, from left: Leo Lamoureux, Fern Gauthier, Ken Mosdell, Emile Bouchard, Ray Getliffe, Murph Chamberlain. Middle row, from left: Trainer Ernie Cook, Bob Fillion, Maurice Richard, Elmer Lach, Toe Blake, assistant trainer Hec Dubois. Front row, from left: Coach Dick Irvin, Frank Eddolls, Glen Harmon, Bill Durnan, Buddy O’Connor, Dutch Hiller, GM Tom Gorman.
Fifteen years after the fact, in his final NHL season, Richard confessed that the moving-day story wasn’t exactly as it had been reported — one that’s been glorified to this day in articles, books, documentaries and a 2005 feature film on the Rocket’s life.
On Oct. 16, 1959, Frank Selke, the Canadiens general manager at the time, was speaking to La Presse columnist Gerald Champagne about his own family’s move of the previous day.
“All day yesterday, exhausted, I thought of Maurice Richard,” Selke told the writer.
The GM looked across the Forum dressing room at Richard, then in the 17th season of his 18-year career, and asked his captain, “How old were you when you scored five goals the day of your move? You must have been young.”
The famous glare of Maurice Richard, and the official NHL scoresheet, in pencil, of his record-setting eight-point game on Dec. 28, 1944.
Richard replied: “I was 23. Some journalists have reported that I moved my furniture all day before the game against Detroit at the Forum that night. That’s not true. The truth is that I moved the day before, Dec. 27, I went to bed late and on Dec. 28 I spent the day moving furniture around our new home on Papineau Street.
“When I arrived at the Forum, I was tired. Why hide that? In that game against Detroit, I probably was helped by Lady Luck. Harry Lumley (then less than two months past his 18th birthday) was in the Red Wings net, and he’s always been my favorite goalie.”
For good reason. Richard would score 88 goals against Lumley during his 544-goal career, by far more than he had against any other goalie.
“Maurice Richard is a man precise with his shots, and he likes accuracy in what is written about him,” Champagne wrote in his 1959 La Presse column. “He wanted to clarify certain things about the day of his famous exploit of Dec. 28, 1944.”
This discovered detail came as news even to Richard’s family.
“I’d never heard this story,” Maurice Richard Jr. said this week, asked about his father quietly having set the record straight many years later. “I only know of this eight-point night and the stories about it through what I’ve read over the years.”
Hall of Fame broadcaster Dick Irvin Jr., then 12, wasn’t just at the game, he was sitting on the Canadiens bench at the invitation of his father, the team’s coach.
Dick Irvin Jr. with his father, mother Bertha and sister Fay, poring over a family scrapbook in their Montreal home during the 1951-52 season.
Irvin Sr.’s family remained in Regina, Saskatchewan, while he coached in Montreal; his wife and their two children arrived by train for occasional visits. So it was that Bertha, 8-year-old Fay and young Dick were at the Forum that night.
Irvin Jr. recalls that NHL teams during the war years could dress only 14 players: nine forwards, four defensemen and a goalie.
“So there was plenty of room at the end of the bench, and my dad just sat me there,” he said, laughing at the memory. “John Getliffe, whose father, Ray, was on the team, sat on a wooden chair beside me.”
Richard’s first goal came 1:07 into the first period and was followed by three in the second and one more midway through the third. His assists came on goals by the other members of the “Punch Line” — Elmer Lach, who scored two, and Toe Blake.
Punch Line teammates Maurice Richard, Elmer Lach and Toe Blake combined for 17 points during Richard’s historic 1944 game.
“Richard had one of those nights that he comes up with once in a while when he seems to be touched with hockey genius,” Montreal Gazette columnist Dink Carroll wrote the next day. “He made hair-raising plays last night that he alone of all the players in the league at the present time is probably capable of making.”
At the end of the Canadiens bench, a coach’s son had a front-row seat to history.
“I remember one of Richard’s goals,” Irvin said. “He came to the bench and the trainer threw a towel around his neck as he sat down, right beside me. I thought all these people in the building are going to be asking, ‘Who’s that little kid sitting beside the Rocket?'”
Richard’s third-period goal tied the NHL single-game points record of seven, then shared by 11 players.
“Every time he came on the ice, the big crowd held its breath,” Carroll wrote.
Dick Irvin Jr. at age 3 in 1935, and on Bell Centre’s Builders Row in 2008, beside a tribute to his father.
Lach scored Montreal’s ninth goal with 13 seconds left. The arena held its breath until the announcement, and then the fans went bonkers.
Irvin remembers his father, who had no time for the bluster of Red Wings coach Jack Adams, sending Lach over to the Detroit bench as the Canadiens piled up the score to ask Adams whether he wanted to concede. That didn’t go well.
“The last point Richard got, my dad went ballistic to the referee (King Clancy), who had to skate over to the penalty box to give his version of the goal,” Irvin said. “Dad reminded him that Rocket got an assist, which would give him the record.”
Remarkably, Richard’s offensive brilliance was only part of his story that night. The previous day, Toronto Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe had caused a stir with an alleged $25,000 offer to the Canadiens — which was laughed at — for Rocket’s contract.
From left, Maurice Richard, Glen Harmon, goalie Bill Durnan, Leo Lamoureux, Elmer Lach and Toe Blake, all of whom were in the Canadiens lineup for Richard’s record-setting game.
Richard is one of 13 players to have scored eight points in a game. The only player with more is Darryl Sittler, who had an NHL-record 10 points (six goals, four assists) for the Maple Leafs on Feb. 7, 1976.
“In the final period,” Carroll wrote, “the 12,744 fans who packed the Forum like a sardine can, aware that (Richard) was on the way to a new record, rose as a man and roared with excitement every time he touched the puck. …
“It was a great night indeed for Richard and he earned his laurels, some of his goals being of the next-to-impossible variety. He scored them all a little differently, which took any taint of luck off them and established him as one of the brightest stars in the league today, if that hadn’t already been done.”
The best line surely goes to Irvin Sr., who addressed Richard in the dressing room after his superstar’s incredible night.
“Next time you move, Rocket,” Irvin said, “let me know and I’ll send the whole team to help you.”
Photos: HHoF Images