Friday, October 19, 2007 marks the 50th anniversary of Maurice “Rocket” Richard becoming the first player in NHL history to score 500 career goals. The goal set the standard for individual success and stands as the benchmark for greatness among NHL goal-scorers.
“I remember thinking that getting to 500 was pretty special,” said Wayne Gretzky, the NHL’s all-time leader in goals (894). “Growing up as a kid you see Maurice Richard got 500 goals and Gordie Howe got the 500 goals and that was sort of the benchmark.”
Richard scored goal No. 498 and No. 499 against Toronto two nights earlier, setting the stage for No. 500 Saturday, Oct. 19, 1957, against the Chicago Black Hawks at the Montreal Forum.
Red Fisher of the Montreal Gazette, the dean of hockey writers for over 50 years, was in his third year of covering the Canadiens when Richard reached the milestone.
“There was a great deal of excitement among the crowd at the Forum, as there was on most Saturday nights, but in particular on this night since the Rocket was going for his 500th,” Fisher recalled.
When Chicago’s Ian Cushenan was penalized for holding at 14:42 of the first period, the Canadiens sent out their power-play unit with Doug Harvey and Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion on the point, along with Dickie Moore, Jean Beliveau and Richard up front. Beliveau, standing to the left of Chicago goaltender Glenn Hall, took the pass from Moore before setting up Richard for the one-timer. Richard scored his 500th goal at 15:52.
“The great crowd of 14,000 and change at the Montreal Forum went nuts,” Fisher recalled. “When the goal was announced, the ovation for him was a little over two minutes and probably would have continued if the officials hadn’t got the teams together and restarted the play.”
Unlike the crowd, Richard’s reaction to his 500th goal was nothing out of the ordinary; he treated it like any other goal he had scored.
“The Rocket, in his own mind, knew that he had to score goals to be the hockey player that he was to become,” Fisher said. “He was being paid to score goals and that’s why when he scored a big goal it wasn’t a big deal to him.”
Richard retired following the 1959-60 season with 544 career goals. On March 14, 1963, Gordie Howe became the second to score 500. In total, 39 players are members of the NHL’s 500 Goal Club.
”Richard got a whole flood of goals and he was the first to score 500,” Fisher said. “Now they are popping in the 500th one after another, but it didn’t happen in those days.”
“It’s really hard to think of yourself in that group (with Richard and Howe),” Dallas Stars center Mike Modano said. "They are such great players and such great guys; ambassadors of the game. A lot of them have changed the way the game has been played. Rocket and those who early on got 500 goals, set a standard that we all strive to meet and challenge in trying to match ourselves … some of us have been lucky to do it.”