On Oct. 19, 1957, Maurice Richard became the first player in NHL history to score 500 goals. The Rocket set the standard for excellence in finishing. Since breaking the 500-goal barrier, 41 other NHL greats have followed in his footsteps. To commemorate Richard's seminal achievement from 55 years ago, NHL.com talked with several legends who followed him about Richard starting one of the sport's most exclusive clubs.
There are many ways to define a great NHL goal-scorer. He must possess the skill to finish and the persistence to do it over and over again; the vision to see openings that defensemen don't and the physical gifts to capitalize on them; the strength to shake off defenders and the patience to ignore instigators; and, most of all, the relentless effort that makes continuous scoring feats look effortless.
A great goal-scorer can practice his craft from anywhere. He can poke home a loose puck from on top of the goaltender, blast one in from the blue line, cut in from the boards or one-time a puck from the slot, all with the same intoxicating precision. He must score in the biggest moments, he must score to win games and reach the playoffs, and he must score to raise the Stanley Cup.
"[Richard] was better than Babe Ruth. I remember [Habs' GM Frank] Selke always made a statement. Whenever the game was tied, he'd say 'Rocket's going to score the winning goal."
-- Dickie Moore on Maurice Richard
He scores and scores again until we, as an audience, are forced to stand up and call him, simply, great.
Maurice "Rocket" Richard not only met these thresholds, but in many cases he helped write the definitions.
Richard exceeded the expectations of what an individual was capable of offensively in hockey. He was the best clutch scorer the NHL had seen, the first to score 50 goals in 50 games and, most of all, the inaugural member of the 500-goal club.
On Oct. 19, 1957, Richard took a feed from Montreal Canadiens teammate Jean Beliveau and wristed it past Chicago Blackhawks goalie Glenn Hall. When the puck hit the net, fans nearly took the roof off the Montreal Forum with a standing ovation as their hero celebrated his unprecedented achievement.
Not only was Richard scoring in bunches, but he also set the tone for great finishers converting at key moments. His six overtime goals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs are second all-time, and his .617 goals-per-game postseason average is fourth. The 82 playoff goals he scored helped his Canadiens win eight Stanley Cups, including five in a row to finish his career.
"He scored so many important goals, winning goals," teammate Dickie Moore told NHL.com. "He had that touch, and he could break around those defensemen with those arms stretched out wide. He was a strong right winger. He was a left-handed shot on the right wing -- that was his advantage."
During his first seasons in Montreal, that left-handed shot off the right wing made the Rocket a perfect fit on what would become known as the Punch Line, with center Elmer Lach and left wing Hector "Toe" Blake. Their chemistry allowed Richard to achieve, in his second season in 1944-45, what many in the game thought was impossible: 50 goals in 50 games.
Bossy followed lead of 'Rocket' RichardBy Davis Harper - NHL.com Staff Writer
Like Maurice Richard, Mike Bossy spent his career making life miserable for goaltenders while earning a berth in the 500-goal club. READ MORE ›
Richard is one of five players in NHL history to score 50 in 50. It took 36 years for New York Islanders forward Mike Bossy to replicate the feat. Bossy -- also a Montreal native, who grew up absorbing the legend of Richard -- recalled what it meant to join the Rocket in the elite group that later would add Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Brett Hull.
"Anytime you're having success, you see that certain things are achievable. Probably even more so because [Maurice] was from my hometown and he had the aura that he had around him," Bossy said. "It made the attempt to do it very satisfying, and when I achieved it, when you're, at the time, the only other person to do something that a legend of the sport did, it's very satisfying."
Even in the twilight of Richard's career, with future Hall of Famers Moore and Beliveau emerging for the Canadiens, the Rocket remained the star attraction.
"I only saw him in his last couple years and would love to have seen him during his heyday, because he was like a god there," former Blackhawks star Bobby Hull said. "[The crowd] did make him feel that way."
Considering Richard's clutch play and prolific output -- the Rocket scored 500 goals before anyone else in NHL history scored 400 -- it may come as a surprise that much of the legend centers on his famous physicality. Anecdotes abound of Richard leaving the game bruised and bloody -- sometimes from brawls he incited -- only to return, score a couple of goals and ensure another Montreal victory.
"The thing I remember most about Rocket is the way to defend against him was to not wake him up," Murray Costello, who played against Richard many times, told NHL.com. "They played so many games, and if you went early and hit him hard, you'd wake him up; he'd get ferocious, those eyes would turn to fire and then he'd come alive. Because he could really score goals -- he had that ability and he was so intense when he did it."
For a measure of Richard's influence on those who came after him, look no further than a couple of greats who followed him to the 500-goal plateau.
"The greatest compliment I ever got was paid to me by the great Scott Bowman," Hull said. "He was showing some folks around our office here in Chicago, and I jumped out of the way of his group but he said, 'Wait, wait young man.' So I stuck my head back out and he said, 'We had a guy that played for the Montreal Canadiens and coached them by the name of Toe Blake. Folks, Toe Blake told me that there were only three players in his illustrious career that he ever saw that could get the people out of their seats. That was the great Howie Morenz, Rocket Richard, and this boy right in front of you.' That was the greatest compliment I ever had.
"So when I had the opportunity to pass the Rocket with 545, then all of a sudden here I am, [the] second-highest scorer playing at that time, which meant a lot."
Robitaille, like Bossy a Montreal native who grew up in the shadow of Richard's nearly mythical status, recounted a similar wonder.
"I was doing an interview -- when you're hot sometimes they'll do a big conference call with all the reporters, and they had picked me that week -- it was after a practice and you just want to get it over with," Robitaille said. "Someone asked me, in French ... 'Hey, how do you feel about the fact that you're two goals away from Rocket Richard's record?’ It was 544, and I was at 542. I remember I froze. At the time I almost didn't feel like it was right to pass Rocket Richard. It was a very, very humbling moment. That took me aback, to be near Rocket Richard. Growing up in Quebec, the Rocket is our Babe Ruth. So it didn't feel right to me."
Others have passed Richard in the record books since his mid-century reign with the Canadiens. But his storied reputation remains that most famous comparison: hockey's Babe Ruth.
Moore, a long-time linemate and locker neighbor, said the Rocket deserves more than that.
"He was better than Babe Ruth," Moore told NHL.com. "I remember [Canadiens general manager Frank] Selke always made a statement. Whenever the game was tied, he'd say 'Rocket's going to score the winning goal,' and sure enough he would score that winning goal. That's what made him great -- he always came up with those key goals."