Hockey Hall of Fame - Stanley Cup Journals: 15
The Stanley Cup Journal

July 11, 2003 -- "Some people say it was destiny, but I just think I was in the right place at the right time," admits Henri Richard.

This edition of Stanley Cup Journal is about fate. Circumstances. Being in the right place at the right time.

It's about two outstanding hockey players. Both from the Canadian province of Quebec. Both selected by a committee of their peers to become Honoured Members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

It's a story of 'have' and 'have not.'

Henri and Maurice Richard
Henri and Maurice 'Rocket' Richard.
Depending on how you look at the situation, being born in Montreal the younger brother of Canadiens' superstar Maurice 'Rocket' Richard was either a blessing or a burden to a young Henri Richard. "All I ever had in my mind was playing with the Montreal Canadiens and thinking about playing with my brother Maurice," states Henri as he reflects back on the early days of his hockey career.

Although there was a fifteen-year difference in their ages, Henri Richard couldn't help but be influenced by his oldest brother, the Rocket. "I wanted to play hockey because Maurice was playing hockey. But I never said it to anybody. When I was in school, they used to ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I never said, 'A hockey player.' I always said, 'A plumber' or something like that," laughs Henri. But Maurice and Henri Richard were substantially different types of hockey players. Maurice, born August 4, 1921, was solidly built at 5'10" and 180 pounds. Henri was slight at 5'7" and 160 pounds. The Rocket was fierce in his absolute determination to do anything possible to score while Henri, the 'Pocket Rocket,' was renowned for his excellent stickhandling and playmaking abilities. Although they shared the same genes, the Richard brothers had little in common outside the fact they both excelled in their hockey careers.

"A lot of people said I wouldn't make it in the NHL," shrugs Richard. But the Pocket Rocket proved his detractors wrong. "Elmer Lach was my coach in junior and he told me, 'You'll never make the NHL.' Well, I made it ahead of quite a few good hockey players," smiles Henri.

1955-56 Montreal Canadiens
The 1955-56 Montreal Canadiens as inscribed on the Stanley Cup. Nine Honoured Members played on that team. Consider the following, the Champion 2001-02 Detroit Red Wings roster included: Chelios, Fedorov, Hasek, Hull, Larionov, Lidstrom, Robitaille, Shanahan and Yzerman.
When Henri Richard joined the Montreal Canadiens in 1955, no one could possibly have known that not only was he going to win the Stanley Cup as a rookie, but that he was stepping into a lineup that would win five consecutive Stanley Cup championships and is regarded as arguably the greatest dynasty in NHL history. "That was a great team. There were so many great hockey players. I wouldn't have said it before, but now that it's all over, I thought winning like that was normal." For five seasons, a Montreal Canadiens' juggernaut rolled over the rest of the NHL, led by nine players and a coach who would go on to be honoured with selection to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Coach Toe Blake has been joined in the Hockey Hall of Fame by Jean Beliveau, Bernard 'Boom Boom' Geoffrion, Doug Harvey, Tom Johnson, Dickie Moore, Bert Olmstead, Jacques Plante, Maurice Richard and Henri, who was elected in 1979

The Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in Henri's rookie season. In fact, they won the championship his first five seasons in the NHL. Then, they won the Cup again in 1965, 1966, 1968 and 1969. In 1971, the Pocket Rocket won the Stanley Cup for a tenth time, with Henri scoring the game-winning goal in Game 7 against the Chicago Black Hawks. Richard won an eleventh Stanley Cup championship in 1973, and as captain, was presented with hockey's most prestigious trophy by NHL president Clarence Campbell.

Twenty seasons. Eleven Stanley Cup rings for Henri Richard. More than any other player.

But there's another side to the Stanley Cup story. It's a cruel side in many ways, but it's a side that gives sport both its unpredictability and its exhilaration.

Whispers within hockey circles wondered who would be the first player selected in the 1971 Entry Draft. Would it be Guy Lafleur, who led the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League collecting 130 goals and 209 points with the Quebec Remparts, or Marcel Dionne, who led the Ontario Hockey Association with 62 goals and 143 points for the St. Catharines Black Hawks? The Montreal Canadiens, who enjoyed the luxury of choosing first overall, sat in the catbird seat - two strong, French-Canadian snipers from which to choose. They couldn't lose.

The Canadiens went with Lafleur, leaving Dionne available for the Detroit Red Wings, who salivated like Pavlov's dog knowing they had that year's second pick. Marcel had a phenomenal career, one of the greatest in the history of the National Hockey League. Through eighteen NHL seasons, Dionne scored 731 goals and 1,771 points. At the time of his retirement in 1989, Marcel's goal total was second only to Gordie Howe, while his point total was exceeded solely by Howe and Gretzky. But one achievement eluded him through his hockey career - the Stanley Cup.

Marcel Dionne
Red Wings captain Marcel Dionne.
When Marcel was asked about the pinnacle of his extraordinary hockey career, a surprising answer came back. "The ultimate hockey moment didn't even involve me. It was watching my younger brother win the Stanley Cup. Absolutely. By far. There were a lot of things that were great in my career, like going in the Hockey Hall of Fame and winning the Art Ross, but watching my young brother win the Stanley Cup was the best. You look back and think, 'Hey, that was great.'"

Marcel Dionne is nineteen years older than his brother Gilbert, who was born in 1970 - about the time Marcel was preparing for his final season of junior. But in spite of Marcel's incredible achievements, Gilbert has done something his older brother never had the opportunity to do, and that is to win the Stanley Cup. "What I accomplished individually was great, although we weren't as successful collectively with my teammates," relates Marcel. "I played with some great, great players and it wasn't our fault that we were put in those situations, but watching him (Gilbert) win the Stanley Cup was the highlight of my career."

Gilbert Dionne played six seasons in the NHL, starting with the Montreal Canadiens in 1990-91. He moved to Philadelphia in February 1995 and finished his career with five games as a Florida Panther in 1996. The left winger collected 140 points in 223 games, and won the Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1992-93.

It's the roll of the dice; the luck of the draw. Many terrific hockey players have enjoyed the sip of champagne that accompanies winning the Stanley Cup. Many outstanding players have never known that feeling.

Joe Nieuwendyk has won the Stanley Cup three times - with the Calgary Flames in 1989, the Dallas Stars in 1999 and this year, as a New Jersey Devil. On Monday, the Stanley Cup Journal travels with Nieuwendyk to New York State on his day with the Stanley Cup.

Kevin Shea has never won the Stanley Cup, but is happy to write about hockey history from his home in Toronto.

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