In fact, the moment was a symbolic 16 seconds in duration, the sweater number of the Hall of Famer that since 1975 has been retired, hanging from the rafters first of the Montreal Forum, for the last 24 years at Bell Centre.
Richard died March 6 at age 84. Winner of a record 11 Stanley Cup championships, voted in the League’s 2017 Centennial year as one of the NHL’s 100 greatest players, Richard succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease after a lengthy battle.
Fifteen years the junior of fellow late Canadiens legend Maurice (Rocket) Richard, who died 20 years ago this May, Henri Richard had been largely out of the public eye the past decade, his wife of 63 years, Lise, and members of the family by his side daily at his care home in Laval, a community north of Montreal.
He died in the early hours of March 6, his wife and a daughter, Marie-France, by his side. A funeral and memorial service for Richard’s family and friends will be held on March 16 in Laval.
On Tuesday, 19 members of the Richard family were at Bell Centre in a team suite. They included Lise, attending her first game since her husband’s health began to decline a decade ago, the couple’s five children — Michele, Gilles, Denis, Marie-France and Nathalie — and many of their grandchildren.
Canadiens public address announcer Michel Lacroix walked the crowd through some of Richard’s career highlights in the pregame ceremony.
And then came a scoreboard video that offered many more, soundtracked by Quebec singer Fernand Gignac’s “Le Temps Qu’il Nous Reste (The Time We Have Left).”
Sixteen seconds of silence followed, the Richard family having been shown a moment before on the scoreboard applauding a husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather, and also the crowd for its standing ovation.
The Richard family Tuesday at Bell Centre. From left: Michele, Denis, Lise, Gilles, Marie-France and Nathalie.
The Richards have been buoyed, even overwhelmed, by the outpouring of affection and support received since last Friday, messages arriving from well beyond Montreal. Denis Richard said before the game that he was particularly moved when he learned that the Western Canada Montreal Canadiens Fan Club in Saskatoon had tweaked its recreational-league dressing room, built as a reasonable facsimile of the Canadiens’ old Montreal Forum quarters, to honor his father with framed photos and a No. 16 jersey.
“I think they did a very, very nice job remembering our father,” Denis said on behalf of his brother and sisters, surrounded by family and friends in their Bell Centre suite. “It’s nice that we can be all together here for a game. If we hadn’t lost our father, our mother wouldn’t be here tonight. She’d be at his side.”
With her daughter, Helene, Elise Beliveau was in her traditional seat three rows behind the Montreal bench on Tuesday. She remembered a man dear to her and to her late husband, Jean, who upon his retirement handed the Canadiens’ captaincy to Richard.
“Henri was such a good kid… well, for me, everybody’s a kid,” she said with a laugh. “We used to have a lot of fun. Henri was such a nice guy, such a nice personality. He was a real good friend and he loved people.
“Henri and Jean had almost the same personality, even if Jean spoke a little more because he was used to going to more events and was out in public more. If Jean were here tonight, he’d be very sad that Henri is gone. He liked Henri. No, he loved him.”
Maurice Richard Jr. had his own memories of Uncle Henri, a man who was just a decade older than himself.
“I mostly remember when we went to the home of our grandfather, Onesime (Maurice and Henri’s father),” he said. “Every Sunday we were there, all the kids. I remember the family reunions.
“I don’t believe that my father and Henri were that different,” he said, contradicting many of the stories you’ll hear. “No, in many ways, they were almost the same. They were both quiet. With his friends, when my father went on fishing trips, he was a different man. More open. Henri might have seemed shy, but he had lots of friends and he talked a lot when for years he ran his tavern in Montreal.”
Retired defenseman Hal Gill played 196 of his 1,108 NHL games for the Canadiens between 2009-12. In Montreal on Tuesday in his role as a broadcaster for the Nashville Predators, Gill remembers Richard being on Bell Centre ice on Oct 22, 2011 to present him with a silver stick for having played 1,000 regular-season games.
“The way he carried himself, and all the alumni, when I was here, the class that they had,” Gill said. “Obviously, they’re hockey gods here in Montreal. In the locker room we had a ton of respect for them, carrying the torch for those guys.”
Gill shook his head about Richard having played much taller and heavier than his size should have allowed. And he laughed at the memory of standing beside Richard during his silver stick presentation; he was roughly 6-foot-9 on skates, towering 14 inches over the 5-foot-7 former captain.
“Henri took a beating back then,” he said. “He was in the thick of it in the glory years. You were either tough or you were out.
“Henri was a class act, all the way around. Eleven Stanley Cups? Even to think about that, it’s crazy. Everyone who’s made it to the NHL has overcome something. Henri’s size was never an issue. In fact, he embraced it and played a hard brand of hockey. I think it makes his accomplishments more impressive.
“His size would have been an issue. To anyone but him.”
Photos: Getty Images/Montreal Canadiens/HHoF Images