Henri Richard, who played on 11 Stanley Cup-winning teams, more than anyone in NHL history before earning induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, died Friday. He was 84.
Richard had lived the last years of his life in a care home in Laval, north of Montreal, as his Alzheimer’s disease worsened.
“Henri Richard was one of the true giants of the game,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “The entire National Hockey League family mourns the passing of this incomparable winner, leader, gentleman and ambassador for our sport and the Montreal Canadiens.
“Beloved by teammates as much for his determination and character as for his brilliant playmaking, he won more Stanley Cups as a player than anyone in NHL history – including five straight while skating on a line with his older brother, Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard. A 10-time NHL All-Star, the gifted centerman who came to be known as the ‘Pocket Rocket’ ranks third on the Canadiens’ all-time scoring list, won the Bill Masterton Trophy in 1974 and was voted one of the NHL’s Top 100 Players in 2017.
“When his 20-year playing career came to an end in 1975, Richard devoted himself to representing his beloved Canadiens and the game of hockey with the same tirelessness and class that he brought to the ice. We will miss him terribly and our sincere condolences go out to his wife Lise, their children Michèle, Gilles, Denis, Marie-France and Nathalie, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren and his countless friends and fans.”
Canadiens owner Geoff Molson said: “Henri ‘Pocket Rocket’ Richard was a great player and a great ambassador for the Montreal Canadiens organization. His passing is a great loss for all. My thoughts are with his family.”
Richard, born on Feb. 29, 1936, was given his nickname because of his size (5-foot-7, 160 pounds) and the fact his older brother was already known as “The Rocket.” Henri quickly showed that he was every bit as much a competitor as Maurice was with the Canadiens.
“All I ever had in my mind,” Henri told the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003, “was playing with the Montreal Canadiens and thinking about playing with my brother Maurice.”
Though Henri Richard didn’t have his brother’s offensive flair or nose for the net, he finished with 358 goals and 1,046 points (80 points more than Maurice) in his 20 seasons with the Canadiens. His 1,258 games played are still a Montreal record.
The Canadiens signed Henri Richard on Oct. 13, 1955, after two impressive seasons of junior hockey in his hometown of Montreal. He stepped right into the lineup and became part of the longest championship run in NHL history. With Henri centering a line that included his older brother on the right side, Montreal won the Stanley Cup five years in a row, from 1956-60.
There was soon no doubt that Henri was more than just Maurice’s little brother. He led the NHL in assists with 52 in 1957-58, when he was named a First-Team All-Star, and was a Second-Team All-Star in three of the next five seasons.
“There were a lot of people who told me that playing with Maurice was going to add a lot of pressure, but I never felt any pressure,” Henri said. “I was only 19 when I came up [to the Canadiens], and Montreal had a lot of great players; it wasn’t just Maurice. [Jean] Beliveau was there. Boom Boom Geoffrion and Doug Harvey were there. Jacques Plante was in the net. It was always a great thrill.”
Maurice Richard retired on Sept. 15, 1960, but Henri played another 15 seasons. He scored the Cup-winning goal against the Detroit Red Wings in 1966, sparking a run of four championships in five years. He also scored the tying and winning goals in Game 7 of the 1971 Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks, making him one of five players in NHL history to have two Cup-winning goals.
When Beliveau retired after the 1971 Cup victory, Richard succeeded him as captain. He lifted the Cup for the 11th time two years later when the Canadiens defeated the Blackhawks in a six-game Final.
Richard was a highly acclaimed leader throughout his tenure with the Canadiens. But he remained humble throughout the rest of his NHL career and his post-hockey life. It was not unusual to hear him offer words of wisdom, as his humble nature shaped him into the person he had become.
“Everybody should be a captain out there,” Richard once told SI.com’s FanNation. “The letter is more a symbolic thing, that’s what I think.”
Richard retired after 1974-75 season. His 11 championships (three more than his brother) are tied for the most by a player in North American team sports with Bill Russell of the NBA’s Boston Celtics.
He kept strong ties with the Canadiens long after his retirement, making numerous public appearances on behalf of the club and eventually serving as a public relations ambassador. Richard’s No. 16 was retired by the Canadiens on Dec. 10, 1975. He joined his brother in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979, was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1991 and was named as one of the NHL’s 100 Greatest Players in 2017.