Pocket Rocket is such a fitting nick name for the younger brother of the Rocket. At 15 years younger and three inches shorter than his legendary brother, the name just works in too many ways. Thing is, the age and height differences had absolutely zero impact on his ability to play hockey. In fact, his career point total eclipses that of his legendary big brother.
Henri joined the Canadiens camp prior to the 1955-56 season. After a stellar junior career, the Canadiens gave him the chance to audition for the team and play with his brother. I've read that many were of the opinion that his invitation to camp was nothing more than a favour to his star of a brother. They also believed he was simply too small and young to play at the highest level.
Boy were they wrong, the first of which to notice this were the Habs insiders at the time. I've read that he controlled the play masterfully in scrimmages, with amazing hockey sense and fantastic stickhandling. Apparently club veterans would joke that there should be two pucks in the scrimmages; one for Pocket Rocket and one for the rest of them. It was becoming quickly apparent that the younger Richard was no slouch, and in fact was right up there with his big bro in the skill department.
As you probably know already, 1955-56 was the first season of a five-straight cup run for the Canadiens. Henri Richard was a huge part of all five wins. In his very first season, he put up 40 points, added 8 in the playoffs, and had a drink from Lord Stanley's mug. Then, he repeated that last part four times in a row. He dramatically increased his regular season point totals after his rookie year, never falling below 51 points in the four cup years that followed.
With his brother now gone, and he being the only Richard dazzling the fans in Montreal, he was a leader on the team. He adapted his game at the NHL level in an amazing way. He realized in his first season that he wouldn't be scoring at the professional level at the same rate he had in amateur hockey. He became one of the greatest playmakers the league has ever seen, and even led the league in assists twice. Where his brother was a prolific scorer, he was a prolific playmaker. Don't let that fool you, though. He topped the 20-goal plateau nine times in his career, so he was also pretty good at finding twine.
On to the night in question. A road game in Buffalo was the stage for Richard to join a highly exclusive club. It was his 1194th game in the NHL, all while donning the tricolore. With the Habs up a goal in the game, the Captain assisted on a Jimmy Roberts goal, becoming only the seventh player in league history, and second Hab (after Jean Beliveau) to join that club. Even Maurice failed to get to 1000, which should tell you how big of a feat it is. It seems Buffalo was equally annoying in 1973, as they managed to come back and force a 2-2 tie. Even the ghosts of Sabres past annoy me...
He scored two Stanley cup winning goals in his career, and was a major part of six cups outside of the five-straight. He was named captain of the team in 1971, and probably would have been much sooner if not for Jean Beliveau being Jean Beliveau. He captained the team to one more cup before retiring after the 1974-75 season. I know this is going to cause some controversy, but I'm not adverse to saying that there is an argument for him having been an even bigger star than his brother. I'll categorically deny that this is my opinion, but I think the argument could be made.
And so, the Pocket Rocket would retire with 358 goals and 688 assists for 1046 points in 1256 games. His number is retired by the Canadiens, he is a member of the hockey hall of fame, and his whopping 11 cups as a player is a record that is likely to stand for eternity. Considering that he did all this while bearing the name Richard, and the connotations that come with it, it's pretty damn amazing. When you add the fact that he was 5'7 and didn't weigh much more than 150 pounds, it's completely astonishing. He did what he did out of sheer determination and skill, and he deserves to have this article written about him. Hell, I'm not even sure I'm worthy to be writing about him.
Long live the Richards.
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