Detroit Red Wings vs. Montreal Canadiens, March 17, 1955
The " Richard Riots" Game

By Mark Weisenmiller

Illogical nationalism usually leads to disaster, regardless of country, and this played a big factor in a March, 1955 game in Montreal between the Canadiens and the Red Wings. Some English-Canadian and French-Canadian folks have lived in dread of each other in Eastern Canada , especially Quebec , since the end of the Second World War. French Canadians who believe in separatism for themselves from English-Canadians are a proud bunch, and this fact must be kind in mind when reading the below.

In a March 13, 1955 game between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens, Bruins defensemen Hal Laycoe hit Canadien superstar Maurice Richard with his stick on the left side of Richard's head. " The Rocket," as Richard was known, promptly went berserk. Richard took his stick, held it with two hands over his head, and hit Laycoe in the face and on Laycoe's shoulders. Amazingly Laycoe wasn't knocked silly, but actually dropped his gloves and challenged Richard to a fist-fight. Linesman Cliff Thompson managed to get Richard's stick away from him. Richard picked up a piece of the broken stick and again used it to hit Laycoe. Thompson got " The Rocket" away from Laycoe but Maurice found another stick and continued his assult on Laycoe. This time Thompson wrestled Richard to the ice, which was some feat, as the 5' 11", 180 lb. Richard was all muscle.

Now Richard directed his fury at Thompson and beat him so severely that Thompson ended up with a black eye and a black-and-blue face. Finally cooling off, Richard was ordered to the Boston Gardens first-aid station by Thompson to attend to " The Rocket"s numerous cuts and bruises.

Maurice Richard was the unquestioned leader of the great Montreal Canadiens teams of the 1950's. The Montreal-born (thus making him a French-Canadian) Richard, a right wing, was a member of the Canadiens dynasty teams of 1956-60. Every one of those clubs won the Stanley Cup in consecutive years. Moreover, the Canadiens got to the Stanley Cup Finals every year from 1951 to 1960---an incredible record that is unlikely to be repeated. Richard was the first player in National Hockey League (NHL) history to score 50 goals in a season and also was the first to record over 500 goals in his NHL career. When he retired after the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1960, Richard had 544 goals and 421 assists in 18 years of regular season play.

For NHL President Clarence Campbell---an English-Canadian---Richard's emotional outburst and physical attacks on Laycoe and Thompson were simply too much. Campbell suspended Richard for the remainder of the regular season and also the playoffs.

In the view of many die-hard French-Canadian Canadiens fans, Campbell doomed the Canadiens chances for winning the Stanley Cup that season when he suspended Richard. The Detroit Red Wings were only two points behind the Canadiens in the standings at the time. Now came an unfortunate case of game scheduling. The next Canadiens home game wasn't scheduled until March 17th, so fans of the Canadiens got angrier and angrier as the days passed.

Campbell let it be known that he was going to attend the March 17th game and also that he would be sitting in the stands, not the Forum's press box. Some hockey fans thought that in his going to the game, that Campbell was showing great intestinal fortitude to the angry Canadiens fans; others may have wondered if he had a death wish.

Almost 16,000 people packed the Forum that night. From the opening face-off it was clear that Montreal law enforcement authorities were going to be in for a long night. Campbell took his seat and immediately he and his secretary (whom he would later marry) were the targets for angry Canadiens fans who threw empty beer bottles, eggs, rotten fruit, and even pickled pig's feet ( ! ) at them. Both sat there, as the Canadiens fell behind to the Red Wings in the first period, by a score of 4 to 1. Numerous fans screamed at the NHL President " Va-t'en, Campbell ! " Not sure if he understood French, they would follow with the translation: " Scram, Campbell !" They didn't have to do so, for Campbell, who was an Oxford Rhodes scholar, could read, speak, and write French.

A tear gas forum exploded near the ice surface in the Forum, not long after 9 p.m. , and the Montreal police then ordered the venue evacuated for safety purposes. " 20th Century Hockey Chronicle" (1994) noted that " Richard and his wife ran for safety and found sanctuary in the Forum clinic. To Richard's amazement, Campbell was also there. Richard was warned to not even speak to Campbell , and Campbell was soon led out of the Forum through a back door."

The now crazy crowd met up with angry revolters who were outside of the Forum and they broke up into small bands of rioters. A September 17, 1955 issue of the Canadian news magazine " Maclean's" recorded that:

" The windows of passing street cars were smashed and, for no apparent reason, cab drivers were hauled from their vehicles and pummeled. The mob smashed hundreds of windows in the Forum by throwing bricks, chunks of ice, and even full bottles of beer. They pulled down signs and tore doors off their hinges. They toppled corner newstands and telephone booths, doused them with oil and left them burning."

Close to 40 people were injured but there were no fatalities. Seventy arrests were made but Montreal police were unable to find out who threw the tear-gas bomb inside the Forum.

Montreal Canadiens manager Frank Selke told Richard to make a speech, to be broadcast on both radio and television, to try to calm down the excited people in the unstable environment. Richard did so and the rioting stopped. The Red Wings won the game, as the Canadiens had to forfeit. Even worse for Canadiens fans, their team got to the Stanley Cup Finals that season and lost it in seven games. To whom did they lose the Stanley Cup? The Detroit Red Wings.

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