"What makes Toronto tick?" asked the TV announcer. "What makes Toronto dead?" Maurice (the Rocket) Richard asked back. Richard, who has played right wing for the Club de Hockey Canadien Inc. every winter since 1942, sat, his shoes off, in a dark room in the Royal York hotel, laughing at Red Skelton and smoking a cigar—a burly man of 38 with an erect carriage, tilted, somber, devout face, inflexible eye, abundant black hair which also thickly mats his chest and back, making him look like a mangy bear, and queer, thin, knobby legs. "If he had another hair on his back, he'd be up a tree," says Kenny Reardon, who is vice president of the Montreal Canadiens. Richard's roommate in Toronto, Marcel Bonin, who once wrestled a toothless, suffering bear in a carnival ("I never win," he admits) was out somewhere in the cold, solid city. The Ontario Good Roads Association was making roisterous marches up and down the long, dim hotel corridors, X's on the backs of their red necks and violent apocalypses on their neckties. One of them hammered on Richard's door.
"Go to bed, damn it!" Richard shouted. "That's my whole life trouble," he said, "trying to sleep. My mother was the same way. If I sleep four or five hours a night, it's good. TV puts me to sleep every time. Where would we be without TV, eh?
"Eighteen years of this," he said. "In the town. Out of the town. I really get tired of all these trips." He got up and closed the transom, shutting out the racket. "People bother me," he said. "The young ones, they're all right. It's the old ones who have had a drink or two too much, yelling at me, asking all sorts of questions." He made a face. "I was at this sports banquet. A famous person got up to speak. He had too much to drink, like James Dean in that movie. He kept on talking, and no one knew how to stop him. It was embarrassing. I'll never be like that."
And no one, certainly, will ever be quite like Maurice Richard, who next week, as their captain, leads the Canadiens toward their fifth consecutive Stanley Cup. Not even himself. "You should have come up five years ago," he had said in the men's room of a Montreal-Detroit sleeper several days before, where he has sat so many nights reading until the porter fills the room with hockey players' shoes. "It's getting to be my time now. I'm getting near the end. I have had some good times, some bad. I started out with three bad injuries [fractured left ankle, left wrist, right ankle] and am ending with three bad injuries [sliced Achilles tendon, fractured left tibia, depressed fracture of facial bone]. The old days are gone. These are the new days. I'll never score five goals in one night." He looked out the window at the dismal, glaring snow, listening to the wheels as the train bore him to his 1,091st game. Behind him, the glorious past, the records: 50 goals (and in a 50-game season); five goals in a playoff game; 18 game-winning goals in 14 playoff series, six of which were in overtime; 26 hat tricks; 618 goals; 1,076 points; at least one goal in nine straight games; etc.
"He was a wartime hockey player," says Frank J. Selke, the 66-year-old managing director of the Canadiens. "When the boys came back, they said they'd look after Maurice. Nobody looked after Maurice. He looked after himself. When the boys came back, they said they'd catch up with him. The only thing that's caught up with Maurice is time."
"It's changed. I'm the oldest; the rest are kids," Richard said one night in a Detroit bar that advertised a stereophonic jukebox. "I know I'm not playing good hockey now. I'm weak now. My legs are tired. After a minute and a half, I'm tired. I will try to diet. I weigh 194 pounds. I got to take off five or six pounds before the playoffs. Only one beer. That's all I'll drink. I'll drink gin. That isn't fattening."
He watched on TV a tape of the game he had played in an hour earlier. He had scored two goals. The bartender got in front of the TV while he scored the first goal, and Richard did not see it. He was told he had been chosen the game's best player. "Me?" he said. "I don't believe it. I did not deserve it. Luck."
"He kids himself that if he's feeling well, he's at the right weight," Selke says. "You don't feel well at the right weight. You're crabby. But he makes so much money!. He's wonderful to sign. 'How much do you want?' I ask. 'How much do you want to give me?' he says. I always give him a little more than anyone else I hear about through the grapevine. He has done so much for the game."
Richard's annual income has been estimated at $60,000—half of it from his contract with the Canadiens—his total worth at $300,000. He is a public relations man for Dow Brewery and Quebec Natural Gas, has part interest in a store that sells gas appliances, has bought a tavern that he is calling No. 9 after his uniform number and referees professional wrestling matches. "They're smart guys, the wrestlers," he says. "Ninety percent of them are educated. I know most of the guys. I wrestle a lot with Boom Boom [Geoffrion] in the room. Do a lot of crazy things."
"I've been in hockey 53 years, and I've never had an aging athlete admit he was through," Selke says. "He misses passes he never missed. He tops the puck like a golfer. He never did that. He's gotten too big in the middle. I'd bench him. He'd damn well get in shape. I wouldn't sign him for another year. I wouldn't let him make a fool of himself in front of a crowd." Richard had played ineptly the night before, and Selke, like a proud, rigorous, loving father, spoke not in intemperate anger but with old, gruff affection, hurt by loss and memory. If his Maurice wanted to play next year, he would probably relent.