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Maurice has never let his fans down but there have been moments when he has worried them sick. Largely because of his tempestuous temperament, he is what you might describe as incident-prone. A few years back, for instance, during a Red Wings-Canadiens game in Montreal which referee Hugh McLean was officiating, the Rocket swooped in from his wing to follow up a rebound and in the resulting melee before the Detroit goal, was sent sprawling to the ice by the Detroit center who practically used a headlock. There was no whistle for a penalty. Boiling with indignation, Richard skated up to McLean and demanded to know what the referee was going to do about it. McLean did something about it. He handed Richard a misconduct penalty for abusive language. Burned up by what he considered a vast miscarriage of justice, the Rocket tossed all night in his berth as the Canadiens traveled by train to New York for a game with the Rangers. The next day, still smoldering, he was sitting in the lobby of the Picadilly Hotel when he spotted McLean. He rushed over and grabbed the official by his coat collar, but before he had time to continue his protest, Camil DesRoches and some teammates jumped on him and managed to pull him away. It was very fortunate they did. For his assault on McLean, Richard was fined $500 by President Clarence Campbell of the N.H.L., the highest fine ever levied by the league, but he had been restrained in the nick of time. A real assault and Richard would have been suspended.
Last year this almost happened. In a game in New York, Ron Murphy of the Rangers swung at Geoffrion with his stick. He missed. Geoffrion, retaliating, caught Murphy on the head. The blow fractured Murphy's skull and he was out for the season. Geoffrion was suspended for all the remaining games against the Rangers that season. As Richard saw it, Geoffrion had been punished all out of proportion for a fight he had not started. Richard was then "writing" via a ghost, a column for the Samedi Dimanche, a French-language weekly. "If Mr. Campbell wants to throw me out of the League for daring to criticize him," Richard stated in his column, "let him do it. Geoffrion is no longer the same since his affair with Murphy...he is demoralized and humiliated for having dared to defend himself against a sneaky and deliberate attack by a third-class player. We know that on numerous occasions, he [ President Campbell] has rendered decisions against Canadiens players.... Let Mr. Campbell not try to gain publicity for himself by taking to task a good boy like Boom Boom Geoffrion simply because he is a French-Canadian.... If this brings me reprisals, I will step out of hockey, and I know that any other players on the Canadiens team will do the same."
Well, here is something?a direct challenge to the authority of the president of the league. Richard was clearly miles out of line. The affair could have been disastrous, not only for Richard but for organized hockey, had it not been handled with consummate intelligence by Frank Selke, the managing director of Les Canadiens who has been a part of hockey since 1906. At the heart of the crisis Les Canadiens returned to Montreal after a road trip. Selke was at the station to meet them. He collected Richard, Geoffrion, Ken Mosdell and their wives and took them to dinner at The Windsor hotel. He never once mentioned what was on his mind and everyone's. The dinner over, Richard and Selke found themselves seated alone together in the hotel lobby for a moment.
"I'm surprised, Mr. Selke," Richard said, "I thought you were going to be very angry with me."
"Maurice," Selke said quietly, "I've never known you to do a rotten thing in your life before. You're accusing President Campbell of things that aren't true. That isn't like Maurice Richard. I don't believe you wrote that column."
"No, I didn't, but I authorized it," Richard replied. "I take full responsibility."
"I want you to act like a big leaguer," Selke went on. " President Campbell's office is just across the street. I know he works nights. I want you to come over with me and see him."
Richard sat silently for a moment. Then the two got up and called on Campbell. Richard spoke up immediately. " Mr. Campbell, I want to apologize to you," he said, his deep voice almost an octave lower than usual. "I apologize not because anyone has told me to do so. I want to apologize because it is the decent thing to do. I have been wrong to say the things I said. It will not happen again."
During the weeks that followed Richard's apology, which ended the affair, many of the French papers accused him of selling out. He never batted an eye. " Maurice Richard never disappoints you," Mr. Selke said recently. "We have had a lot of dealings. When a mistake is pointed out to him and he sees it is a mistake, he has the character to recognize it and to make genuine rectification. He has great class as a person."
The Richards live in a modest, trim home in Cartierville, which adjoins Bordeaux. During the hockey season Maurice spends the bulk of his free hours at home playing with his kids?Huguette, 11, a pretty girl who is a natural figure skater; Maurice Jr., 9, whom the family calls "Rocket" as matter-of-factly as if it were a prosaic nickname like Bud; Normand, 4; and Andre, an infant of 6 months. Richard is not just a devoted father, he is crazy about his kids. During the summer, at least once a week, Richard and his wife bundle the family into the car and head for the country for a day together in the open air. It is his truest pleasure.