Photo Credit: National Hockey league
The Zamboni Time Machine is Marty’s Illegal Stick’s look back at the zany, interesting, and historic events, characters, and teams from hockey’s glorious past. The Zamboni name is used with permission.
In this edition, The Zamboni Time Machine takes us back to St. Patrick’s Day 1955 in Montreal, Quebec for the Richard Riot. The city of Montreal has always had an unbridled passion for the Canadiens, and in particular for Maurice “Rocket” Richard. That passion would spill over on that fateful night and spark a riot that would cause over one hundred thousand dollars (over one million dollars today) in damage to their own city.
The cause of the riot actually started four days earlier on March 13th during a game between the Canadiens and the Boston Bruins. Hal Laycoe struck Montreal superstar “Rocket” Richard in the head with his stick, sparking a brawl between the two. The linesman who tried to break up the fight would end up on the receiving end of a fist from the Rocket and fell to the ice a bloody mess.
Richard’s striking of the official prompted NHL President Clarence Campbell to suspend the Rocket for the rest of the regular season as well as the soon to start playoffs. The Canadiens next game was against the Detroit Red Wings on March 17th at the Montreal Forum, and to say the crowd was hostile was an understatement. To make matters worse President Campbell, who was the most hated man in Montreal for suspending Richard, attended the game!
During this era, there was no such thing as luxury suites or box seats, so Campbell sat amongst the very crowd that despised him – and they certainly did not hide their feelings. The NHL President was subjected to a tidal wave of verbal abuse, and had tomatoes, shoes, and other objects thrown at him. The final straw, however, came at the end of the first period. With the Canadiens losing 4-1, someone exploded a tear gas bomb in the arena near Campbell’s seat, forcing the crowd to evacuate.
The Montreal Police Department did an incredible job of getting Campbell to a secure area in the Forum, but could do nothing to stop the riot that was breaking out in the rest of the building. The chaos would spill out into the streets, and the Richard Riot (or L’Affaire Richard in French) was on. All night long, stores were looted, vehicles were burned, and windows were broken all over downtown Montreal. The next day, Richard himself went on Montreal radio to urge calm, which worked as the rioting stopped.
As a result of the riot, the Canadiens were forced to forfeit the game. They would end up facing the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final, but without the Rocket, Montreal would go down in defeat – which was a rarity in the 1950’s.
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