Maurice (Rocket) Richard celebrates his 500th NHL goal on Oct. 19, 1957 with adoring fans.
Courtesy Montreal Canadiens
Fifty years ago last Friday, Maurice (Rocket) Richard scored his 500th NHL goal.
Lost in the glow of the achievement was the role played by Paul Haynes, a former Canadien and later coach of the senior-league Montreal Amateurs, who saw in the future Rocket a great ability on the right wing – the opposite side of Richard’s natural left wing.
Here is how Haynes helped to shape one of the greatest talents in hockey history – aided in part by Haynes’s love of the opera.
Maurice (Rocket) Richard with his historic 500th-goal puck in 1957.
Alain Studio/Courtesy classicauctions.net
HELPING THE ROCKET MAKE BEAUTIFUL MUSIC
Late Canadien Paul Haynes’s love of opera helped shape the brilliant Maurice Richard
It was his athletic gifts and legendary toil to improve them that made Canadiens icon Maurice (Rocket) Richard a hockey player for the ages.
But it was an afternoon at the opera that set Richard on this path, even if he didn’t hear a single note of it.
Last Friday, hockey celebrated the 50th anniversary of the historic 500th career goal of the Rocket, his one-timer at the Forum whipped past Chicago goaler Glenn Hall on a crisp pass from Jean Béliveau. He was the first of 39 NHLers, to date, to reach the plateau.
The three-left-handed shots of the legendary Punch Line: (from left) Maurice Richard, Elmer Lach and Toe Blake.
Courtesy Elmer Lach
The Rocket dedicated No. 500 to Dick Irvin Sr., who had died five months earlier, saying that he’d learned all he knew in hockey from the late Canadiens coach. But Richard, then earning an NHL-high $20,000, thought too of another man who was instrumental in his development.
Who knows how Richard’s career would have turned out had Paul Haynes not slipped out of a New York hotel to attend the opera and miss a Canadiens pre-game meal that Sunday in 1941? What if Irvin had not been sufficiently angered to bench his music-loving centreman that night against the New York Americans?
Or had Haynes not then been released, career finished, his spot taken by a Prairies-native rookie named Elmer Lach – a player he had scouted a year earlier while recovering from injury?
Haynes soon was coaching the senior-level Montreal Amateurs, and among his players would be a junior-age forward named Maurice Richard. It was behind this bench that Haynes converted the future Rocket to right wing from his natural left side.
It was Richard’s prodigious strength and bruising backhand shot that convinced Haynes the 19-year-old might be more effectively placed right of centre.
“I noticed two things,” he told Richard biographer Andy O’Brien. “One was Richard’s blazing backhander, and the other was a technique born of his speed-burst and explosive strength.”
Haynes had analyzed a left-winger’s two choices while bearing down on the net.
“One is to try to swing around the left side of the defence,” he said, “in which case he often gets ridden off a good shooting angle by the defenceman on that side and is forced to keep going around the net or to pass back.
“The other is to veer into the heavily populated area in front of the net, which leaves the puck swinging around in front of him into position for a backhander.
“When caught on the ‘wrong’ side, Maurice often button-hooked around a defenceman and shifted stick and puck over to his natural side, which put him in prime position for a shot.
“Instead of shooting from an angle, he was almost dead centre. And if he couldn’t shift, he still had that sizzling backhander.”
Indeed, some of the most impressive footage of Richard shows him scoring backhand goals with as much power as many others were netting on the forehand.
Haynes believed that nine of 10 players “would get reefed by the other defenceman in the narrow passage left between the defence and goal crease. But Maurice had an extraordinary surge of speed combined with extraordinary shoulder strength.”
Haynes implored Irvin to give Richard a chance with the NHL Canadiens in 1942-43. The coach did – on left wing, well stocked on the right side. That’s where Richard debuted on Oct. 29, 1942, with Lach at centre and Tony Demers on right wing.
The Rocket broke an ankle two months later, his season done. But the following year, Irvin played a hunch based more than a little on Haynes’s advice that Richard was something very special on his wrong wing.
So was born the Punch Line – the Haynes-scouted Lach at centre, and on the left, Toe Blake, with whom Haynes had lined up with Johnny (Black Cat) Gagnon on the Canadiens of the 1930s. Photos of the Punch Line, the era’s deadliest trio, show three left-handed shooters.
Frank Selke Sr., the Canadiens general manager of the day, forever heaped praise on Haynes for the stroke of left-to-right genius, a crowning moment for a man who served as a pallbearer at the 1937 Forum funeral of his magnificent former teammate, Howie Morenz.
Haynes won a 1924 Montreal junior boxing title, was a Hall of Fame quarterback with Loyola College four years later and won the 1929 Allan Cup senior hockey title with Montreal AAA.
He played 11 years in the NHL, with the Montreal Maroons, Boston Bruins and finally with the Canadiens, scoring 61 goals and assisting on 134 more in 390 total games.
Before his death in 1989 at age 80, Haynes enjoyed great success in business, founding a marketing appraisal company which he ran until he retired in 1974. That left him time to return to New York to earn a degree in cinema studies and make a film about Montreal, when Haynes knew his journey had come full circle.
An afternoon at the New York opera more than three decades earlier had earned him splinters on Dick Irvin’s bench. And that fateful musical interlude would eventually lead him to compose an essential score in the career of Maurice Richard.
The final goal of Maurice Richard’s career came, fittingly, on a backhand. Watch it below, near the end of this short video profile narrated by broadcaster Dick Irvin Jr., son of the the Rocket’s famous coach, before the Canadiens legend was lost to cancer in 2000.
Paul Haynes (above, in this 1930s photo) scouted future Hall of Famer Elmer Lach, then lost his job to Lach before moving behind a Canadiens farm-team bench to mold Maurice Richard.
Rice Studios/Courtesy Erle Schneidman, canadiensmemorabilia.com