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report on my interview with Henri Richard

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  • mhdibiase
    The story about how I got to interview Henri Richard could almost be seen as something out of Woodward and Bernstein. I had written the Pocket Rocket two
    Message 1 of 2 , Jun 2 8:15 AM
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      The story about how I got to interview Henri Richard could almost be
      seen as something out of Woodward and Bernstein.

      I had written the Pocket Rocket two months before, letting him know I
      would be in the area if he was interested in being interviewed. I
      never got word back. The day after I arrived in Montreal, I went to
      where he lives and realized I couldn't leave a note on his door like
      I did with Elmer Lach. I was at a loss what to do when I remembered
      something Dollard St. Laurent told me when we were chit-chatting
      before our interview. He told me he keeps in touch with Henri and I
      took a chance and called St. Laurent up, asking him whether he could
      relay a message from me to Henri, asking him to contact me to set up
      an interview.

      St. Laurent, very graciously, agreed. Ten minutes later my hotel room
      phone rang and it was St. Laurent telling me to call Richard at his
      business phone Monday morning between 10:30AM to 11:00AM.

      The next day, after I had finished my interview with Bobby Rousseau
      at Grand Mere, I drove back into Grand Mere town proper and found the
      nearest pay phone. After waiting for someone to finish their call, I
      commandeered the phone, dialed the number and lo and behold got
      Richard!

      I told him about myself and asked him whether he was willing to be
      interviewed. He didn't say no but he told me he had to be away during
      the week on business and thought he wouldn't be back until Friday
      evening. I asked him if we could meet on Saturday then? He was non-
      commital but I gave him my hotel room number and asked him to leave
      me a message when he got back and he agreed on that note.

      I felt pretty good and confident.

      Friday was a very busy day for me and I didn't get back to my hotel
      until 10:00PM. When I got back there was a message for me from Henri
      Richard that he had left Friday morning informing me that he would be
      at his business office at a certain time Friday afternoon; that we
      could do the interview then!

      My heart sank. I blew it. The only time in my life I wished I had had
      a cellphone but I realized even if I had had a cellphone I couldn't
      have made it from Pointe Claire (where I was interviewing Dick Irvin
      Jr.) to his offices in Laval in time; not with Montreal rush hour
      traffic the way it was.

      I went to bed feeling disgusted.

      Saturday was rainy and gloomy. I puttered around doing nothing,
      wondering what to do. I took a chance that I had misinterpreted
      Richard's message that he had meant he would be available Friday. I
      hoped he meant Saturday and I kept a vigil at his office building at
      the appointed time but the place was closed.

      I felt bad. I didn't want Henri Richard to think I had stood him up
      or was disrespecting him or anything like that. I had the notion of
      going to his condo and try to contact him to apologize for not being
      there on Friday. If he wasn't at home then i was going to compose a
      letter of apology, explaining the situation.

      I went to his condo and went into the lobby and buzzed his unit.
      Amazingly his wife answered the buzzer and I told her who I was. She
      promptly got Henri and, again, I was talking to the Pocket Rocket.

      I offered my humble apologies and explained what went wrong on
      Friday. Amazingly, he was apologetic too. We both realized it was a
      matter of getting our signals crossed. He asked me if I could see him
      Sunday. I told him I was leaving for home Sunday morning. There was a
      pause and I asked him tentatively, could we do the interview now?

      There was a a pause on his end and he said yes but he added he didn't
      have much time. He needed to get his taxes done. (It was the same
      with Dick Irvin Ir. he needed to do his taxes too).

      The next thing I knew, he buzzed me in and I was on the elevator to
      the ninth floor of his building.

      I knocked on the door and there he was...

      When I was nine years old my first memory of NHL hockey was watching
      on TV the Montreal Canadiens beat the Flyers in the 1973 Semifinals
      and the one Canadien who intrigued me the most was Henri Richard and
      there he was...in the flesh.

      He looked nothing like he was during his playing days. His angular
      features have now softened. His long mane of silvery hair is now
      short and clipped and neatly styled.

      He ushered me into his condo. I thought Gilles Tremblay's condo was
      sumptuous and guess what, Henri Richard's place is just as a
      sumptuous.

      He took me into the TV room where he had the Stanley Cup playoffs on.
      The walls were adorned with magnificent memorabilia. There were
      trophies, portraits, etc. I was in the presence of NHL history and
      felt humbled and honored by it.

      Richard asked me to wait a minute while he organized some papers. He
      went into the other room and I heard papers shuffling. He made no
      small talk nor did I offer any. (Which didn't bother me at all).

      After a few minutes, Richard asked me if I was ready and I told him I
      was. We sat at a small dining room table.

      The interview only last roughly thirty minutes. Interestingly, I
      never asked him a question about his brother Maurice although he
      mentioned his brother's name a few times during the course of the
      interview.

      He began by discussing what being a Montreal Canadien meant and what
      a great honor it was. What he told me was standard stuff he had told
      other interviewers.

      I asked him was there ever a time during his rookie season when he
      had doubts as to whether he could make it in the NHL. I mentioned to
      Richard what Beliveau told me about it taking him two years to feel
      comfortable with NHL play.

      Richard amazed me by telling me that he never had a doubt that he
      could play in the NHL. Even when he was growing up he wanted to be in
      the NHL in the worst way; that he never doubted his ability; all he
      needed was a chance and he got it...and made the most of it.

      Sitting there, listening to him say that, I was at once deeply
      impressed with the quiet, supreme inner confidence of the man. He was
      not bragging. This was a man who truly believed in himself and knew
      what he could do on the ice. His eleven Stanley Cups is testament to
      that confidence.

      I asked Richard about his amazing speed on the ice, telling him what
      I had learned from my interviews with other players about him. I
      asked Richard whether he was born with that speed or did he have to
      develop it as he was growing up. Again his answer spoke volumes about
      the athlete and the man.

      He said, quite succinctly, that his speed was something he always
      possesed. He told me, "it's like Tiger Woods on the golf course.
      Either you have it or you don't have it. I knew I had it."

      Wow.

      I like to add that I was prepared for the famed Richard family
      reticence but during the course of my interview the reticence was
      never there. The moment I finished asking my question, the answer was
      forthcoming.

      Richard never paused or hemmed or hawed. His answers were short,
      clipped, precise, and neatly offered (as he was doing this I made it
      a point to keep my questions short, clipped, and precise too).

      As he was talking, I was struck by the sound of his voice. I was
      anticipating the deep tones I had heard from Beliveau, Rousseau, and
      Tremblay. Henri Richard's voice is very thin and high-pitched with
      that distinctive French Canadian lilt to it. There were moments when
      Richard offered a dry (and earthy) humor to his account.

      I asked him about Toe Blake and Richard spoke of Blake in terms of a
      deep abiding love. He truly admired and loved the man...like a son to
      a father.

      When I asked Henri who was the unsung hero of the 1956-1960 Habs
      dynasty he didn't mention a player. He said it was Toe Blake. I was
      struck by that but I could't resist asking him to name a player and
      what followed was extraordinary.

      At first he couldn't come up with a player to fit the role as unsung
      hero. I tentatively mentioned what Beliveau told me about Claude
      Provost. When I said that, Richard agreed and then it happened...

      Richard paused and told me about how he and Provost were close
      friends, roommates. He said to me in a voice tinged with momentary
      sadness about how it was a shame that Provost died at age 51?. It
      lasted only a moment but I could see that the mask slipped from
      Richard's face and I could see deep into the man. It was a heartfelt
      moment.

      I wanted to question him in depth about the 1965 Stanley Cup finals.
      Sadly, Richard has no memory of it. He kept confusing it with the
      1971 finals. I offered some tentative facts hoping to jog his memory
      but he drew a blank. I decided right then and there to drop a whole
      line of questioning (which is why the interview only lasted 30
      minutes).

      He did remember the 1966 finals and we discussed his controversial
      overtime goal in game six.

      I told him that Bryan Watson still maintains that he pushed it into
      the net and what Rousseau felt that he had never touched it. Richard
      told me the same story he told Dick Irvin Jr. in his book "Habs". He
      was in the Detroit zone, one of the Wings tripped him. He was sliding
      on the ice. The puck glanced off his shoulder towards the post.
      Crozier misread the play and the puck went in. He maintained that if
      Crozier had played it right it would never have gone in.

      We went on to the 1967 Finals. Again it was the stunned silence that
      spoke volumes. Richard's theory about the loss is this: he mentioned
      the 1967 Expo again but he also said that the Montreal press kept
      writing that the Habs were going to kill the Leafs. The whole
      Canadian press was saying the same thing and Richard told me that the
      team really believed it. With that Richard shook his head.

      he told me a funny story about Bryan Watson. Richard has a gold ring
      with the letter HR etched in diamonds. he's had it for decades. When
      Watson was a teammate he asked Richard what the HR stood for and he
      said "it means home run, Bugsy". And Richard said with a chuckle for
      the remainder of his career whenever he played against Bugsy and
      checked him into the boards, he would say, "home run, Bugsy," and
      scoot off.

      Richard spoke nostalgically about the trains rides during the early
      parts of his career and how the team bonded together.

      Richard told me that when he first started playing, that he ranged
      all over the ice before Toe Blake pulled him off, lecturing him to
      stay within his lane.

      And then it was over.

      As I was packing up my materials I couldn't resist telling him about
      my memories of him in the 1973 finals. I told him, "you were like a
      man amongst boys. You made the Flyers look like little kids."

      And he gave me a subtle grin that told me that he remembered that too.

      And that was that.

      A great way to end a trip to Montreal!

      Matt
    • zpmboca@aol.com
      Another tremendous installment, Matt! Couple of quick notes. Yes, Richard s OT goal against the Wings was as he described it. A fluke play, and without the
      Message 2 of 2 , Jun 2 9:22 AM
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        Another tremendous installment, Matt!

        Couple of quick notes. Yes, Richard's OT goal against the Wings was as he
        described it. A fluke play, and without the many different angles available via
        current replays, it's virtually impossible to tell what happened.

        But the bottom line is the Canadiens were a vastly superior team and only
        lost the first 2 games because of the long layoff between their semifinal series
        and the start of the final. They would've won G6 had it continued. I saw the
        game on live TV and can safely say the Red Wings were completely bottled up
        by the Habs the entire 62 minutes. Their 2 goals were scored on tip-ins of
        long slapshots from the blue line. It was almost complete domination by
        Montreal. Thus, they would've won with or without Richard's goal.

        Very touching about Richard's reaction to Provost's premature death. Yes, he
        was just 51. As several of your interviewees have noted, Claude was very
        underrated, yet had many skills. Aside from his famous negation of Hull in the
        '65 final, I recall a wonderful goal he scored on national TV around '68.
        Playing shorthanded against the Rangers, he reached out with his stick and
        intercepted a pass from Rod Gilbert at the red line. With the entire Rangers squad
        heading the other way, Provost had all day to skate in on the Rangers goalie
        (presumably Giacomin). In a play that verged on a slow motion replay, he
        faked the goalie one way and went the other, then backhanded the puck into a
        wide-open net. The goal was replayed several times, and announcer Jim Gordon, a
        Ranger fan, couldn't help but comment, "Mmm, I could watch that one all day."
        Not bad for a "defensive specialist".

        That is also too bad that Richard can't remember the '65 final, a classic in
        its own way. But it was kind of similar to the '71 series, wherein Henri was
        the undisputed hero.

        Z. Peter Mitchell



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