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The Rocket

Need a hockey fix? Puck up.


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WITH the NHL lockout in full force and no Sharks games planned for the near future, Biter just needed a hockey fix. So we went to Quebec, where hockey is akin to royalty.

"What the hell are Canadians going to do without hockey for an entire season?" Biter asked a fellow at the bar in Montreal's Sheraton Hotel, spitting distance from the Bell Centre where the Montréal Canadiens play.

"It's going to be a long winter," he said.

A few days later in Gatineau, Quebec, Biter asked Benoît Charron, a tour guide at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the same question.

"It's going to be a long winter," he replied.

A perfect place to fill our hockey void, the Canadian Museum of Civilization currently houses the exhibition, "Rocket Richard: The Legend—The Legacy." Maurice "The Rocket" Richard played for the Canadiens from 1942 to 1960 and was French Canada's greatest sporting legend, a world icon, an inspiration and source of pride for French Canadians—precisely at a time when they were redefining their relationship with the rest of Canada in the post-World War II era.

Conversely, one Canadian told us the entire problem of violence in hockey began with Maurice Richard. Biter doesn't know enough to say either way, but in one infamous match in 1955, Richard slugged a linesman. NHL president Clarence Campbell—an Anglophone despised by Francophones as a patsy for the arrogant ruling elite—suspended him for the rest of the season. Montreal fans physically attacked Campbell at the next game, threw a smoke bomb on the ice and rioted outside as a result. Some historians speculate this riot led to the Quiet Revolution, when French Quebeckers began to rise up against a society with which they felt extremely dissatisfied.

But the riot was only a stain on Richard's long, illustrious career. As a cultural figure, he was much bigger than the game itself. Canadians deemed him a poet, leader, soldier, statesman and hero. His trademark glaring eyes still haunt former defenders—at least those who are still alive.

Violence aside, the exhibit clearly shows Richard's enduring legacy and his lasting impact on all of Quebec. Six hundred and twenty-six hockey pucks, representing the goals he scored, adorn the wall. A video of the 1996 closing of the Montreal Forum shows Richard at the age of 74 as he walks onto the ice for a standing ovation that lasted eight minutes. He died in 2000 and thousands of mourners came to see his body on display. He was given a state funeral and the procession through the streets of Montreal—16 limousines long—looked like an event one organizes when a president dies.

Yes, Biter acquired our hockey fix. Richard's infamous glaring eyes are forever ingrained in our consciousness.

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From the November 17-23, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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