Sunday, March 1, 2015

Henri Richard Autographed Card

Guess whose birthday it almost is today? Henri Richard, the ''Pocket Rocket'' Hall Of Famer was born on February 29th, 1936, so while he's lived for 79 years so far, his actual birth date fell on a Leap Year and has only come 19 times.

But the Pocket Rocket was always one for abnormal numbers: his 11 Stanley Cups in 20 years playing for the Montréal Canadiens is an average not likely to be repeated any time soon; he broke into the NHL at age 19 in 1955-56, playing on a line with his older brother and legendary Hall Of Famer in his own right Maurice 'Rocket' Richard (the first man to score 50 goals in a season and 500 in an NHL career) and Dickie Moore, another HOFer himself. All three have their jersey numbers retired by the Habs, as well.

The year of his fifth birthday, he won his first Cup; four years later, on his sixth birthday, he won his fifth. His brother wore jersey #9, Henri played in nine All-Star Games.

He managed to captain the Habs for four seasons, following reigns by other HOFers such as Émile 'Butch' Bouchard, the Rocket, Doug Harvey and Jean Béliveau. And while he was often compared to his sibling, his actual playing style was less of the rugged, tough, I'll-show-you variety and more along the lines of Dave Keon and Stan Mikita, or David Desharnais and Johnny Gaudreau nowadays: small, speedy, shifty and slick. Another difference between the brothers is that Maurice was a goal scorer while Henri was a better passer, twice leading the league in assists. And as bizarre as that sounds, Henri reached the 1000-point mark while Maurice did not (his regular season totals end at 965, while he posted another 126 in 133 playoff games).

I have met Henri Richard many times in my life. I was often in environments which facilitated meeting former players, particularly those like him who do so much for the community and associate themselves with events for youth teams. My mom also reminded me of a funny/sad moment when I saw her last Christmas, about when my grandfather died in the early 1990s when I was a pre-teen; he'd been a journalist and newspaper editor in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and Mr. Richard came to the funeral - as many other former Habs did. And as he left us after wishing his condolences, apparently I turned to my mom wondering if I should have asked for his autograph, and she told me I'd have plenty of other opportunities later where the circumstances would lend themselves more to it.

And I did. She says she still has a box with things I had signed from my childhood, stored somewhere in her house, I'll have to look for that some day, but for now, here's a 2011-12 Heroes And Prospects card (#3 of the Hockey Hero sub-set) from In The Game, signed in thin blue sharpie at a team event two summers ago:

His uniform number (16) is tagged at the end, and his youthful head shot is a nice change from the previous cards of him I'd featured, more from the twilight of his terrific career.

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