by Brad Lombardo
The recent passing of Montreal Canadiens legend Henri Richard, aka “The Pocket Rocket”, was another harsh reminder of the passage of time, and also of how much our world has changed in the age of the virus.
I was born 1961 in Windsor, Ontario, and was 12 year old when my family moved to southern Spain. We returned to Windsor in 1980, and within a few years I ended up at McGill University.
In 1989, determined to stay in Montreal after graduation, I took a job at The Senior Times Newspaper.
One of my various duties at the newspaper included interviewing five legends from the Montreal hockey world: Henri Richard, Maurice “Rocket” Richard, Jean Beliveau, Sam Pollock, and Dick Irvin Jr., the latter the only one remaining alive.
Henri Richard was the first interview. The younger sibling of the Rocket, he would blaze his own Hall of Fame trail in the game of hockey. A small but crafty and speedy centre, Henri played from 1955 to 1975, and became captain of the Habs when Beliveau retired in 1970. The Pocket Rocket won an amazing 11 Stanley Cups as a player, a record that still stands. A few years ago, he was voted among the top 100 NHL players of all time.
I interviewed Henri at his golf course in Laval, and as expected he proved to be the true gentleman, with some great stories to tell.
By the early 1990s, I had moved back to Ontario to be closer to my family, eventually settling in Toronto.
Over the years I would bump into the Pocket Rocket at some GTA sporting event or hobby show, and the Canadiens great, gracious to a fault, would always take a moment to chat.
When I learned of Henri’s passing recently, I called some old friends in Montreal and we ended up reminiscing about the good old days.
I had done the same thing back in the year 2000, when the Rocket passed on.
Maurice Richard was honored with a state funeral, of course, the very first for a non-political figure in Quebec’s history.
Henri Richard would have probably received a state funeral in normal times, but these are not normal times.
His final farewell was, by necessity, a private affair.
A final adieu to a true hockey legend, attended only by a few family members and friends, in this suddenly changed world, in this age of the coronavirus.
Truly, a sign of the times …