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The Richard Riot refers to a major protest by Montreal Canadiens fans on St. Patrick’s Day of 1955 during a game between the Canadiens and the Detroit Red Wings at the Montreal Forum. The fans were demonstrating the presence of NHL president Clarence Campbell, who had suspended the Canadiens’ star player Maurice Richard for brawling in a game against the Boston Bruins five days earlier.
What Caused the Richard Riots?
On March 13, 1955 at the Boston Garden, the Canadiens and the Bruins were battling in an ill-tempered regular season game, the 14th meeting between the two rivals. Over the course of those duels, a personal vendetta between Boston forward Hal Laycoe and Richard had been gathering steam and in the current contest, the top finally blew. Richard was Montreal’s and perhaps the league’s best player, but he was also known for his short temper. It was common for opposing players to try to wind him up so that he was penalized.
Laycoe was trying to do just that and it all came to a head on the 15:11 mark of the third period when he struck Richard with his stick opening a gush that required five stitches. After the treatment, Richards skated up to Laycoe and hit him in the face and shoulder with his stick. In an attempt to stop the escalating melee, linesman Cliff Thomson held Richard, but the incensed Canadien struck out with a fierce punch to Thompson’s face knocking the linesman unconscious, before continuing to attack Laycoe.
When the brawl finally subdued, referee Frank Udvari ejected Richard from the game and handed him a one-match ban, while he gave Laycoe a five-minute penalty, which was added to ten after he threw a towel at the referee.
This was not the end of the matter however as the league convened a hearing to review the incident on March 16. The league decided to ban Richard for the rest of the season, with no further sanctions being meted out on Laycoe. There was a palpable feeling of injustice among Montreal fans, but it would probably not escalated had Campbell not decided to show up the very next day for a game at the Forum.
The animosity was about more than just the lopsided sanctions. Campbell was of Irish Canadian descent while Richard was Franco-Canadian. At the time, Anglo-Canadian and Franco-Canadian interests did not see eye-to-eye, so it was felt that this was the basis of Campbell’s decision to ban Richard.
The two also had bad blood between them, with Richard having been on the receiving end of Campell’s wrath several times before. Richard on the other hand often made disparaging comments about Campbell on his newspaper column, which he wrote under the name “Le Rocket.”
The Riot and the Aftermath
There were expectations of a violent protest before the crash so security had been enhanced at the Forum. Protesters began to arrive two hours before the game but police helped keep matters quiet. Campbell, despite advice against doing so, decided to attend the game. He arrived at the game after it had already started, so he was easily noticeable once he made his entry. Montreal fans who were already irked further by a 2-0 deficit started throwing all kinds of projectiles towards him.
At the end of the first period, with the Canadiens trailing 4-1, the commotion began again. One fan managed to get past security, and pretending to reach out to shake Campbell’s hand, slapped him on the face. He then punched the league president, and as police carried him the irate fan away, a teargas bomb exploded in the stands, sending the fans scampering.
The charged crowd spilled into the streets where they started chanting anti-Campbell slogans. They went about looting and destroying property, while back at the Forum, Campbell and team officials had agreed to cancel the game, with the Canadiens forfeiting. The riots went on into the night, eventually dying down at 3 A.M. More than 40 people were injured, and up to 100 arrested, with damage to property totaling nearly a million dollars in 2017 dollars.
Richard later made a statement over the press urging the Canadiens’ fans to calm down and accepting his punishment. Campbell continued to insist that he was right to ban Richard and to attend the game, despite many officials including the Montreal mayor pointing fingers at him for handling the situation poorly. Many commentators believe that the Richard Riot was a major prelude to Quiet Revolution of the 1960s.