Mauricio Ricardo | The rocket and the great reconciliation

will come? Will not come?

Posted at 7:45 am

And, an even more crucial question, do we want Really coming? After all, she has slapped us several times over the years. Well, it is true that we have not always been successful with him. What was that pathetic idea of ​​booing his son at the pee-wee tournament a few years ago?

We shouldn’t do that, that’s for sure. But it still provoked us by talking about the “Coliseum of Fanaticism” when the young Canadian and his little brother Henri took on our Citadels in the early 1950s. But hey, maybe it’s time to put it all behind us. ..

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These reflections dwell in many sports fans in Quebec City in July 1972. The possibility of Maurice Richard becoming the first head coach of the Nordics has been in the air since Claude Larochelle, renowned chronicler of the Sun, mentioned this possibility two weeks earlier: “Despite the problems that the red-hot and colorful Maurice Richard may have had with Quebec in the past, some support his candidacy and we are thinking of sounding him out. »

The Rocket behind the bench, which would reinforce the credibility of the Nordics and the brand new World Hockey Association (WHA).

Richard was intrigued by the idea when Marius Fortier and Maurice Filion, two leaders of the Norsemen, met him at their residence in Montreal. But it is impossible for Rocket to ignore his relationship with the people of Quebec.

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REAL PHOTO ST-JEAN, ARCHIVE OF THE PRESSE

Maurice Richard, new head coach of the Quebec Nordiques, and Maurice Fillion, general manager of the team, October 10, 1972

Adored throughout the province, the Rocket knows full well that this is less true in the capital. Always available to support one cause or another, he has long refused any public appearance in Quebec. Therefore, before accepting the offer from the Nords, he wants the certainty of being well received.

Fortier, the club’s first general manager, had a flash: he invited the Rocket to throw out the ceremonial pitch before a Carnival game at Quebec Municipal Stadium.

A subsidiary of the Expos in the Eastern League, the Carnivals play solid baseball. The Future Expos will learn there over the years: Gary Carter, Ellis Valentine, Larry Parrish… And the Municipal Stadium is a good place to watch a game.

A plan is made quickly. We will highlight the 10me anniversary of the Sportsmen of Quebec, a group that coordinates many sporting activities in the region. The distinguished guest will be Maurice Richard. The event will take place before the game on July 11, 50 years ago this summer, between the Carnivals and the Sherbrooke Pirates.

On this glorious Tuesday night, the stands are packed, nearly 6,000 strong, as the Rockets take to the field to throw out “first pitch.” On one block, people get up and give him a standing ovation. Deeply moved, he waves to the audience.

The next day, Quebec newspapers commented on this unique moment.

“This direct contact with fans served as a poll for Richard’s popularity rating,” he writes. Action-Quebec. The result was unequivocal. A great applause, which lasted several minutes, greeted his arrival. »

The journalist adds that, according to the most experienced observers, this ovation was “the most explosive” ever heard in Quebec to greet an athlete.

Within Sunveteran journalist Roland Sabourin, whose relations with Richard have long been tumultuous, admits to having felt a “heart squeeze” upon witnessing this enthusiastic welcome.

“It is obvious that everyone who was there had come to show him that Quebec loved him much more than he could have believed in the last 15 years. A heavy load comes from the shoulders of this famous athlete. »

Sabourin adds: “Whether or not Richard becomes the coach of the Nordics doesn’t matter at all. All those who were at the Municipal Stadium yesterday showed him that they loved him. Now all he has to do is put the past behind him and come see us more often. »

In his weekly column Sunday morning, the Rocket writes about this magical evening: “Today, I still can’t believe it. It was one of the best receptions of my entire career. »

* * *

Sixteen days later, before 1,500 people, Maurice Richard signed his contract as head coach of the Nordics in the presence of Quebec Mayor Gilles Lamontagne in front of City Hall. “French will be the working language of the Nordics, both on the ice and in the dressing room,” he told reporters.

The sequel is well known. Rocket finds out very quickly that this job is not for him. Unhappy as stones in the road, he left his post after the first two games in Nordiques history, a 2-0 loss in Cleveland to the Crusaders and a 6-0 victory at the Coliseum against the Alberta Oilers, as I called them then. .

“We cannot ask Maurice Richard to die behind the bench, explains DG Marius Fortier to the Sun. We are not tyrants. And it is quite obvious that for him it has become a superhuman task, beyond his strength. He has visibly lost weight since he has been with us. His morale is very low. »

In his chronicles of Sunday morning, Richard will confirm Fortier’s words: “Frankly, I can tell you, my readers, during the last 10 days, I have experienced the worst moments of tension in my life. Then he will add: “Thanks again Quebec, thank you very much”, before specifying: “I should never have accepted this job.”

Does not matter. Between Rocket and Quebec, the summer of 1972 is that of a great reconciliation. This spectacular series of acts -offering the Rocket the head coaching position, the ovation on July 11 at the Municipal Stadium, the public signing of his contract and his prompt resignation- will somehow mark the tone of the Nordic’s history, full of twists from start to finish.

Note: The quotes and related facts in this column are mostly taken from my book. The Colosseum versus the Forumpublished by Editions La Presse in 2012.

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