Montreal hockey fans set two big goals for their beloved Canadiens this season: 1) Ending Detroit's six-year hold on the National Hockey League championship; 2) Seeing their idol, Maurice (Rocket) Richard, win his first scoring title. Approaching the final week of play both goals looked closer. The Canadiens held a slim lead over Detroit; Richard was a few points ahead of teammates Boom Boom Geoffrion and Jean Beliveau. Then The Rocket exploded—setting off a chain reaction of anger (among his partisans) and violence (by Montreal hoodlums).
Called before NHL President Clarence Campbell early in the week after slugging a linesman during a game in Boston, Richard heard himself banned for the three remaining games of the season and the Stanley Cup play-offs as well. The Rocket took his sentence calmly enough. But for thousands of fans who thought they saw their last hopes for the championships vanish with Richard's stiff penalty, Campbell's verdict was simply too much. For some fanatic fans it quickly became a call to arms, a signal to demonstrate against hockey's highest authority.
The night of the next-to-last crucial game against Detroit, mob hysteria ruled the area around the Montreal Forum, home rink of the Canadiens. Calls to the NHL office earlier that day had warned Campbell he would be killed if he dared show up at the game. Frenzied Richard fans paraded posters in front of the arena, cursing the name of the league president. But Campbell went to the Forum anyway. When he arrived he was greeted by a shower of eggs, peanuts, programs and even overshoes. Two hundred police and firemen did their best to maintain order, but it was a losing battle. One mobster slipped up to Campbell, slugged him twice before being hauled away.
After one period of hockey Detroit led 4-1. Then somebody set off a teargas bomb, sending Campbell and the rest of the crowd in hurried flight for safety. Before he left the Forum, Campbell awarded the game to Detroit by forfeit—an order which gave the defending champs a vital homestretch edge over Montreal. When the riot ended at 2:30 the following morning, police found windows shattered for blocks around, shop displays looted. They made more than 40 arrests. Total damage; $100,000 plus.
March 28, 1955
In Sunday's finale at Detroit the Red Wings and Canadiens, all tied up in points again, met to settle the season's title. Detroit made it a rout, 6-0, for its seventh consecutive crown. Both winner and loser joined Toronto and Boston this week in the first round of play-offs—to decide, after playing 70 games in the last six months, which is the best team after all.