By Rob Ficiur
This week Eric Lindros and Rogie Vachon were two of the four new members were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. These two (now) Hall of Famers took different routes getting to the Hall.
Lindros was touted as the next generational superstar when he was drafted first overall in 1991. Fans were still enjoying Gretzky and Lemieux, and now another super star? Lindros began his professional career by refusing to wear the Quebec Nordiques’ jersey (at the draft or any time thereafter). Eventually he was traded to Philadelphia where he made his mark for eight years. He was the NHL’s most valuable player at the age of 21. Concussions limited the career numbers the Big E put up.
Rogie Vachon retired from the NHL nine years before Lindros came on the scene. Vachon was fifth in all time goalie wins when he retired in 1982. Vachon said he had about given up hope of entering the Hall of Fame. For each of the last 28 years he had been overlooked when the Hall of Fame votes were counted. After his playing career was over, Vachon served as General Manager of the LA Kings during the Wayne Gretzky years. The 71-year-old two-time Stanley Cup winner got into his first NHL game because Gump Worsley got hit by an egg thrown by an angry fan.
This past week our country indirectly celebrated the life (and sacrifice) of another Hockey Hall of Famer. George Richardson was one of 67,000 Canadians who died during World War I. Like all the other victims of the war, he had a unique background story. Richardson was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1950. From our 2016 view point there does not seem to be anything outstanding that would merit a Hall of Fame career. Those who made the selection saw life different than we do. The first Hockey Hall of Fame honourees were selected in 1945, the year that World War 2 ended.
In 1950, when Richardson was inducted, the selection committee was composed of men who had lived through both of the World Wars. They knew firsthand what war meant to civilians and to those in the service. Voting Richardson to the Hall of Fame so early in the history of the hall was at least partially a tribute to the other men who sacrificed for their country.
Richardson was born Sept. 14, 1886 in Kingston Ontario. He father founded James Richardson and sons. The business became one a major grain exporting company. In 1903, at age 17, George made his debut with the Queen’s Senior Hockey team. In 1904 and 1906 Queens won the Intercollegiate Hockey Championship. In 1906 Richardson played in his only Stanley Cup challenge match. This was a time before the National Hockey League distributed the Stanley Cup. From 1893 to 1914, the Stanley Cup was a “challenge trophy.”
In February 1906 (age 20) Richardson’s Queen’s team challenged the Ottawa Silver Seven for the Stanley Cup. Ottawa won the best of three series in two straight games by scores of 16-7 and 12-7. Richardson was only able to score three goals in the two game playoff. From 1907-1909 (ages 21-23), his Kingston team won the Ontario Hockey Association’s Senior Crown. As a 22-year-old Richardson scored seven goals in a game against Stratford. In 1911 (now age 25) Richardson was an executive with the Kingston Frontenacs that won the Junior Championship of Canada.
When WW I began in August 1914, Richardson joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Richardson was promoted from Lieutenant to Captain after the Battle of St. Julien. That battle began On Apr. 24 1915. The Germans released another gas cloud towards the re-formed Canadian line. When the gas reached the front Allied trenches, soldiers began to complain of chest pains and a burning sensation in the throat. The best defense against the deadly gas the troops had (at this time) was to urinate on their handkerchief and place it over the nose and mouth.
Over the next two days the Canadian forces had 1940 causalities. Richardson was one of the few to survive this battle. Despite his injuries Richardson refused to go home. On Feb. 9, 1916 his group’s assignment was to blow up the enemy barbed wire in No Man’s Land (between the trenches). When the weather turned bad the plan was abandoned. As Richardson tried to retrieve the bombs they had intended to use that night he was shot three times. The 29-year-old died the next day.
At age 26, the future Hall of Famer, Eric Lindros began a career ending battle with concussions. At age 27 Richardson was participating in the War to End all Wars. Thirty-four years after retiring from the NHL Vachon was selected to enter the Hall of Fame. Richardson never lived to see his 30th birthday.
As I watched the movie War Horse this weekend, I thought about George Richardson, I saw courage; I saw selflessness; I saw real Hall of Famers, who (almost anonymously) gave their lives. (I was not as impressed with the military leaders but that is another story).
George Richardson was one who gave his life for his country. Each of the other 17 million who died during the Great War had their unique story. One hundred years after the death of George Richardson, we still honor and remember his (and other) sacrifices.