About a year before he died last Dec. 5 at age 85, former Komet Billy Richardson showed his daughter something special, something she didn't know had been hiding under her parents' bed for almost 50 years.
By Nov. 20, 1962, Richardson had retired as a player but continued in hockey as a linesman. His story really starts a few months before that when Montreal Canadiens coach Toe Blake called Memorial Coliseum General Manager Don Myers trying to set up an exhibition hockey game. Myers walked down to the Komets' office to give Fort Wayne coach Ken Ullyot the message.
The Canadiens, who had already won 12 Stanley Cups including five straight from 1956 to 1960, were scheduled to play in Chicago on Nov. 18 and in Detroit on Nov. 22 for Thanksgiving. Rather than go home and face the hassle of the border crossing, Blake wanted to stop in Fort Wayne. Ullyot was agreeable, and picked former Komet Hartley McLeod to referee the game assisted by linesmen Gus Braumberger and Richardson.
Featuring a lineup of six future Hall of Fame players, the Canadiens won 4-1, outshooting the Komets 66-24 despite a Herculean performance by Fort Wayne goaltender Chuck Adamson. The crowd was 4,630, which was excellent for a Tuesday night.
After the game, Richardson asked Canadiens star Jean Beliveau for his stick, and Beliveau convinced his teammates to sign it. The names include future Hall of Fame members Tom Johnson, Bernie ``Boom Boom'' Geoffrion, Henri Richard, Dickie Moore and Jacques Plante, along with current University of Michigan coach Red Berenson who will likely be inducted eventually.
There's a reason the Canadiens were billed as ``The World's Greatest Hockey Team'' even though they would be knocked out of the playoffs in the first round the next two years. They won in 1965 and 1966, lost in the 1967 finals, and then won again in 1968 and 1969, led by former Komet John Ferguson.
Now Richardson's daughter Janet Richardson-Megles is looking to sell the stick. She will hold an auction on the Komets' website, www.komets.com. Komets public address announcer Larry Schmitt is helping Richardson-Megles and is willing to answer any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Include ``Historic stick'' in the subject line.
Because the stick was kept away from light under the bed, it is preserved in excellent condition. Only the signature of center Don Marshall has faded.
``He never talked about it. It was just under the bed,'' Richardson-Megles said. ``He said, `I wish I knew what we could do with it because it might be worth something.' He just said make sure you don't let anybody have it. I want it to go to somebody who is really going to appreciate it and want something like this.''
Oddly enough, some of the Komets who played in that game were talking about it last week when they visited former teammate John ``Jumbo'' Goodwin in Lima, Ohio, where he is recovering from an illness.
``I knew Billy had that stick because he told me about it,'' former Komets great Len Thornson said. ``In those days, you could go in the dressing room between periods. They might have put him in there because it was an exhibition game and it didn't mean much to those guys.''
Thornson and Adamson had both been part of Montreal training camps as youngsters before they settled in Fort Wayne. In fact, Adamson lived very near relatives of Montreal coach Toe Blake in Falkenbridge, Ont.
``The funny thing was is I think there were probably six or seven guys on that team who I had played junior against,'' Adamson said. ``Montreal took me to training camp when I was 18, and I played about eight exhibition games with Henri Richard. I was nervous about this game, but not really because in junior I had played four games against Montreal.''
During the third period, Adamson was struck in the face on a shot by Richard. After the game Plante asked Adamson why he didn't wear a mask, and a few games later Adamson put one on, becoming the first Komets goaltender to wear the extra protection. The game was stopped while Adamson was getting stitches, so Richard and Geoffrion put on a show while Jack Loos played the organ.
``As they skated down the ice, they passed the puck to each other without it touching the ice,'' recalls current Komets owner Stephen Franke, who was 13 at the time. ``I remember it very vividly in my mind. I remember the crowd was sitting on their hands because they didn't know if we would get creamed.''
After Adamson made 62 saves, Blake joked, ``If your goalie plays like that all the time, we'll take him back with us.''
Instead, Adamson led the Komets to their first Turner Cup title later that season, a trip to the finals in 1964 and another Cup in 1965.
``I just enjoyed the game,'' said Long who set up Thornson for the Komets' goal. ``With Beliveau it's really classy what he did with his stick because he had the guys sign it, too. The Canadiens were always classy guys.''
Montreal played the game with 11 forwards and 18 players, and the Komets played with seven forwards, five defensemen and one goaltender.
``They got $100 for playing the game, and we got a handshake and a Pepsi,'' Thornson joked.
The Canadiens returned the next year, Nov. 26, 1963, and creamed the Komets 7-1 despite 44 saves by Adamson. Despite the added attraction of Ferguson as a rookie playing with the Canadiens, the game drew only 2,422 fans.