This Day In History: March 16

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On March 16, 1955, NHL president Clarence Campbell suspends Montreal Canadiens star Maurice “Rocket” Richard for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs after he attacks an opponent with his stick and slugs a referee in the head. Riots erupt the following day at the Red Wings-Canadiens game in Montreal, causing the game to be cut short after items are thrown at Campbell and a tear gas bomb goes off in the arena.

Three days earlier, Richard—who was leading the NHL with 74 points—was struck by a high stick from Boston Bruins defensemen Hal Laycoe. Laycoe was penalized, but Richard attacked him with his stick and punched referee Cliff Thompson “with two hard blows to the face” when he attempted to intervene, according to The Ottawa Citizen.

"Whether this type of conduct is the product of temperamental instability or willful defiance of authority in the games does not matter," Campbell said of the suspension. "It is the type of conduct which cannot be tolerated by any player—star or otherwise.”

Despite warnings that his attendance at the Red Wings-Canadiens game on March 17, 1955, could be problematic, Campbell stood in defiance in the stands at the game. From the drop of the puck, fans threw everything from shoes to food at the president. One fan even eluded security long enough to shake Campbell's hand, then slap him in the face.  

A tear gas bomb was set off in one of the exits, causing fans to hurriedly leave. A riot in the streets ensued—an incident that would become known as the “Richard Riot.”  Sixteen people were arrested for rioting (each fined $25), 33 people were injured (including eight policemen) and property damage totaled roughly $100,000. The next day, Richard appeared on television to encourage fans to behave.

"I will take my punishment and come back next year to help the club and the younger players to win the [Stanley] Cup,” he said. Montreal won the Stanley Cup the next season.

Richard, who died in 2000, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1965.