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NHL - Rocket Items Auction Provokes National Outcry

By Josie Lemieux
Sunday, April 7th, 2002

Maurice Richard will always be a part of Quebec's heart and soul. Even people who hate hockey know who he is, what he did for the sport, the fans, politics, and the world. He wore number nine, won nine Stanley Cups, holds phenomenal records, and has been considered a role model for society all his life. Still, he was uncomfortable with the effect he had on people. Rocket could not really understand it.

Throughout the French/English wars in the 1950s, the historical riot in Montreal in 1955, his records and agility (don't forget his threatening gaze at awed opponents), Quebec shaped its figure on him, always being by his side. Sports legend, but also a cultural and historical figure.

When the Richard family decided to sell Rocket's items last week, the public's very first reaction was total disbelief; while some fans remember him with respect, others could barely hold back their tears as Americans were already offering huge amounts for a piece of Canadian history. No Canadian individual or organization offered to buy the items: neither the Habs, nor the Molson Center. No companies, no nostalgic millionaires, no museums, and worst of all, none of Canada's federal or provincial governments reacted to the auction news.

Diane Lemieux is the Minister of Cultural Estates and Communications of Quebec; following the breaking news on television last week, her spokesperson stated that "although we have been proposed to buy those items for cultural purposes, we have no funds available for that kind of collection. We did not want to get involved in a family's tale." Oh, please. This is a provincial government. Rocket's government. Unbelievable and nasty.

On a federal level, Sheila Copps, Minister of Cultural Affairs, quickly found a spotlight to announce that she would do all she can in order to keep these items in Canada. Quebec watched anxiously as the two governments try to calm down the whole nation.

Years, and even months ago, both governments refused offers to keep the Rocket's estate. They denied, but the truth had to come out: Quebec media used the front pages and first leads in TV news, accusing Cultural Affairs ministers of simply letting go the heart of the Quebec sports nation, not even realizing the value of such items for generations to come.

Even after his death, the Rocket still moves the English and French population. But this confrontation is necessary and vital; Quebec Minister Lemieux did not lose one second to block Sheila Copps' intentions.

Since Thursday night, the auction of some items have been postponed on Lemieux's order. Of the 250 items, 47 are now considered as cultural heritage, meaning that "the government will not allow these 47 items to be moved outside Quebec. It is also imperative to mention that no other government, provincial or federal, can take possession of these items. They are now listed and protected as Quebec cultural heritage."

Museums experts strongly suggested that the Molson Center should keep a space for Maurice Richard's items. "The items belong to the hockey fans. Even more, the fans should be able to be in contact with those items where hockey is present, and that place is definitely the Molson Center."

The population were relieved as news channels announced that a Cultural Estate Commission should be established. This special Committee will include family members of the Rocket's family, Habs organization past and present executives, artists, and company representatives. Their task will be to evaluate the historical and symbolic value of those items. Is this task really possible?

As for the auction and the rest of the collection, the offer equals the demand so far: the 1944-45 Maurice Richard autographed 50-goals-in-50-games used stick has a bidding of $6,500.00. The Maurice Richard trophy (with skates and pucks), interests two individuals willing to pay $10,000.00. The Maurice Richard Hockey Hall of Fame induction ring has seven bidders for the amount of $3,222.00. The most expensive item so far is the Rocket's jersey he wore during the 1959 Stanley Cups championships - sweat and underarms stains included, with 14 fans all eager to pay an incredible $23,650.00 for it. All prices are in U.S. funds. The auction is held until May 7th, 2002.

Is money the important issue? It is not even a question to ask ourselves. Some people are able to have a little piece of hockey history in their home and it is a privilege only a few can have.

Instead of cherishing our dead stars' estates, why don't we record these items right away - while our hockey legends are alive - and keep them as historical references for the future? Regardless of who you are talking about - Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Patrick Roy, Ray Bourque, or Wayne Gretzky - they all keep dusty souvenirs in their closets. They cannot get rid of them, but museums could protect and keep them in excellent condition forever.

Let's hope we will all keep that memorabilia close to home. Legendary hockey players are one equal temper of heroic hearts. Watching an autographed puck or stick behind a glass is to be able to look back upon a hockey legend's past with satisfaction ... and it is to live twice.

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