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Canadiens legend Henri Richard had CTE at time of death: study

Late Montreal Canadiens great Henri Richard, the 11-time Stanley Cup winner known as the “Pocket Rocket,” was posthumously diagnosed with stage 3 chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

That’s according to researchers at the Concussion Legacy Foundation, who studied the Hall of Famer’s brain.

CTE is a progressive brain disease associated with repeated traumatic brain injuries, including concussions and repeated blows to the head.

The foundation says Richard becomes the 16th NHL player to be diagnosed with CTE, including fellow Hall of Famer Stan Mikita.

Richard’s son Denis says he released the findings of his father’s brain study hoping to bring attention to the risks of repeated head injuries in hockey.

“I hope my father’s brain donation and diagnosis will lead to more prevention efforts, research, and eventually a CTE treatment,” Denis said in a statement. “I want people to understand this is a disease that impacts athletes far beyond football.”

Henri Richard, the younger brother of Maurice Richard, played 20 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens from 1955-1975.

He died in 2020 at 84 years old after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Henri Richard was not an enforcer and CTE still ravaged his brain. It is far past time for all of us in the Canadian sports community to acknowledge the long-term effects of repetitive impacts on the brain,” said Tim Fleiszer, executive director of the Concussion Legacy Foundation Canada, in a statement.

Montreal Canadiens captain Henri Richard attempts to clear the puck from behind the net in Toronto in this March 15, 1972 photo. (Andy Clark/CP)

The NHL, which made helmets mandatory in 1979, has consistently denied a link between hockey and CTE.

Boston University researchers have previously found that each additional year of playing hockey may increase a person’s odds of developing CTE by about 23 per cent.

“Like Stan Mikita and Ralph Backstrom, he was a great skater, and physical, but he had a playmaker’s mind, and played that way. But all those hits to the head,” said fellow Canadiens great Ken Dryden, a former teammate of Henri Richard’s in Montreal.

“We have to understand, whatever the sport, a hit to the head is not a good thing.”

Henri Richard was diagnosed with stage 3 CTE by Dr. Stephen Saikali at the Laval University in Quebec City.

Montreal Canadiens’ Henri Richard, center, who scored the game-winning goal, peers into the Stanley Cup held by team captain Jean Beliveau, left, and NHL Commissioner Clarence Campbell in Chicago, Ill., Tuesday night, May 18, 1971. (The Canadian Press/AP)

—With files from The Canadian Press

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