It was a beautiful night at the Bell Centre on Saturday March the 11th as an emotional crowd of 21,273 filled the arena, not only to watch a hockey game but also to celebrate the life and career of a great Canadiens player. Last October the Canadiens announced that finally after years of waiting Bernard’s number 5 would hang in the rafters of the Bell centre next to his father in law Howie Morenz’s number 7. Geoffrion chose March the 11th as the date this would happen to honour his father in law’s passing on this very date 69 years ago.
A sour twist of fate a few days before the ceremony saw 75-year-old Geoffrion diagnosed with stomach cancer. This news originally did not discourage the Canadiens great as he assured the media that he would still attend the event in Montreal on Saturday. Unfortunately the operation that Geoffrion underwent did not have the desired effect everyone had hoped for. Bernard sent his two sons to Montreal to inform the media that he would be unable to attend the event that he had awaited his entire life. On Saturday morning Bernard “Boom Boom” Geoffrion passed away after his short battle with stomach cancer.
Bernard earned the nickname “Boom Boom” from Canadiens sports writer Charlie Boire who asked Geoffrion if he could call him that after watching him practice his slap shot after practice one night. The nickname is the onomatopoeic sound of the puck getting slapped by Geoffrion’s stick then striking the boards with startling force. Geoffrion played his first game against the New York Rangers and scored the only goal for the Canadiens in a 1-1 tie. He went on to many successes, he won six Stanley Cups, two Art Ross Trophies as the leagues leading scorer, one Hart Trophy as the leagues MVP and the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year.
The ceremony was at moments a sombre one but was also a joyous celebration of a hockey hero. It featured two MC’s Dick Irvin and Richard Garneau who addressed the crowd in English and French respectively. The ceremony featured a 10-minute video of ex team-mates and opposition players commenting on Geoffrion’s contributions to the game both on and off the ice, as well as highlights of his playing career and the press conference the Canadiens held to announce his number retirement. The New York Rangers also presented the Geoffrion family with a token of their appreciation for Geoffrion who closed his career out with the Rangers. In fitting fashion Geoffrion’s number 5 banner has an addition of a black ribbon to commemorate his death on the very day his number was raised to the rafters of the Bell Centre. Awaiting at the halfway point to the rafters was the banner of Howie Morenz, Geoffrion’s father in law and as “Boom Boom” predicted while still playing for the Canadiens his number 5 was raised to the rafters and will sit next to Morenz’s number 7 for many years to come. All of the Geoffrion family was in attendance to watch the banner raising. They were joined by eight of Geoffrion’s team-mates from the Canadiens dynasty that won five straight Cups from 1956 to 1960 – Dickie Moore, Henri Richard, Emile (Butch) Bouchard, Jean-Guy Talbot, Marcel Bonin, Phil Goyette, Andre Pronovost and Dollard St-Laurent. Geoffrion’s two sons Danny and Robert both read speeches to the Canadiens faithful praising them for their support and expressing their love for their Father and their Fathers love for the Canadiens and the Canadiens faithful who had supported him since his Rookie debut with Jean Beliveau. By the end of the ceremony it was near impossible to find a dry eye in the building, as it was a tear jerking final few minutes when the entire Geoffrion family stood and watched number 5 climb high into the Bell Centre and Canadiens history.