Welcome to Katz’s Korner.
MISSION STATEMENT: To write articles about Hockey that are outside the penalty box.
This is a story about Canada’s favourite sport, it’s not ice hockey, it’s about the greatest hockey player of all time, it’s not Gretzky, it’s about my sister, it’s not Aida and it’s about me and maybe… a part of you.
I grew up in Cote-Des-Niege, Montreal and I knew no one who played organized ice hockey. The number one sport in my area was ball hockey. I suspect pick up ball hockey is played more than any other sport in Canada. I currently live in the United States and this means I can state anything as fact and if you disagree I can call you a fake. In America, everyone is entitled to having alternate facts… so there’s that.
Now that I’ve proven my first point let’s discuss who the greatest hockey player of all time is. I have no problem with saying Wayne Gretzky or Maurice Richard or Gordie Howe or Claude Provost is the best player of all time, but greatest means mythical, Demi-god status and while three of my four stars are arguably of that ilk, Jean Beliveau was the first player that captured my imagination, heart and soul, and ruled the day. Here are some of the reasons: 1) He was tall, strong, fast, had great posture, owned the puck on his stick and wore a tuxedo while playing. 2) To acquire his rights the Habs bought an entire hockey league. 3) The NHL had to change the rules of going off for penalties from the usual two minutes to two minutes or until the opposition scores on the power play. Because with the arrival of Beliveau the Habs would destroy teams on the power play to the point where multiple goals would be scored and the Habs could not be stopped. This rule change came to be known as the Beliveau rule. 4) He was a wonderful warm singer known by his stage name Maurice Chevalier. 5) He was more popular than the Pope in Quebec. 6) He fought in World War II as a general and afterwards ruled France under his nom de plume Charles De Gaul. 7) He beat Batman in an arm wrestle… so there’s that.
Now playing ball hockey was fun. I played every day after school and on weekends. My talent was at best mediocre, Max, Eric, Ron and Danny Wilk were way better than me, but I had a technique that for short amounts of time doubled my talent level. I used to pretend I was different players on the Habs. I would adopt their posture, style and dynamics usually to no obvious result. But when I did a Beliveau… that was different. My arms would get longer, I would grow taller, stronger and my confidence soared. What I was doing was accessing my adrenalin, but I didn’t know that at the time. So for a short time, I would dominate and anything was possible, except for how much adrenalin I could pull up into my Mama’s Boy frame… which was max five minutes. But it was thrilling and only Beliveau could do that for me.
My sister Beverly passed away recently, but this event I’m going to share took place about a year ago. So the two of us were chatting, and trust me my sister was no sports fan, and I have always watched and played sports… and on the television comes an image of my hero, my Demi-god, my adrenalin-man, the late Jean Beliveau. Beverly, quietly, almost to herself, says, “Oh it’s so sad Jean Beliveau passed he was such a good man; I really liked him.” She said this like they were old friends. I was perplexed, she kept quietly talking, “He was so nice to me.” Now I was really confused. My sister who never watched a hockey game in her life KNEW MY DEMI-GOD!!!! My sister who years ago when I asked her who was the greatest hockey player of all time uttered, “Gordie Hull?” knew Le Gros Bill??!!??
“Uh, Beverly… how did you know Jean Beliveau?” As she answered my envy was dripping off my body. A pool of jealousy was forming on the floor. “Oh, when George (her Hubby) and I were on a group trip to Israel, Jean and his lovely wife Elise, were in our group and we had dinner every night and toured the Arab markets together.” George and Beverly, Jean and Elise would chat and talk about life, a few times a day, for the whole trip. Jean shared personal, including some heartbreaking, stories like about the suicide of his son-in-law. In other words my sister, Beverly Engelberg, bonded with my Zeus; Jean Beliveau. Oy, unbelievable!
Here’s a story about Jean Beliveau that I never heard. When Frank Selke tried to sign Beliveau, Jean was not really interested. Beliveau did agree to sign only with Montreal when he turned pro, but he loved playing in the Quebec Senior Hockey League and was in no hurry to sign. I knew the Habs did the unheard-of thing to buy the whole league to get hold of his rights, but what I did not know was that the QSHL was an amateur league and the Habs turned it professional so they could force Jean to honour his agreement to turn pro only with Les Canadiens. The Habs so wanted Beliveau that they offered to pay every player in the QSHL so they can force Jean to honour his agreement. So Jean Beliveau, one of the greatest NHL players of all time, joined the Habs against his will!!! Amazing!
Recently as I watched the Maple Leafs succumb to the Habs, the camera shared with us a shot of Mrs. Elise Beliveau regally taking in the game, it warmed my heart. The next morning I stood with George in a cemetery as Beverly’s tombstone was unveiled, it broke my heart. In heaven above Beverly and Jean are chatting about everything and it comforts my heart. And for those of you who miss our Demi-god… be assured… he is not alone.
POSTSCRIPT: So I finish my first draft of this article and I’m in Toronto chatting with my late sister’s daughter, my niece Caroline Gelber. I share with her the essence of my story that her Mom was pals of sorts with my Demi-God and broke bread with him many a time. So then Caroline shares with me how she had dinner with Jean Beliveau and suddenly the world went into a spiral and I am left with just one question: Did everyone, but me, get to hang out with my hero?