Most of the hockey world woke up to the news that one of the NHL’s all-time greats, Jean Beliveau, passed away late Tuesday night.
Beliveau’s contributions on the ice were at a super star level by the time he retired at the end of the 1970-1971 season. In 20 NHL seasons, all with the Montreal Canadiens, he won 10 Stanley Cups, and at the time of his retirement he led the Canadiens in all-time points, was second all-time in team goals and first all-time in playoff scoring.
Broadening those figures league-wide at the time, he was second in all-time points, third in all-time assists and fourth in all-time goals.
He was the first to be awarded the Conn Smythe trophy in 1965 and had his jersey number promptly raised to the rafters at the beginning of the 1971-1972 season. He would go on to win another seven Stanley Cups as an executive and ambassador for the Canadiens.
For many generations, his exploits were things of legend. My parents were in elementary school when he retired. To my grandparents, he was a God, especially to my paternal grandfather. For my generation, he was simply a class act – the
One of my father’s cherished memories was getting to go see Beliveau play against the Minnesota North Stars at the Montreal Forum with his father, on February 11, 1971. He noted what a treat it was for him and his father, coming from modest means, as the tickets were gifted to them.
On that night, Beliveau would score a hat-trick against North Star goaltender Gilles Gilbert to reach the 500-goal mark, with my father remembering “two of the goals were scored in classic Beliveau style, near the net with him deftly deking the net minder. I can remember the roar of the crowd when he scored his third goal, and the look on my father’s face.”
He added, “on February 11, 1971, unknown to Mr. Beliveau, he created a memory in a young boy, and his father, which is still vivid for me some 43 years later.”
For as long as I can remember, every time the camera flashed over Beliveau, the crowd, whether they be 70 year-old fans or 10 year-old kids, everyone would cheer. Watching games at the bar or at home with family and friends, there was always a warm, personal Beliveau story or anecdote when they’d pan the camera towards him.
Another anecdote that my father shared a few years ago always stuck with me about the type of man Beliveau was. He was at a game and the Canadiens were getting shelled. It was nearing the end of the third and the Bell Centre was emptying. He was sitting a few rows behind Beliveau.
The guy my father was watching the game with wanted to leave early, since the game was out of reach and he didn’t want to be stuck in traffic. Beliveau was still sitting watching the game, so my father refused to leave – his reasoning being if Beliveau sat to watch the whole game, regardless of the debacle on the ice, everyone should.
Beliveau sat there until the final seconds ticked away. To me, that shows just a glimpse of the inspiration and respect he commanded, likely without even knowing it. But also the love he had for the Canadiens.
Tributes will, and justifiably so, pour in from all ends of the sports world. The Canadiens, and the NHL, lost a
favorite grandfather. He’ll be remembered for his play, as well as his class and integrity, which will resonate with the Canadiens organization forever.