MONTREAL – To say that Mr. Jean Béliveau meant a lot to Geoff Molson and his family would be an understatement.
After learning of the legendary Habs captain’s passing at age 83 late Tuesday night, the Canadiens’ owner, president, and CEO addressed the media on Wednesday afternoon to share his thoughts on a man idolized by many for his unique qualities both on and off the ice.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Béliveau family at this time. Everyone across the province, across the country and across North America is in mourning. We’re very sad. Our thoughts are with them. It’s a tough day not only for their family, but for the whole population of Canada and the world to lose such a great man,” offered a visibly grief-stricken Molson, who visited Béliveau at his Longueuil home last Friday, spending about 15 minutes with the 20-year NHL veteran and 10-time Stanley Cup champion.
“His loss represents a lot for hockey, for communities across Quebec and for Canada, too. He’s probably the most respected hockey man in the world,” added Molson. “He’s someone who touched a lot of people in every facet of life, whether it was in terms of leadership, in terms of being a gentleman or just by being an extraordinary hockey player. He touched a lot of people for more than seven decades.”
It’s safe to say Molson was one of them. While he never had the opportunity to see the longest serving captain in team history ply his trade in person, Molson spent enough time around the Hall-of-Famer to understand just how important a figure he was across the hockey world.
“If I look back at the history of our family, the relationship dates back to the early beginning. Hartland Molson and my grandfather, Tom Molson, signed him. He worked with them for years. Then, he worked with my father for many years. I’ve had the chance to work with him since my entry into the Montreal Canadiens in 2009. We’ve known him for three generations,” confided Molson. “As a kid, he was a giant that I looked up to every time I saw him. He was somebody that always stopped to shake your hand and say hello. He was respected by everyone. From a family perspective, we’ve had some great experiences with him. We’re very proud to have known him for so long.
“If anybody is ever capable of following in his footsteps, it’s an enormous accomplishment. He was one of the best centermen in the history of the NHL and one of the biggest centermen of his time,” added Molson. “In the community, he had an impact on hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Whenever I bump into people outside of Montreal, his name comes up. People say – ‘I don’t like the Montreal Canadiens, but I like Jean Béliveau.’ That says a lot. To aspire to be anything close to Jean Béliveau is a great ambition.”
With that in mind, Molson went on to detail the schedule of events in the days leading up to Mr. Béliveau’s funeral next Wednesday afternoon, December 10, at Mary Queen of the World Cathedral in downtown Montreal. Mr. Béliveau will also lie in state at the Bell Centre on Sunday, December 7 and Monday, December 8, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST.
“We’re going to do many things to honor his memory. There are four important days coming up. We’re in the process of developing our plan for the game against the Vancouver Canucks [on December 9]. We’re definitely going to give our fans a chance to celebrate such a great man,” stressed Molson. “We’re going to do everything possible for him for everything he did. It’s incredible to see the public’s reaction. Everyone has a story to tell. There are thousands of stories being told, and it’s really impressive to see at what point everyone loved Jean Béliveau.”
So, what is Molson’s most vivid memory of a man who still ranks second on the Canadiens’ all-time regular season scoring list?
“When I saw him behind the bench and after every game, there was always a line of fans waiting for his autograph. He stayed and signed all of them, until the last person left,” recalled Molson. “Whether it was for photographs or autographs, he always made time. He did that in his 60s, but also in his 50s and his 40s, too. He’s a man that always made time for the fans and the community. I always respected his patience towards people.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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