ST. PAUL – The Canadiens won’t have to look far for inspiration on Wednesday night.
Hitting the ice with heavy hearts on Wednesday morning in Minnesota, the Habs are mourning the loss of one of the greatest players and ambassadors in hockey history after learning of the passing of Jean Béliveau on Tuesday evening. Having spent 20 seasons playing for the Canadiens and another four decades representing the team with grace and class after hanging up the skates, Béliveau leaves behind a legacy unmatched by any other player to have donned the “CH”.
While no Habs on the current roster are old enough to have seen him play live, any Canadiens fan – or Canadian in general – can attest that the impact he had extended far beyond the confines of the rink.
“He was a great human being. A great person. Put hockey aside and look at what he represents not only in Quebec and Canada, but across the world, and respect is a word that comes right away when you talk about Mr. Béliveau,” described Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, who most recently had a chance to visit with the Hall-of-Famer at Béliveau’s home in Longueuil in September. “It’s hard to explain what he represents. The sadness throughout the organization [is something] you could feel in the dressing room this morning.”
Before practice, the team’s coaching staff assembled the players to share their memories of watching Béliveau play. From having his name engraved on the Cup a league-record 17 times to having personally forced an NHL rule change after scoring three goals in 44 seconds on a single power play in 1955, there’s no shortage of stories to recount about the exploits Béliveau accomplished on the ice. For Michel Therrien, who grew up in Montreal cheering for the Canadiens, there was one Béliveau highlight that stood out more than others from his childhood.
|Jean Béliveau after scoring his 500th career NHL goal, on February 11, 1971. |
“We spoke to the players this morning. I told them I was there when he scored his 500th goal, against the Minnesota North Stars,” said Therrien, who was seven years old when Béliveau potted his milestone marker on February 11, 1971 at the Montreal Forum. “I described the way he scored the goal and then we went on YouTube after to watch it. You reflect on memories like that. It reminds me of great moments I spent with my father. You think back to childhood memories like that one. The Canadiens’ family lost a true giant.”
One of just three current Habs to have suited up for the Canadiens’ Centennial game on December 4, 2009, Carey Price has had the opportunity to cross paths with the legendary former captain on many occasions during his eight years in Montreal. The legacy left behind by Béliveau is one Price is hoping to use as a blueprint for his own career with the Canadiens.
“He was the bar for being a Montreal Canadien,” shared the three-time All-Star and Olympic gold medalist, who recently won the Jean Béliveau Trophy for his work in the Montreal community. “He set the standard for everyone else to follow and he was just a really good human being. He was a winner and he was a humble winner. He was the benchmark and he’ll always be remembered.”
|Carey Price with Mrs. Béliveau |
The longest-serving captain in Canadiens’ history, having won five of his Stanley Cups during his 10-year tenure with the “C” on his sweater, Béliveau is the perfect example for the team’s current crop of leaders to follow – something that isn’t lost on assistant captain Max Pacioretty.
“You hear about how he led and his team-first mentality. He was all class and that’s what defines his leadership,” explained the 26-year-old forward, who was also in the lineup for the team’s Centennial game in 2009. “I think that’s what we’re going for right now in our organization, to build character like he had. This can kind of open up our eyes to how we have to act on and off the ice and try to model our games and our lives off of what he did.”
Some players have been able to brush shoulders with Béliveau behind-the-scenes at the Bell Centre, but others have even earlier memories of meeting “Le Gros Bill” in hockey dressing rooms before they turned pro.
“I was in Atom when I had the chance to meet him and speak to him a few times,” recalled Hull, QC native Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, who added that Béliveau is his father’s favorite player. “He was an extremely nice man, and very approachable. That’s what I remember most about him. It’s a huge loss for the entire Canadiens organization.”
Even growing up a province away in Ontario, P.K. Subban was privy to his own private meet-and-greet with the Habs great during his minor hockey days in Toronto.
“At 10 years old, I got to meet Jean Béliveau and that’s when I started being a Canadiens fan,” divulged Subban. “My dad has been a huge fan since he moved to Canada, but sometimes when you’re able to meet people and see them in person, you become a fan. For me, meeting Jean Béliveau was it. My coach, Martin Ross, was able to bring him to one of our hockey games and bring him into our dressing room and it was something special. I had a special moment with him.
“He said a number of things to my teammates and to myself. He shared words of wisdom that I haven’t forgotten,” continued Subban, who added that Béliveau’s daughter, Hélène, had been in the process of arranging a visit between he and her father for Sunday when the team returns home from the current four-game road trip. “I still remember my first game playing at the Bell Centre and seeing him sitting behind the bench. It was something special. It’s tough to see him go. I wasn’t old enough to watch him play during his time, but I’m old enough now to understand the impact he’s had on the game and on the Montreal Canadiens. You look at his accolades and what he’s accomplished in his career, but I think it’s more what he accomplished off the ice as a person. He’s the ultimate gentleman, champion, and leader. It would be great to be able to get a win in his honor.”
A few hours from puck drop at the Xcel Energy Center for his team’s 27th game of the season, Bergevin was asked if he wants his players to play for Béliveau against the Wild. His answer, without hesitation: “Yes.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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