There are missed birthdays, anniversaries and holidays galore and it’s all part of the job. But now and then the Canucks catch a break and Monday was one of those instances.
The team arrived in Montreal from Ottawa late Sunday night, so they were able to attend the wake of Canadiens great Jean Béliveau, who died December 2nd at the age of 83.
Béliveau, who played parts of 20 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens winning a combined 17 Stanley Cups between his playing days and as an executive – the most Cup victories in league history – was a lifelong ambassador of his beloved Habs. His life has been celebrated since he passed away and his body has been lying in state at the Bell Centre in Montreal allowing the public to pay their respects.
Monday was scheduled to be a team day off for the Canucks, but everyone in the organization currently on this road trip attended the wake out of respect for Béliveau, the player and the man.
Alex Burrows isn’t sure he’d be where he is today without Béliveau’s influence.
Although the 33-year-old from Pincourt, Quebec, never met Béliveau, he almost felt related to him growing up because of how much of a presence the Canadiens forward had within his family.
“My grandma and grandpa used to talk about him like he was God,” said Burrows, one of four Canucks players to address the media Monday. “They used to listen to the Canadiens on the radio every Saturday night and I think that’s one of the reasons my mom put me into hockey at a young age because Jean Béliveau was all class on and off the ice. My grandma would have liked me to become some kind of a Jean Béliveau.
“It’s a privilege to play the game that we love because of people like him. He was a great leader for the Canadiens and for us to be here was the least we could do to pay respects to him and his family.”
The set-up at the arena was exactly what Béliveau deserved. Red carpet covered the ice surface with roped burgundy barriers leading from one end of the ice to the other. The walk leading up to Béliveau’s casket was surreal; to the left, the seat Béliveau watched countless Canadiens games in was spotlighted, as was his retired No. 4 jersey in the rafters above. Two massive banners, one with a recent photo and the other from his playing days, were front and centre, with a Béliveau 4 1950-1971 Habs banner between and a silver Béliveau statue beneath.
His casket sat between the Art Ross and Conn Smythe trophies to the left, and Stanley Cup and Hart Memorial Trophy to the right; enormous bouquets of flowers completed the immaculate stage.
Béliveau’s wife, Élise, daughter and granddaughters were on hand to greet the Canucks, as they have been to accept condolences from the public.
Burrows made sure he let the family know how much of a positive influence Béliveau had on him.
“I told them I got into hockey because of Jean and that he was truly an inspiring person and ambassador for the game.”
Canucks coach Willie Desjardins was the final member of the team through the wake and he was emotional when speaking about Béliveau afterward.
“It’s such a great name,” said Desjardins, when asked what comes to mind when he hears the name Jean Béliveau.
“My family is out of Saint-Jérôme (Quebec), and to my father Jean Béliveau was the best and when I started playing hockey, I wore No. 4. It wasn’t just because he was a great player, it’s how he carried himself and how he approached the game. And with all those great things, inside he was also a winner, he always found a way.
“That’s a legendary name and it’s out of my class.”
Desjardins said that while Béliveau, whom he met once and described as “such a classy guy,” will be sorely missed, “he left a great legacy within our game.”
That legacy will be honoured by the Canadiens Tuesday night before Vancouver faces Montreal, and although the logistics of the ceremony are still being worked out, Desjardins said if the Canucks can be on the bench to celebrate Béliveau, they will be.