Beliveau (pictured) and Jacques Lemaire were teammates for four seasons in Montreal
A 10-time Stanley Cup champion, Jean Beliveau is revered as one of hockey’s living legends. To Jacques Lemaire, he was once a teammate.
With the Devils set to host Montreal on Friday, Lemaire discussed Thursday's reports that Beliveau had suffered a stroke.
“It’s hard when you hear this,” Lemaire said. “We’re all getting older and it’s hard to accept. I know it’s not his first one. He’s been such a great person, a great man. Hopefully, he’s going to get better quick.”
Beliveau, 78, excelled during a 20-year career with Montreal. Lemaire joined the Canadiens as a 22-year-old rookie in 1967-68, and the two were teammates for the next four years.
Beliveau played his final NHL season in 1970-71, having collected 507 goals and 1,219 points in 1,125 career games. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame the next year.
“There’s a lot of people that just enjoy talking to that man,” Lemaire recounted. “A lot of people tell me, ‘Hey I met Beliveau and is he a nice man.’ Just to hear this is priceless.”
Like so many other young players of the era, Lemaire idolized Montreal’s No. 4. He recalled the first time they met.
“The very first time I think I was 17 years old,” he said. “I turned away because I didn’t want to face him. He was my idol at that time. I was too shy so I didn’t want him to talk to me, nothing. I just wanted to look at him like he was The Man.”
Beliveau had a manner that earned respect from players and fans alike.
“We all called him Monsieur Beliveau,” Lemaire said. “I remember when I got to the NHL I remember calling him Monsieur Beliveau. I don’t know, I guess we were raised like that, to respect. It meant that you respected people when you called them ‘Mister.’ It was strange, though, playing on the same team: ‘Hey, Mr. Beliveau.’”
Beliveau graceful style helped lead the Habs to five consecutive Cups from 1955-56 to 1959-60, then five more in his final six seasons.
He had the ability to make those around him better.
“Sometimes when he wasn’t scoring every game I remember people were saying that he wasn’t pushing but at that size and the type of stride that he had, he was faster than us without pushing as hard as we were,” Lemaire said. “What I remember is, he made every player that played with him into a scorer. It’s funny to say this, but if a guy would’ve scored 15 goals, he would play with him and go on to score 25. If he scored only five goals in a season, if he went on to play with him, he’d have scored 15.”
In those days before he’d made it to the NHL, Lemaire often took advantage of a job perk that gave him a bird’s-eye view of Beliveau’s greatness.
“I used to wash the stairs at the (Montreal Forum),” he said. “Instead of washing the stairs, I went all the way up and watched the practice. And they were thinking I was washing the stairs, but really I was learning what I was going to do the rest of my life.”