MONTREAL - In what was supposed to be a crowning achievement for him, Bob Gainey instead seized the moment at his number retirement ceremony to honour two men who helped him get there.
Gainey's No. 23 was retired by the Montreal Canadiens in an hour-long ceremony Saturday night prior to their game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, coached by Gainey's long-time friend Ken Hitchcock.
Gainey's close friend Christine Pickerell and his sister Maureen began the ceremony by introducing the Bell Centre crowd to the Bob Gainey most fans don't know - the generous family man, his sharp sense of humour, the intense pride he feels for the city of Montreal and his hometown of Peterborough, Ont.
But once Gainey took the microphone, he almost immediately chose to honour two members of the Canadiens coaching staff who each spent significant parts of their playing careers on a line with Gainey - Doug Jarvis and Guy Carbonneau.
"It was very rare that my skates hit the ice while I was a member of the Montreal Canadiens that I wasn't with one or the other," Gainey said. "Sure, I played with many other players, the Drydens, the Lafleurs, the Robinsons. But for me, these are my superstars."
The gesture of recognition was typical of a man who was said to be the ultimate leader, one who always made sure all his fellow players felt they were a part of the team.
"That's the way the guy is," Carbonneau said. "We went through 45 minutes of ceremonies and nobody talked about him, he talked about everyone else."
It was that leadership and his tremendous skills as a defensive forward that made Gainey a cornerstone of the Canadiens dynasty of the 1970's and once led legendary Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov to label him as the most complete player in the world.
The only part of Gainey's short speech that touched on himself was when he spoke about how important it is to him to be a part of the Montreal Canadiens family.
"It is not easy for me to explain how my association with the Canadiens and my experience in our city has impacted my life," Gainey said in French. "The impact was incredible."
Gainey entered the arena for the ceremony through the Zamboni tunnel dressed in full hockey gear and took a tour around the ice saluting the fans, who welcomed him with a five-minute standing ovation.
Gainey's children - Anna, Stephen and Colleen - were waiting for him when he reached the red carpet, as were 10 members of the 1986 Canadiens he captained to the Stanley Cup.
Gainey hugged Habs captain Saku Koivu after he brought out the No. 23 banner and then joined his family, wrapping his arm around his youngest daughter Colleen as the banner was raised to the rafters.
Just as Gainey was about to leave the ice, he spotted Hitchcock standing near the visitors bench. The two men who won a Stanley Cup together in Dallas in 1999 embraced and whispered a few words to each other before Gainey left the ice to thunderous applause from the crowd.
There was little mention during the ceremony of the personal tragedies Gainey has had to endure, losing his wife Cathy to cancer and his daughter Laura when she was lost at sea in December of 2006. Gainey's sister Maureen - a Peterborough elementary school teacher who gave her entire speech in French - simply stated that the way he handled those two painful situations was "an inspiration to our entire family."
The memories of Cathy and Laura Gainey live on in the Gainey Foundation, a fund set up last year that supports charitable organization offering environmental and arts education programs for young people.
Both the Canadiens and Blue Jackets took the pre-game skate wearing No. 23 jerseys that will be signed by Gainey and the player who wore it for an online auction to benefit the Gainey Foundation. The Montreal Canadiens Children's Foundation also made a $25,000 donation to the Gainey Foundation.
Gainey becomes the 14th player to have his number retired by the Canadiens, joining Jacques Plante (No. 1), Doug Harvey (No. 2), Jean Beliveau (No. 4), Bernard (Boom Boom) Geoffrion (No. 5), Howie Morenz (No. 7), Maurice (Rocket) Richard (No. 9), Guy Lafleur (No. 10), Dickie Moore and Yvan Cournoyer (No. 12), Henri Richard (No. 16), Serge Savard (No. 18), Larry Robinson (No. 19) and Ken Dryden (No. 29).
Gainey spent his entire 16-season playing career with the Canadiens, and his 1,160 games played trail only Henri Richard for the most by a forward in franchise history. Though Gainey insists there were others before him, he at least popularized - if not defined - the role of a checking forward when he entered the NHL in 1973. He won the Selke Trophy as the league's top defensive forward the first four years it was awarded, and no other NHL forward has won it that often since.
Gainey won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1979 when he notched 16 points in 16 playoff games to lead the Canadiens to their fourth straight Stanley Cup.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1992.