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Canadiens' Beliveau one of a kind

by John Halligan
Jean Beliveau "I had the God-given talent and the immense good fortune to become a star on a team of stars who set a record that may stand forever -- five straight Stanley Cups." -- Jean Beliveau

On the ice and off for more than a half century, Jean Beliveau has been the epitome of elegance, grace and style, a "gentleman's gentleman," a hero for fans of the Montreal Canadiens and for the Province of Quebec.

Handsome, articulate and eminently dignified, Beliveau became an idol for hockey fans across Canada and around the world. More than three decades after his retirement, he remains in great demand for personal appearances as an inspirational speaker and all-around goodwill ambassador for the game of hockey -- and for the game of life.

Jean Beliveau was hockey's ultimate "team" player, highly skilled both offensively and defensively. Captain of the Canadiens from 1961 to 1971, he led by example and by accomplishment. "Le Gros Jean" they called him, and by any measuring stick his feats were big in every sense of the word.

Beliveau's Hall of Fame playing career spanned exactly 20 seasons, from 1951 to 1971. He was the middleman, the bridge really, in the Canadiens' marvelous line of succession, the passing of the torch from Richard to Beliveau to Lafleur. First names were hardly necessary for those three guys.

"As captain of the Canadiens, I felt a lot of tension," Beliveau remembers. "You had the responsibility to live up to the great players of the past, to lead the current generation, your teammates, and to make it better for those to follow." Jean Beliveau did all of that.

Veteran hockey writer Red Fisher, writing in his marvelous memoir Hockey, Heroes And Me might have said it best about Jean Beliveau. Fisher wrote: "Has any game ever produced a better role model? A better leader -- or as good? Has hockey ever had a player who made skating more of an art? I have known (Beliveau) as an athlete and a friend for (more than) 40 years and I don't think so."

Said Frank Mahovlich, another Hall of Famer who was Beliveau's teammate for one magical Stanley Cup-winning season in 1970-71 (Beliveau's last year): "Everybody knows about his class, his talent. The remarkable thing about him is that he was able to lead (the Canadiens) for so long.

"To be a leader, you've got to get along with management as well as with the players," Mahovlich continued. "Jean has always managed to do both exceptionally."

For younger fans unlucky enough not to have seen Jean Beliveau dominate a hockey rink, think of Mario Lemieux in his prime. Lemieux's strength, skating style, and goal-scoring prowess were about as close to Beliveau's as anyone.

Beliveau's magnificent career included nearly every honor a hockey player can achieve. There were 10 Stanley Cups (the second-highest total ever), two Hart Trophies as the most valuable player in the National Hockey League, a Ross Trophy as scoring champion, a Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, and six first-team All-Star selections.

In his own words, Beliveau once captured the essence of an ideal gentleman and an ideal athlete. It is the essence of honesty, and without knowing it, Jean Beliveau has described himself:

"To thrive, an athlete must be honest with himself and his friends, honest with his employers and honest with the fans."

How do you say it best about Jean Beliveau? Easy: He is one of a kind.


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