MONTREAL -- One day before they face off against each other, the Montreal Canadiens and the Vancouver Canucks shared the common goal of comforting Jean Beliveau's widow and family in their time of grief.
P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty and their Montreal teammates paid their respects Monday to the late Canadiens legend who lay in state at Bell Centre for a second straight day.
An hour before the arena's doors were opened to the general public at 10 a.m., the Montreal players and coaching staff lined up to offer their condolences to Jean's wife, Elise, the couple's daughter Helene, their grandchildren Magalie and Mylene, and other members of the Beliveau family.
"I find the family to be very strong. They're united," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "For Mrs. Beliveau and the family to take the time to accept everyone's condolences, it impressed me enormously. It was important for us to be there to pay our respects."
Born and raised in Connecticut, Pacioretty arrived with linemate David Desharnais, who is from Laurier Station, near Quebec City. Pacioretty was struck by the impact Beliveau's death on Dec. 2 has had in Montreal and beyond.
"This morning was an eye-opener," Pacioretty said after practice at the Canadiens suburban training facility. "You know how important he was and how many people that he touched, but to see the Bell Centre dressed up like that and to hear how many people went through there and for the family to take the time to greet people, it's too hard to explain how important it is. I'm just glad I've been able to be a part of it."
Pacioretty, who leads the Canadiens with 20 points, was grateful to have the opportunity to speak with Elise Beliveau.
"Her strength is something that I've heard about," Pacioretty said. "I wasn't expecting her to be that strong today as she was. A lady like that, she's so influential in this city and is so involved with our team, she knows the right things to say and that was a glimpse of it today. I've talked to her briefly (before), but today you really get to see the true character of a person. It was amazing to be able to talk to her today. Even if it was for a short bit, it's something I will never forget."
Subban and Therrien were among the many team members who embraced Mrs. Beliveau.
"Being part of the Montreal Canadiens comes with a legacy, and I think our young players were able to understand the extent of that legacy that people like Mr. Beliveau left, even if they didn't see him play or even know him personally," Therrien said. "There's a history to the Montreal Canadiens, and it's people like him who created that history. We are privileged to be part of the big family of the Montreal Canadiens."
Brendan Gallagher was impressed by the Beliveau family's spirit of openness in personally receiving every visitor.
"She doesn't have to do that, but for her to do that I think says a lot about the type of people they are. Both of them," Gallagher said. "Just the fact they're willing to do that, you hear all the stories about Mr. Beliveau and the way that he represented himself, he always had time to give to people. Just that is one of those examples. I'm sure anyone who's ever had the chance to meet them can tell many stories similar to that one."
Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin and the rest of the Canucks players and coaches paid their respects later Monday morning.
"I think you kind of get a flood of emotions walking down the aisle there to the family," said Vancouver forward Chris Higgins, who played for Montreal from 2003-09. "I can't believe how strong his family is. That's a pretty incredible thing to stand there and shake everyone's hand that comes in. It just shows that his attributes have been passed along to his family and it's an honor to be here."
Canucks forward Alexandre Burrows said he owes a debt of gratitude to Beliveau for his hockey career because of his grandmother, who planted the seed that spawned his own passion for the game.
"He was her favorite player," Burrows said. "My grandma, just outside Montreal, growing up here, listened to every game on the radio or on TV, and every time she talked about the Canadiens it was with a lot of passion and Jean Beliveau was mentioned in every topic, so he was a great leader for the Canadiens, and for us it was the least that we could do today to pay our respect to his family and be here."
Vancouver coach Willie Desjardins' family was also influenced by the Hall of Fame center.
"To my father, Jean Beliveau was the best, and when I started playing hockey I wore No. 4 and it was for Jean Beliveau," Desjardins said. "And it wasn't just because he was a great player, it was the way he carried himself and how he approached the game, and with all those great things, though, inside there was a winner. He always found a way, so the name is a legendary name and it's out of my class, but it's a legendary name."
Desjardins was particularly struck by the tribute in the Bell Centre stands; Beliveau's No. 4 jersey draped over the back of his seat behind the Canadiens bench, which will remain that way for every Montreal home game for the rest of the season.
"It's sad when you see the No. 4 on that seat and you wonder," Desjardins said. "It's a big loss for our game. The good thing, though, the legacy he's left will never leave because he has left stuff in our game and the good part will be there, but he will be missed."