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Canadiens legend Beliveau honored at Bell Centre

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL -- They wouldn't have stopped of their own accord. No, they only stopped because she asked them to.

The capacity crowd at Bell Centre on Tuesday wanted more than anything to show their appreciation, especially after a moving video tribute to the late Jean Beliveau got them even more eager to do so.

From afar, the fans in this city watched Elise Beliveau show her strength this week in greeting every single person who visited Bell Centre on Sunday and Monday as her husband lay in state. She shook hands and accepted condolences from a public that was almost as much a part of her family as her own daughter and grandchildren.

Finally, given the opportunity to do so in the same venue, but one now meant for such an outpouring of gratitude, the fans at Bell Centre stood and cheered.

And cheered some more.

For two minutes, the fans showed how they felt about Elise Beliveau, and she showed them right back, raising her hands to the sky on several occasions to show her appreciation, even though her grief had overtaken her on several occasions during the poignant ceremony prior to the game between the Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks.

When she finally couldn't take it anymore, Elise Beliveau implored the crowd to stop.

And they did. Instantly.

Just as the capacity crowd didn't make the slightest noise, nary even a cough, for nearly a minute when the Canadiens asked them to observe a moment of silence in honor of Beliveau, the crowd did it again when Elise Beliveau made it clear it was too much for her to handle.

She had handled so much this week already.

The ceremony began with a photo of Jean Beliveau as a baby in his carriage projected onto the ice surface, beginning a montage that took us through his boyhood, the early part of his career with the Quebec Aces, and the glorious moments he enjoyed in a Canadiens uniform, ending with him holding the torch above his head at a Montreal home opener in recent years.

It was a lifetime of service to an organization perfectly documented in a few minutes.

The Canadiens and Canucks players then came on the ice, with no music to announce their arrival, and lined up on the blue lines before backing away to watch the video tribute playing on the screen. None of the players are old enough to have seen Beliveau play, but the highlights in the video package suggest he would not look the least bit out of place if he grabbed a uniform and joined them in his prime.

That's when the ovation began. Elise Beliveau, her daughter Helene and grandchildren Magalie and Mylene were in the spotlight, crying and comforting each other while the Bell Centre crowd tried to offer their version of support.

Canadiens public address announcer Michel Lacroix cut the ovation, at the behest of Elise Beliveau, by asking the crowd to sing O Canada. As they sang, the seat Jean Beliveau filled at Bell Centre for years, Seat 1, Row EE, Section 102, was lit up with a spotlight, his No. 4 jersey on the back of the seat, as it will be for the remainder of this season.

When the game began, the spotlight on that seat remained, with Elise Beliveau sitting next to it.

Next to him, as she has all week. As she had for decades.

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