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Pacioretty understood what it meant to be Canadiens captain

Forward, traded to Golden Knights, embraced legacy of Beliveau, city of Montreal

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

There will be much discussion about Max Pacioretty's departure from the Montreal Canadiens, the team for which the 29-year-old native of New Canaan, Connecticut has played every one of his 664 regular-season and Stanley Cup Playoff games.

The Canadiens traded their captain of three seasons to the Vegas Golden Knights for forwards Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a second-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft late Sunday.

Fans and media will argue about the wisdom, timing, rationale and personalities behind the trade. But beyond debate is this: Pacioretty understood what it meant to be a Canadiens player, and crystal clear to him was the gravity of the captaincy and its rich history on hockey's oldest and most storied franchise.

 

[RELATED: Pacioretty traded to Golden Knights by Canadiens2018-19 NHL Trade Tracker]

 

In a city where many players have been unaware of or simply not interested in learning how this team is woven into a city's fabric, Pacioretty got it. He knew that the Canadiens are larger than life in this market, and he never forgot that on the ice and in the community, whether at high-profile events or in unpublicized moments with fans, the underprivileged and especially with sick children, in hospitals and in their homes when he'd pay them visits.

Pacioretty rode a roller coaster in Montreal, his 10 seasons here including five scoring at least 30 goals, his election as the 29th captain in Canadiens history, dealing with injury and, in recent seasons, being the subject of constant trade rumors and the tallest lightning rod for the Canadiens' underachievement. Trade speculation heated up to a boil the past few weeks.

Through much of it, Pacioretty's compass was Jean Beliveau, the iconic Canadiens captain who died on Dec. 2, 2014 yet in some ways remains the conscience of the Canadiens. 

"I don't want to misquote her but Madame (Elise) Beliveau (wife of the late Canadiens legend) told me that later in his career, Jean sometimes struggled with the criticism he heard in Montreal," Pacioretty said in August.

"Just knowing that at times it affected him, the gold standard everywhere and one of the biggest icons in NHL history, makes it easier for me to realize that we're all human. … Every time I see Madame Beliveau at a game, or Jean and Elise's daughter, Helene, I don't want to say I get emotional, but I'm happy. I want to make them proud."

Pacioretty's election as captain was announced Sept. 18, 2015, and that afternoon he spoke emotionally, as he would many times later, about the honor of being captain, 16 of the 28 men before him having been elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

In dressing rooms at Bell Centre and Montreal's training facility in suburban Brossard, walls adorned with photos of every Canadiens Hall of Fame player, Pacioretty spoke of his eyes forever finding Beliveau's portrait.

"No disrespect to any of the legends on the walls, but I'm always drawn to Jean Beliveau," he said. "He's the model captain for anyone who'd want to be a captain in this league, especially for the Canadiens. I have pictures all over my house -- my favorite is of (Hall of Fame former captains) Jean Beliveau and Yvan Cournoyer."

In 2017, Pacioretty was named recipient of the Jean Beliveau Trophy, awarded annually to the Canadiens player who best exemplifies leadership qualities in the community based on their commitment, enthusiasm, involvement, and time invested in team and personal endeavors. It was presented to him on Bell Centre ice by Elise Beliveau.

Well before that, Pacioretty had invested himself fully in his team and community. Eight months after sustaining a concussion and non-displaced fractured fourth cervical vertebra in his neck during a game against the Boston Bruins at Bell Centre on March 8, 2011, he established a fundraising foundation at Montreal General Hospital, where he received emergency care that night and on other occasions.

Largely because of his comeback from those injuries, Pacioretty was voted winner of the 2012 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded to the player who best exemplifies qualities of perseverance, team spirit and dedication to hockey.

Pacioretty became a husband and the father of three boys, his fourth son expected in December, during his time with the Canadiens. A year ago, he moved his wife, Katia, and their children from a bedroom community on Montreal's south shore, where many Canadiens players live to escape the attention of the city, to a home downtown to better feel its pulse.

If Montreal will remain alive in Pacioretty's heart no matter his change of jersey, as he has said, his dream of winning the Stanley Cup with the Canadiens has evaporated with the trade. He grew up in Connecticut as a New York Rangers fan, a 5-year-old when the Rangers won the Cup in 1994, "thinking it was cool that they had won a Cup. Then I came here and it's 24. Twenty-four!"

As a young boy, Pacioretty attended his first NHL game at the famous Montreal Forum, the Canadiens' home from 1924 to 1996 until they moved a few blocks to Bell Centre, and a year ago moved his family to almost within the shadow of the former arena.

In August, and for months preceding it, the elephant in the room was Pacioretty's pending unrestricted free agency, his relationship with general manager Marc Bergevin and the Canadiens' apparent desire to trade him.

"Obviously, nothing's perfect," Pacioretty said. "But no matter where I am, I'm playing hockey for a living and I have a good life. I'll never complain about a business decision that I can't control. Everything falls into place for whatever reason. You have to deal with it and embrace it. I never thought I'd be sitting here now after 10 seasons, as captain of the Canadiens. I want to appreciate every day."

He still has his first skates, a pair of battered boots from 1993. His father, Raymond, laced them onto his feet the year the Canadiens won their most recent championship.

"There were opportunities in Montreal that I wish I'd taken advantage of," Pacioretty said. "I can't have a conversation now with Jean. I've always maintained the same thing: I love Montreal, but I can't control my contract situation. 

"As soon as you let your emotions take over, you stop realizing that hockey is a business both for the team and for yourself. At the end of the day, I look at how fortunate and privileged I am to be doing what I do to make a living for myself and my family."

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