Tributes pour after death of Montreal Canadiens great Jean Beliveau
Published Wednesday, December 3, 2014 11:46AM CST Last Updated Wednesday, December 3, 2014 3:32PM CST
MONTREAL -- On his death at age 83, Montreal Canadiens great Jean Beliveau was remembered as a "hockey giant," a "legend" and a "role model to us all."
Tributes poured in from around the hockey world and from political leaders after the Canadiens announced that perhaps their best player ever, and certainly their greatest captain, had died.
"Beyond being one of the greatest players in NHL history, Jean Beliveau was class personified," said Canadiens owner and president Geoff Molson. "He was a hero to generations of his fellow French Canadians and hockey fans everywhere. Our sport has lost a great ambassador."
Flags were lowered to half-mast at the Quebec National Assembly and at Montreal city hall while the hockey great was honoured in the House of Commons.
Highlights and reminiscences from fans and Beliveau's former teammates and opponents dominated newscasts. At an arena named after him in Longueuil, Que., the suburb where Beliveau and his family lived for more than 50 years, fans brought flowers to his statue, and one put a Canadiens scarf around its neck.
Beliveau won 10 Stanley Cups in his 20 seasons as a player from 1950 to 1971 and seven more as part of the administration of the National Hockey League's most successful franchise.
But he was known and cherished as much for his graciousness and class as for his hockey skill.
"He was a great human being," said Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin. "Put hockey aside and look at what he represents not only in Quebec and Canada, but across the world."
Bergevin said the Canadiens, in the midst of a four-game road trip, would all wear Beliveau's No. 4 on their helmets in a game against the Wild in Minnesota on Wednesday night. The team's next home game is Tuesday night against the Vancouver Canucks.
For fans to pay their respects, Beliveau will "lay in wake" at the Bell Centre on Sunday and Monday, the team announced. His funeral is set for Wednesday at Mary Queen of the World cathedral near the Bell Centre.
It promises to be an emotional week, as Beliveau was likely the most popular and respected Canadien in the club's 105-year history.
"He was the bar for being a Montreal Canadien," goalie Carey Price told the team's website. "He set the standard for everyone else to follow. He was a winner and he was a humble winner."
No one knew that better than Beliveau's former linemate Frank Mahovlich, who joined the Canadiens in the 1970-71 season after starring for Toronto and Detroit earlier in his career. Mahovlich discovered a captain like none he'd seen before.
"When I got traded to the Canadiens, I wondered why they had so much success and I found that they never had the problems we had with other clubs," said Mahovlich. " If there was a problem, the player would go to Beliveau and Beliveau would take it up to management and get it resolved.
"So you were ready to play hockey all the time. You didn't have all the grievances other teams had. I think that meant a lot."
Mahovlich was on the ice on Feb. 11, 1971, when his six-foot-three centre had a hat trick to reach 500 career goals. The historic marker was a beauty, with Mahovlich slipping a pass to Phil Roberto on the right wing on a rush and Beliveau sweeping in to take the pass, deke Minnesota goalie Gilles Gilbert and flip a backhand inside the far post.
"Getting an assist on his 500th goal was an honour," said Mahovlich. "It was a great goal."
It was a goal that typified the grace and skill Beliveau brought to the sport.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman released a statement saying hockey was "elevated forever" by Beliveau's "character, dignity and class.
"No record book can capture, no image can depict, no statue can convey the grandeur of the remarkable Jean Beliveau, whose elegance and skill on the ice earned the admiration of the hockey world while his humility and humanity away from the rink earned the love of fans everywhere. His departure leaves an immeasurable void."
It's been a sombre time for the hockey world. Former player, coach and executive Pat Quinn and former Canadien Gilles Tremblay both died last week, while "Mr. Hockey" Gordie Howe suffered a major stroke in late October.
Beliveau always seemed to have time to talk to fans, sign an autograph or pose for a picture. Stories abound of him sending a note and making a phone call to fans who were ailing or even those who just wished to meet him.
"Big Jean always practised what he preached," said former Canadien Murray Wilson. "He had a very legible autograph because he always thought it was special for someone to ask him for his autograph."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, an avid hockey fan, offered condolences on behalf of Canadians.
"Mr. Beliveau will be remembered as a hockey giant who inspired a nation with his outstanding skill, humility and pure love of the game," he said in a statement. "His legacy lives on in the records he set, the legions of hockey players that he inspired, and the deep love he shared with his home province of Quebec."
Gov. Gen. David Johnston said Canada had "lost a great champion."
In Quebec City, the national assembly observed a minute's silence. Premier Philippe Couillard remembered the Habs legend as a man who transcended sport.
"For Quebecers and Canadians, he was more than just a great hockey player -- he was a gentleman," said Couillard, who recalled getting an autograph from Beliveau outside the old Montreal Forum when he was 13. "He gave us an image of ourselves that we liked."
Senator Jacques Demers, who coached Montreal to a Stanley Cup in 1993, said: "What I'm most proud of today, as a French-Canadian, is the tremendous honour that he's paid in tributes by all Canada, anglophones. That makes me feel very special."
And Montreal mayor Denis Coderre sent out a tweet that said: "Farewell Mr Beliveau, you were an inspiration for us all. A true gentleman."
Beliveau won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP twice. He captured the Art Ross Trophy as the leading scorer in 1956 and won the inaugural the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1965. In 1,125 games, he recorded 1,219 points on 507 goals and 712 assists.
The native of Trois-Rivieres, Que., who grew up in Victoriaville, Que., was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972. His No. 4 was retired in 1971.
Beliveau had been in poor health in recent months. His death was felt around the NHL.
"With his great talent and class, Jean Beliveau not only became a hockey legend but also a model who will be remembered in Quebec and Canada forever," said Colorado Avalanche coach and former Canadiens goalie Patrick Roy.
Fellow Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux said Beliveau was "class personified."
"He was a hero to generations of his fellow French Canadians and hockey fans everywhere," said Lemieux. "Our sport has lost a great ambassador."
"He's an unbelievable man," Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "When you talk about class, it has Jean Beliveau written all over it. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to get to know him."
Paul Henderson, the 1972 Summit Series hero who played against Beliveau, added: "He played the game the way the game was supposed to be played, but how he conducted himself off the ice. . . I remember thinking 'That's the kind of man I want to be, in terms of a husband, a father. You need role models like that -- like Jean Beliveau. You ask a lot of people from my era, Beliveau was one of the guys that you wanted to emulate. Man, he lived his life well."