Class Of His Own: Jean Beliveau

It was in the midst of some sunny afternoon in a British Columbia suburb of Vancouver over two decades ago that I found myself running around the cul-de-sac with a hockey stick, though this one was considerably too big for me.  Some amount of time later, my mom would come running from the house at full bore to stop me before anything happened to my stick.  On the surface, it would never seem like a big deal seeing as (no word of a lie) my dad got it at my aunt’s garage sale for five dollars; the reason my dad asked her IMG_1689“are you out of your fucking mind?” will soon make sense and illustrate why it was such a big deal.  At the time, I had little idea of who it belonged to but would learn over the course of my time exactly who it belonged to.  This same stick was chosen, with reason, as the feature photo for this piece.


While I will never own the fortune of ever meeting the nicest man to ever play in the National Hockey League, this was my shared experience with him.  Many Canadiens fans have their experiences and stories with because Jean Beliveau because it was simply his nature that he never refused a soul.  He can simply be recalled until the end of time as being the gold standard of hockey and humanity alike.


A member of a team more loaded with legends than any other in hockey, Jean Beliveau still stands above so many of those peers.  Considered throughout his career –and still today by many– to be hockey’s king and perhaps best of all time, his inspiration spanned so far and wide for decades on end that while only a certain portion saw him play, so many more have come to know him and will continue to do so.  If one man embodied the entire legacy of the Montreal Canadiens and everything for which the CH stands, the lead candidate must be Le Gros Bill.


Showcasing endless and immaculate grace, skill, class (of course) and the overall “it” factor, Beliveau was the picture perfect player and leader as he was the first skater of a larger than average stature to possess such an immense skill set of an unparalleled level; his skills superior to so many, he never needed to use his larger frame or superior strength to so many opponents by any dirty or unethical means.  Character, before it was a buzzword in today’s locker room, any mention or writing of the word could simply be replaced with his image and it would do better justice than the word itself.


Photo: Canadian Press

Photo: Canadian Press

Mention could be made of his unending accomplishments or further notion towards a status so legendary that most cannot even conceive such a realm but this and so much more can be characterized by one thing perhaps above all else: with the exception of a brief reign by Doug Harvey in between, Jean Beliveau had to fill the shoes of “The Rocket” Maurice Richard as the team captain and was the first to embrace the pressure of doing what those before him had done in leading this team to such consistent greatness with so many Stanley Cups.  A daunting task, outright impossible for most any human being to ever live, Beliveau did exactly as aforementioned: embraced it.


Without Jean Beliveau, this team may very well have been relegated to having just been another team that was great for only so many years.  Would the tradition have carried on without him? If it would have, it would never be quite what it is today.


For a fan base –for any group of particular people the world over– that has seen and experienced so much, it is likely safe to assume that we are perhaps a bit jaded towards so many instances or events.  Yet, here we are in a state of crippled emotion.  Those of us in this lifetime have been graced by a selection of the ghosts of Le Grand Club.  While each and every ghost carries their own unique essence, those that experienced Jean Beliveau in any form or capacity can attest to his being different from the rest.  He is the reason that not just before but now more than ever that when we rock the sweater or we enter the Bell Centre or the old Forum, we shall walk just a bit more upright and carry ourselves with just a bit more dignity; that we can all absorb something from his essence and hope that it makes us just a bit better as individuals and as representatives of this organization as well as those of us that shared the lifetime of Jean Beliveau.


While it may be subjective to select one individual player that stands out above the rest of those as part of this dynasty’s legacy, three names are spoken most often: Richard from some of the earliest years, Lafleur from some considerably later times and of course the man in the middle in Jean Beliveau.  Debates have been heard in favor of these men –and we will never hear the debate against them– and many more over the course of time but if we must place distinction upon these three in question, perhaps simply this can be said with some form of differentiation…


The Rocket was the greatest.

The Flower was the most talented.

Jean was simply the best.


Mr. Beliveau, we all love you and will do our utmost to pass on the impression that you have left within all of us.  We can only pray to do justice in carrying on the story of your legacy as a Canadien and as a human being.  I personally feel like a better person for having experienced you in my lifetime and will spend many more days and nights as I have in the past watching all of your greatest performances and moments time and time again.  Never shall you or your indelible essence be forgotten.


For All About The Habs and from the hands that shared the touch of a hockey stick emblazoned with your name,


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