A Canadian of Integrity!
“Hockey was elevated forever
by his character, his dignity and his class!”
(NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman)
My Dad was very sports-minded. When time permitted, he played men's fastball as a catcher on a local team. Winter Saturday evenings was “Hockey Night in Canada”. Fervently we listened on the radio as Foster Hewitt called the Toronto Maple Leaf's games...thrilled each time at Foster's excited, “HE SHOOTS...HE SCORES!!!” It was a natural, that with my father's enthusiasm, I came to recognize many 'big names' in the National Hockey League.
In my blog series, Canadians of Interest, I've written about Hockey Great ~ Pat Quinn...from Hamilton, Ontario and his contribution to the World of Hockey. Recently, I'm informed about Gordie Howe, seriously ill and recovering from stroke problems. Also, a Canadian born in Floral, Saskatchewan.
In that era, there was no such thing as 'minor hockey' ~ kids in Quebec were usually coached by the local priests (no girls allowed) and played with their peers until they were deemed good enough to play against teams of factory workers from neighbouring towns on Saturday nights. Jean Beliveau once told a reporter, “My parents gave me a pair of skates when I was 3, maybe 4 years old; everyone had a sheet of ice in their yard, back then. So, my friends and I started skating and listening to the radio, then we dreamed of seeing ourselves in that Canadien jersey.” As a 15-year-old, the Montreal Canadiens acquired his professional rights. By the time he went to play for the Junior Quebec Citadels in the late 1940's, he was a 6-foot 3-inch 'man-child' with grace and deftness of play.
Today, I excerpt from a tribute to Jean Beliveau written by Bill Beacon of the Canadian Press...(published December 4, 2014)
The Consummate Captain
It's hard to imagine a classier hockey player, on and off the ice, than Jean Beliveau. A supremely skilled centre for 18 seasons for the Montreal Canadiens, the 83-year-old Beliveau was also a gracious spokesman for the team and the sport. The NHL lost the man who embodied all the attributes of their dynasty teams of the 1950's, 1960's and 1970's ~ talent, flair, intelligence and success. He scored 507 goals, won 10 Stanley Cups, 2 Hart trophies, Ross trophy, Conn Smythe trophy and was captain for 10 seasons before his retirement in 1971, then moved into an executive position with the club.
“Like millions of hockey fans who followed the life and the career of Jean Beliveau, the 'Canadiens' today mourn the passing of a man whose contribution to the development of our sport and our society was unmeasurable,” team owner Geoff Molson said in a statement posted on the Canadien's website on Wednesday, December 3, 2014. “Jean Beliveau was a great leader, a gentleman and arguably the greatest ambassador our game has ever known,” Molson added.
“Meeting him is not like meeting other stars from the old days,” stated Beliveau's former linemate Gilles Tremblay (who died last week). “When people see Bobby Hull, they say, 'Hi Bobby' but when they meet Big Jean, it's always, 'Hi, Mr. Beliveau' or 'Monsier Beliveau.' He commands respect.
NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, said, “For all the accomplishments he achieved and all the accolades received, Jean Beliveau was always the epitome of the boy whose only dream was to play for the 'Montreal Canadiens'.
Such was his spotless image, Beliveau turned down an offer from Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, in the 1980's to sit in the Senate and refused an offer extended by Prime Minister Jean Chretien in 1994 to become Canada's Governor-General.
It seemed that Beliveau got his business savvy from his father, Arthur Beliveau, an electrician...and his values from growing up in the small Quebec community of Victoriaville, where he was an altar boy at the local church. He learned to control the puck on a crowded back yard rink, and by the time he was a teenager, the Beliveau legend was growing. When Victoriaville's junior team folded, he moved to Quebec City and began filling rinks around the province. When he moved up to the senior Aces, he was said to be earning $20,000 in salary and endorsements on what officially was an amateur team.
The 'Canadiens' handed Beliveau, nicknamed Le Gros Bill, a $110,000 five-year contract, including a large signing bonus, to lure him from Quebec, a city he loved and that adored him in return. He carried tremendous pressure into the NHL, both for his amateur scoring feats and his salary, which was only topped by scoring legend Maurice (Rocket) Richard.
The third season marked the beginning of the Canadien's record string of five consecutive Stanley Cup titles that also had Richard, scorers Dickie Moore and Bernard (Boom Boom) Geoffrion....and two innovators...rushing defenceman Doug Harvey and wandering goaltender, Jacques Plante.
At six-foot-three and 205 pounds,
Beliveau combined strength, a long reach,
a soft touch on the puck and remarkable vision
on the ice to dominate the league.
Beliveau's slap shot, with a lazy-looking half wind-up,
was deceptively hard.
“He was a hero for all of the players in my generation.
Jean Beliveau and Maurice Richard were our idols.
In everyone's memory, he is more than Mr. Hockey ~
he's Mr. Gentleman as well.”
Merle Baird-Kerr...scripted December 7, 2014
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