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Gentleman Jean

Jean BeliveauIt was not bad being a Montréal Canadiens fan when I was growing up during the 40’s. That decade was, however, dominated by the despised Toronto Maple Leafs so it was always an uphill battle.

Incidentally, I was deprived of a sterling hockey career by a bit of bad luck – I never learned how to skate.

By the time I got to UBC in 1949, I found a Montréal Canadiens soulmate in the late Robin Heather. He and I used to listen to games together (there was no TV then) and we used to follow in the papers the career of a young whiz kid playing in the Quebec hockey league for the Quebec Aces. His name was Jean Beliveau and by all accounts was sensational. Beliveau refused to sign with the Montréal Canadiens, who had his NHL rights, because he was making too much money playing “amateur” hockey!

One night, I think in 1951 or thereabouts, Robin and I listened to a game from Montréal against the Chicago Black Hawks. It happened to be the first of a three-game “tryout” for Jean Beliveau. He played on a line with the Rocket and scored three goals and had two assists!

In the second game he was shut out but in the third game got two more goals. Not bad, five goals in a three game tryout.

Frank Selke finally managed to sign Beliveau and he joined the Canadiens in time for their amazing club of the 50’s which won five consecutive Stanley Cups. He joined with such stalwarts as the Rocket, his brother the Pocket Rocket, Doug Harvey, Jacques Plante and his longtime great left-winger, Bernard “Boom Boom” Geoffrion.

I have no intention of trying to re-capitulate Beliveau’s fantastic career. Now that he is dead, the obits will tell the story although it can never be told fully as so much time has passed… Some of the great players, Rocket Richard amongst them, are dead and others like Gordie Howe are incapacitated.

From this fan’s point of view, there were a great many memories but probably the greatest was tuning in one night to a game against Boston where the Canadiens were down 2-0 at the end of the first.

Within 42 seconds in the second period, Beliveau scored three goals and later added a fourth giving the Canadiens a 4-2 victory!

No,the three goals in 42 seconds was not, amazingly, a record. That is held by Bill Mosienko, the great linemate of the two Bentleys with the Chicago Blackhawks, who scored three goals in 21 seconds!

Jean Beliveau was known as gentleman Jean for good reason. He was an inspiration not only to hockey but to the country generally.

Unlike others, he turned down the blandishments of Brian Mulroney and refused to become Governor-General or even a Senator.

Jean Beliveau made it very easy and indeed very pleasurable to be a Habs fan during his entire career when Stanley Cups seemed to be a regular part of the Montréal Canadiens’ year, and to this fan it didn’t get any better than that.

He has earned the right to rest in peace.

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