One of my fondest memories, from the time I was ten years old, was spending Tuesday nights with my dad at the Montreal Forum. At the time, Junior hockey was thriving with three teams representing Montreal – the Royals, the Nationales and the Junior Canadiens. Every Tuesday there was a doubleheader involving two of the teams and opponents from all over the province of Quebec. At that time, pre-daft, Canadiens owned the rights to each and every prospect in the Province of Quebec. By attending these games, avid hockey fans could see the future stars of the NHL as they grew into their professional careers.
When the Quebec Citadelles came to town their star player was a smooth-skating, hard-shooting playmaker by the name of Jean Beliveau, already chosen by the fans and the press for a spot in the Hall of Fame. Playing right wing for the Nationales was another sure-fire pro with a wicked shot, Bernard Geoffrion, whom the press dubbed “Boom Boom”. The third major star in the QJHL was Dickie Moore, the leading scorer on the Montreal Junior Canadiens. Realizing the inevitable, Montreal hockey fans could not wait for this trio to make it to the big league and unite on a line for Les Canadiens. Visions of Stanley Cup championships danced in their heads.
As the Montreal fans waited with bated breath, dark clouds appeared on the horizon of this blessed event. The owner of the Quebec Aces in the Quebec Senior Hockey League sat Beliveau down and convinced him to stay in Quebec City and play for the Aces, where he would pay him as well or better than they would in Montreal. Though Canadiens owned his pro rights, the QSHL was still designated amateur, despite the salaries of the players, so there was no way he could be forced to join the NHL. For two years he stayed put and led the QSHL in scoring both years. In that second year, in a brief “tryout” stint of three games, the most allowed without turning pro, Beliveau scored five goals. Finally, in a brilliant strategic move, Frank Selke of the Canadiens bought the entire QSHL league, turned it pro, and told Beliveau to report in the fall to Montreal.
Before leaving Quebec in 1953, Jean proposed to and married Elaine Couture, the love of his life, a union that has lasted 58 years.
That fall, the three junior stars were reunited on one line wearing the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge. It was the beginning of a magnificent career for the players and a lifetime of service to the team for the man. All three would end up in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Jerseys with the numbers 4, 5 and 12 fly high above the ice in the Bell Center, never to be worn again.
Starting in 1953-54, Jean Beliveau played eighteen full seasons for the Canadiens, retiring in 1971. In those years he broke all the team’s scoring records, winning ten Stanley Cups in the process, five as Captain. He was awarded the first Conn Smythe trophy in its inception year (1965), two Hart trophies for MVP and one Art Ross trophy, winning the scoring championship in 1955-56.
His reign as the dominant center in the league created thrill after thrill, night after night, for his loyal fans who filled every seat in the Forum every night he played. After retiring as a player Beliveau joined the front office as the Canadiens’ Ambassador at Large, thus having his name inscribed on the Stanley Cup seven more times as an executive, making a total of seventeen rings.
Through all this he has remained above all a loyal husband, father and grandfather to his girls. When offered the office of Governor-General of Canada a few years ago, he graciously declined, not wanting to spend that much time away from his family.
Le Gros Bill, as he was affectionately called, accomplished all of his boyhood dreams on and off the ice but, most of all, he quietly led the league in Class.
Get well soon, Mr. Beliveau.
Cup Photo: KRH