Montrealers and members of the hockey community came to the Bell Centre the last two days to honour and remember Jean Beliveau, the Montreal Canadiens great who passed away last week.
The Canadiens now face off against the Vancouver Canucks – who also paid their respects yesterday – tonight in their first game in Montreal since his passing in what is sure to be an emotional moment before the game.
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I, like many of my generation, don’t really have a memory of Mr. Beliveau other than seeing him in his normal seat before games and that one time when he had to tell fans not to boo the American national anthem.
I never met the man, and obviously never saw him play. However, the reaction that his death received was similar to that of Maurice Richard, which I must admit surprised me a bit.
Richard gets talked about as being the first Quebec superstar, and has the folk-lore – the upbringing, the riot, the movie – to go along with it. They won’t make a movie about Beliveau’s life (or maybe they will, and get his story out to more people).
But make no mistake. People loved Jean Beliveau. The stories people told about him in the days after his passing make me wish I knew more about him. It’s not his fault he was humble enough not to seek it out and forged between Richard and Guy Lafleur in Canadiens history.
Here is my closest personal Beliveau memory, even though it has little to do with the man himself. I was walking around a store in Montreal one day, looking around the store when I saw a display of books.
On the shelf was “My Life in Hockey” by Jean Beliveau and on the top right corner, a sticker that said “Signed by the author.” I assumed, when I picked it up that it would have been a co-author – and not Beliveau – who had signed it.
I picked it up and checked. Sure enough, on the first page after the cover, was Beliveau’s trademark autograph – every time I see it, it looks identical and meticulous – with his No. 4 and ‘Best Wishes’.
I walked to the cash and paid for it – it wasn’t any more expensive because of the autograph – and I had the feeling all along that I was getting away with something.
It’s somewhat ironic, that after saying that I wish I knew more about Beliveau’s life and story, I literally had a way in my house to know more (and that’s not even counting the internet.) I hadn’t read the book yet but have started it now.
It’s amazing how comfortable you get. I don’t know how many times I saw Beliveau hold the torch before Canadiens games in the playoffs, or see the No. 4 banner. Or even look at this book. Death has a way of making you wish you didn’t take things for granted.
And, it’s even possible to take a hockey legend you never met for granted.