Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau dead at 83
MONTREAL (AP) — Jean Beliveau, who won 10 Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens and became one of the most revered figures in the sport, died Tuesday aged 83.
A supremely skilled center who spent 18 full seasons and parts of two others with Montreal, Beliveau was also a popular ambassador for the sport. He scored 507 goals and captained the Canadiens for 10 seasons before his retirement in 1971, then moved seamlessly into an executive position with the club.
Beliveau was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972. He won two league MVP awards and has his name engraved on the Cup 17 times, including for years he was in the Canadiens’ front office.
“Meeting him is not like meeting other stars from the old days,” said Beliveau’s former linemate Gilles Tremblay. “When people see Bobby Hull, they say: ‘Hi Bobby.’ When they meet Big Jean, it’s always: ‘Hi, Mr. Beliveau.’ He commands respect.”
Canadiens fans who revered Beliveau were given a scare in 2000 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer, but recovered. Soon, he was back in his familiar spot attending nearly every home game with his wife Elise in the seats among the fans.
He also survived a stroke in 2012.
When the Canadiens opened Centennial Plaza at the Bell Centre as part of the team’s 100th anniversary, their four greatest players were honored with statues: Maurice Richard, Howie Morenz, Guy Lafleur and Beliveau.
Such was his spotless image that Beliveau turned down an offer from Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in the 1980s to sit in the Senate. He also refused an offer extended by Prime Minister Jean Chretien in 1994 to become Canada’s governor general.
Until shortly before his death, he would spend time before and after every home game signing autographs and talking to anyone who approached. For those he knew, there was always a smile and a handshake.
Beliveau, the eldest of seven children, was born on Aug. 31, 1931, in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, but moved to Victoriaville when he was 3. He learned to control the puck on a crowded backyard 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, it was said he be earning $20,000 in salary and endorsements on what officially was an amateur team.
The Canadiens signed Beliveau, nicknamed Le Gros Bill, to 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.
Beliveau had short stints with the Canadiens two consecutive years before joining the club for good for the 1953-54 season. He carried tremendous pressure into the NHL, both for his amateur scoring feats and his salary, which was only topped by scoring legend Richard.
He became a fixture in the middle of the great Montreal teams, winning a record five straight championship from 1956-60.
Beliveau took over the captaincy in 1961 on a team rebuilding for another run of Cups under coach Hector (Toe) Blake. He won his second Hart Trophy in 1964, when a new Canadiens dynasty arose to take four Cups in a five-year span.
After the 1969-70 season, in which an aging Beliveau had only 19 goals, general manager Sam Pollack talked his captain into playing one more season. Beliveau scored 25 goals — including his milestone 500th — and added 22 points in 20 playoff games as the Canadiens won another Stanley Cup, allowing their big center to retire, at 40, a winner.
In his career, Beliveau had 1,219 points in 1,125 games, plus 79 goals and 97 assists in 162 playoff matches. He was voted to the NHL’s first All-Star team six times, and the second team four times.
He and Elise had one daughter, Helene, and granddaughters Mylene and Magalie.