Wednesday, 3 December 2014



Jean Beliveau 1931-2014


In February 1969 my French Canadian Nana (nee Leblanc) took me to my first-ever Montreal Canadiens hockey game at the Montreal Forum. Dear God, Nana loved hockey; her favourite player was Rocket Richard who retired the year I was born but Gros Bill was a fine substitute for her passion. The expansion Los Angeles Kings were the visitors. The game was played a day or two before or a day or two after my ninth birthday. I was a big man in the schoolyard that week, going to see the Canadiens. We sat suspended in the rafters over one end, in seats known as the greys; great seats, impossible seats, were known as the reds. Blues were not as good as reds, there were whites in between. Greys were better than standing room, especially for fans pushing four feet tall.


I want to tell you that I wore my red Montreal Canadiens woolen sweater to the game with number 4 on the back, white felt cut out and sewn on by my British Nana (nee Toms), but I cannot remember. Nor can I remember what the final score was although the Canadiens prevailed. I do remember worrying if the running game commentary at the rink would be in French or English and was shocked to learn that there wasn’t any, that commentary was done for radio and TV broadcasts only. I do remember being beyond beside myself at the prospect of seeing my hero, number 4, Jean Beliveau, the captain of the Montreal Canadiens, play hockey live and in person.


It’s passing strange to weep over the passing of a stranger. Mine is a selfish grief, a lament for a half-forgotten childhood not often revisited.


Eighteen seasons. Ten Stanley Cups. Thirteen all-star appearances; 1395 points in 1287 NHL career games. The enduring friendship and respect of equally gifted rivals Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr. To be the greatest Montreal Canadien ever is to be one of the best there ever was. And Beliveau’s stature only grew following his retirement in 1971: a gentleman, philanthropist and humanitarian, the classiest Canadian citizen in our country’s history.

I don’t go to many NHL games anymore. I’ve paid my money and I’ve done my time and anyway, the Canadiens come west only once a year. But every time I’m in an arena, I look for that kid who may be at his or her first game. Not the dozy infant, but someone too young to understand the crystal frailty of human heroes and goofy artificial economics yet old enough to be entranced by the magic and the wonder of the game played at its highest level. I envy them their wide-eyed experience because it will never be quite the same ever again. And I am smug too: My first game, I saw Beliveau with my Nana and I will never forget that night. Ever.

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