It was only a 15-minute ride home from school, but today, the bus ride down Pierrefonds Boulevard seemed to be taking forever. It was snowing lightly and the temperature was about minus five degrees. Perfect road hockey weather and I had been planning the whole thing out for the last hour. As the bus pulled up to my stop, I raced out of it, almost forgetting my textbooks and homework assignments.
In my house now, having unceremoniously ditched my books into a corner, I grabbed the phone and started dialing numbers. Keith, Jimmy, Tom, Chris, Barry, Ian and Greg. I was in luck; they were all home and more importantly, they were all keen for a game.
I quickly changed into my road hockey garb of jeans and a hockey jersey over a sweater, found my gauntlets, special road hockey stick, skinned black tennis ball and my dad’s snowplow-style shovel. The footwear was thick socks and Adidas, and my trusty tuque to keep my head warm. Jimmy and Keith were bringing nets and goalie pads.
I ran the two blocks to Keith’s house and then we walked another 50 feet or so to our special corner of the globe. The end of Keith’s street was a 150 foot long piece of road that had yet to have houses built on the still unsold lots. It was 150 feet of virgin asphalt! No cracks or bumps, just a perfectly flat playing surface that now had a few inches of fresh snow on it. Using our shovels at just the right angle, we plowed the snow off, leaving the slightest bit of snow that would compact quickly under our feet into slick white ice. We placed the nets, picked captains, then picked teams. It was all settled now, except for one thing. Who was going to be Jean Béliveau?
Being Jean Béliveau carried a certain weight to it. The man won the Stanley Cup ten times, and was an all-star 14 times. When he retired in 1971, he was the Canadiens’ all time leader for points, second all time for goals scored and the NHL’s all time leading playoff goal scorer. I have watched hockey going on 46 years now and to me, he is the very best stick handler I ever saw play the game.
But it was much more than his skills and statistics that defined him. He played the game in the same way he always carried himself as a human — with elegance and grace. At all times a gentleman, he was the ultimate team player, always placing the team’s needs ahead of his own and, as captain, leading through that example. No small wonder that the team was so successful under his watch. Not only was he loved by Canadiens’ fans, he was admired and respected around the league by his competitors and by their fans as well.
As a kid, he was my first hockey hero. Somehow, being Jean Béliveau made you a better road hockey player. You had to play like a sportsman; no hacking or slashing your opponents. You had to play with class! At 6 foot 3 inches, he was one of the tallest players of his era. Since I was a good head taller than all my friends, it only made sense that I should be Jean Béliveau! As I recall, that argument only worked some of the time.
By now, you’ve guessed I’m a Habs fan. As I write this, they are in the playoffs against the Washington Capitals. As always, Béliveau, now 78, is in the stands to watch his beloved team play. Not so long ago, he was in the hospital recovering from a stroke. I know that a great many people prayed for the man who is also affectionately known as “Le Gros Bill.”
Throughout his life, he has accomplished so much. Always looking for ways to help others, in 1971, he established the charitable Jean Béliveau Foundation, which he transferred to the Society for Disabled Children in 1993. In 1994, he was offered the position of Governor General of Canada, which he declined in order to be with his daughter and two grandchildren who were in the midst of dire need at the time.
Béliveau has been knighted by the National Order of Quebec, made a Companion of the Order of Canada (Canada’s highest civilian award), and been honoured with his portrait on a Canadian postage stamp. A Canadian Pacific Railway station has been named in his honour and and he was given an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by McGill University.
I found the following video on YouTube. It’s part of a series called The Legends Of Hockey. Definitely, this series will end up on my shelf. As you watch it, if you have never seen Jean Béliveau play, you will see a remarkably graceful hockey player. What you will also see is the degree of respect and admiration that everyone has, not just for the great hockey player, but for the great man, Jean Béliveau.
Jean Béliveau Statue – Creative Commons – Wally Gobetz
Road Hockey – Creative Commons – Magalie L’Abbé
Thumbnail of Hockey Net – Creative Commons – Helsinki10