Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau dies at 83

The Canadian Press
Published on December 3, 2014

Maurice (The Rocket) Richard, left, and Jean (Le Gros Bill) Beliveau pose with the Stanley Cup after beating the Bruins to win NHL championship in Boston, Apr.20, 1958. Canadian Press/AP photo

David Perron never saw Jean Beliveau play hockey.

The Montreal Canadiens legend retired 17 years before Perron was born.

But the death of  "Le Gros Bill'' at the age of 83 Tuesday struck a chord with the Oilers winger who grew up a Canadiens fan in Sherbooke, Que. and heard stories about Beliveau from his family.

"Very sad to hear about Jean Beliveau,'' Perron wrote on Twitter. "The sparkle is my grandfather's eyes when he was talking about him was always very special.''

The Canadiens reported Beliveau's death just before 11:30 p.m. ET Tuesday.

Even at that late hour, with some teams on flights home after games and others out West still in action, there was an outpouring of sadness as the hockey world mourned the loss of  "Le Gros Bill,'' considered one of the sport's true gentlemen.

"Sad day in the hockey world with the passing of a Mtl legend Mr. Jean Beliveau,'' former Habs defenceman Josh Gorges tweeted. "He was a role model, idol and the definition of class.''

Mr. Beliveau, as so many called him to honour his class and stature, won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP twice and once captured the Art Ross Trophy as the leading scorer and the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

In 1,125 games, he recorded 1,219 points on 507 goals and 712 assists.

The native of Trois-Rivieres, Que., was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972.

Beliveau won the Stanley Cup as a player for the Habs 10 times and, including his time in management, has his name on the trophy 17 times.

Montreal retired his No. 4 in 1971.

"A true legend has passed away,'' Habs forward Brandon Prust tweeted. "Honoured to say I wore the same colours as the man.''

Habs owner Geoff Molson said the organization will "bring all the needed support to the members of Jean Beliveau's family, and will work closely with them to organize the ceremonies that will take place in the coming days.''

The team plays in Minnesota against the Wild on Wednesday night as part of an ongoing road trip.

The Habs' next home game is Tuesday against the Vancouver Canucks.

"Like millions of hockey fans who followed the life and the career of Jean Beliveau, the Canadiens today mourn the passing of a man whose contribution to the development of our sport and our society was unmeasurable,'' Molson said in a statement Tuesday night. "Jean Beliveau was a great leader, a gentleman and arguably the greatest ambassador our game has ever known.''

Beliveau was the second member of the Montreal Canadiens to die in recent days.

Gilles Tremblay, who won four Stanley Cups as a linemate with Beliveau in the 1960s, died on Nov. 26 at the age of 75.

"Meeting him is not like meeting other stars from the old days,'' Tremblay once said.

"When people see Bobby Hull, they say: 'Hi Bobby.' When they meet Big Jean, it's always: 'Hi, Mr. Beliveau.' He commands respect.''

Within minutes of Montreal's announcement, the Toronto Maple Leafs offered their condolences to the family of "a true hockey great.''

Montreal mayor Denis Coderre tweeted ''Farewell Mr. Beliveau, you were an inspiration for us all. A true gentleman. A role model, one of our greatest Habs.''

Montreal native and major league catcher Russell Martin, who was recently acquired by the Toronto Blue Jays, tweeted in French, "rest in peace Jean Beliveau. An idol!``

''Jean Beliveau was the classiest man," tweeted Canadian women's hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser. ''Returned every piece of fan mail with a hand written letter.``

"Sad to see such a legend in Jean Beliveau pass away,'' Avalanche centre and Canadian Olympian Matt Duchene tweeted. "What a legacy he left behind, pure class.''

Recent Hall of Fame inductee Mike Modano posted a message calling Beliveau a "true icon'' with a photo of the Habs great.

Beliveau's death is certain to deepen a sombre mood in a league still reeling from the death on Nov. 23 of former NHL defenceman, coach and executive Pat Quinn.

The failing health of the legendary Gordie Howe has also induced great concern throughout the hockey world.