First of all prayers and thoughts to the Beliveau family as big Jean fights his latest health battle, this time a stroke which has hospitalized the Hall of Fame former player. Beliveau’s nickname is from a movie of the same name, Le Gros Bill, released in 1949 which featured a song of the same name. In the movie the hero was a man of stature with size and class. The Quebec City media of the day hung the name on Jean and it stuck, rightly so. Ironically there was a woman who appeared in the movie whose real name was Juliette Beliveau but she was not related to Jean. He exuded total class as a junior, a senior player and certainly a National League player where his star studded career, albeit with a few speed bumps along the way, came to a halt just a few months before his 40th birthday, culminating in a Stanley Cup for Montreal, their 17th, his 10th.
I’ve met Jean Beliveau many times, worked with him, appeared on TV and radio with him and we’ve always had a very, very warm relationship thanks to a very unique connection away from hockey. One of Jean’s closest friends when he moved to Quebec City to play junior in the late 1940’s was Father Leonard Murphy. Jean used to pick Fr. Murphy up on route to Les Coliseé for his hockey games. Their friendship culminated in Fr. Murphy presiding over Jean’s marriage to Élise Couture on June 27th, 1953 at St. Patrick’s church in Quebec City. Five years later on July 12, 1958, and approximately fifteen miles to the north in a little town called Stoneham, Quebec; Fr. Murphy presided over another wedding, this time of my parents, Noel Patrick Maguire and Sarah-Jane Payne at St. Edmond’s in Stoneham. Jean and I always remarked about this coincidence and I know my father always felt it was somewhat intrinsically responsible for my destiny and love of the Montreal Canadiens, the NHL and the sport of hockey. Obviously that’s a reach but it was good enough for me to mention yet again to Jean when I introduced him to my son, Rory Maguire, less than two years ago at a Boys and Girls Club function here in Ottawa.
Besides the origin of his nick name here are a couple of other pertinent facts about Jean Beliveau.
Many would find this hard to believe but Jean Beliveau once held the NHL record for most pim’s in one season as a center and his 143 penalty minutes in 1956 still sits in third spot as the most pim’s recorded by a scoring leader behind the two totals of Stan Mikita’s when he was a back-to-back Art Ross Trophy champion in 1964 and 1965 respectively with 146 and 154 pim’s. In other words, Jean could take care of himself and he routinely did. One of the first interviews I ever did with him we talked about the mid 1950 days in the NHL and he said it was what he had to do to take care of himself and to a lesser extent some of his smaller teammates.
Beliveau has a number of great stats but the two favourite for me are he is on record for scoring the second fastest hat trick in NHL history and he is still the record holder for the quickest Cup winning goal scored in NHL history. On November 5, 1955 a tight battle Montreal and Boston was being played out at the Forum which saw the Habs down 2-0 at the end of the first period. What happened in the first 90 seconds of the second period would directly lead to a significant rule change in the NHL. Referee Jerry Olinski called Boston’s Hal Laycoe for a minor penalty. In those days you served the full two minutes regardless of how many goals were scored during the penalty. It had been that way since the NHL began in 1917. That was about to change primarily due to what happened in the next minute.
Beliveau, on a line with Bert Olmstead and Maurice Richard up front, Doug Harvey and Boom Boom Geoffrion on the points scored three goals in 44 seconds all while Laycoe was in the box. Olmstead assisted all three, the Rocket picked up an assist and Harvey picked up an assist. The Bruin goaltender was Terry Sawchuk. For good measure Beliveau added a fourth goal, even strength, in the third period and Montreal won 4-2. At the conclusion of this season the NHL would finally change the rule allowing the penalized player to come back after a goal was scored, during a minor penalty.
On May 1, 1965, the first ever NHL playoff game to be played in the month of May, Jean Beliveau scored fourteen seconds into the first period as the Habs went onto defeat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-0 and win the Stanley Cup. Dick Duff and Bobby Rousseau assisted the historic marker and Beliveau added an assist on Montreal’s second goal scored by Dick Duff as the line struck again just five minutes later. At the conclusion of the game Beliveau was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy becoming the first ever recipient of this prestigious award.
Jean always refers to the late 1960’s as the forgotten dynasty. In an interview I did with him on one occasion he remarked how it’s forgotten that Montreal team played in five straight finals winning four Cups. Their depth and excellence is described perfectly by a teammate and line mate of Beliveau’s at that time, Yvan Cournoyer, who told me that when Montreal would get a power play Cournoyer would remark to Jean, ‘let’s not score right away, I need the ice time, let’s move it around a bit first,’ again, it was a lethal power play unit with Beliveau a master passer, Cournoyer on route to becoming a pretty good sniper in the league, Bobby Rousseau the perfect scoring utility winger and a defense core of JC Tremblay and Jacques Laperriere.
Finally, and keep in mind, there are dozens of stats and records Beliveau was a part of, these are just some of my favourite but after being coaxed out of inevitable retirement Beliveau summons one last solid season at the age of 39 finishing tied for ninth in league scoring with 76 points. This total was matched by Dave Keon of the Leafs and Fred Stanfield of the Bruins. Stanfield was one of seven Bruins in the top ten scorers’ that season which is just a ridiculously incredible record. Phil Esposito, Bobby Orr, John Bucyk, Ken Hodge, Wayne Cashman and Johnny Mackenzie were the others. Incredibly Montreal beat that team in the quarter-finals, thanks mostly to Ken Dryden but also to their 39 year old captain whose three points including two goals in the third period of game two, April 8, 1971, sparked a five goal outburst and saw Montreal make their most dramatic comeback in any playoff game in their history. All started by Beliveau.
Get well Big Jean, Le Gros Bill. Je me souviens.