Fans flock to Bell Centre for Jean Beliveau visitation
The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, December 7, 2014 11:58AM EST
Last Updated Monday, December 8, 2014 1:29PM EST
MONTREAL -- Former teammates, the premier of Quebec and hundreds of fans turned out to the Bell Centre on Sunday to pay tribute to legendary Montreal Canadiens captain Jean Beliveau.
The former Canadiens star, who died Tuesday at 83 after a long illness, lay in a closed casket at centre ice as fans filed in. They stopped briefly to give their sympathies to Beliveau's wife Elise, who shook every hand that passed, as well as his daughter and granddaughters Magalie and Mylene.
The casket lay between two giant posters of Beliveau in his prime as an imposing centre on the powerhouse Canadiens teams of the 1950s and 1960s. The Stanley Cup as well as the three other trophies he won, the Hart, the Lady Byng and the Conn Smythe, were also on display.
"It was wonderful," said former teammate Dickie Moore, who visited Beliveau often during his illness. "I think Jean would love to stand up and say thank you.
"It's a sad day. Elise has got to be commended. Really, she did a great job with Jean. She did everything for him. It's a shame."
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard recalled getting the autographs of Beliveau and other Canadiens when he was a teenager.
"To me he summarizes elegance, confidence, and the image of what we would like ourselves to be," said Couillard. "I think I can speak for all Quebecers presenting my sympathies to the family."
Asked what he felt Beliveau's life represented, Couillard said "confidence."
"It was at a time when francophone Quebecers in particular needed much more confidence in themselves and I think he was one of the elements that created that confidence," he said. "For this, we are immensely grateful.
"He was not only a great athlete and player, he was a great man, a great Quebecer and a great Canadian."
Beliveau won 10 Stanley Cups as a player with the Canadiens from 1950 to 1971 and another seven as an administrator. In 1,125 career regular season games, he had 507 goals and 712 assists.
He is best remembered as an iconic team captain, and for the grace and class he exuded away from the rink.
It was a difficult week for the Canadiens, who had lost speedy left-winger Gilles Tremblay to an illness only days before Beliveau died.
Yvan Cournoyer, who once played on a line with both Beliveau and Tremblay, did his best to keep his emotions under control as he met with the media after the viewing.
"When I started with the Montreal Canadiens, he was my first captain," said Cournoyer. "I always called him not Jean, but my captain.
"I had a chance to win my first Stanley Cup with Jean, I had a chance to dress beside him and I roomed a lot with Jean. For me, he was like a father. He called me his son many times. 'OK son, let's go to bed.' I was the youngest and he was the oldest, we have 12 years difference. Jean, for me, was everything.
"He loved Montreal. We grew up with our fans in Montreal. It was close to being our first house, the Montreal Forum and the Bell Centre. Everywhere you go, people want talk to you. Everyone who talked to Jean, they can talk with him for hours."
Fans began lining up in the early morning in frigid weather to pay their respects at the public viewing, the first for a Canadiens player since the great Maurice (Rocket) Richard died in 2000.
Many were dressed in the Canadiens red, white and blue jersey.
"It's important for me to come because, of course I didn't see him play because of my age, it's important for people to have someone to get behind and put aside all the differences between us," said one young woman dressed head to toe to Canadiens gear. "I think that's why so many people are here today, because he was such a big part of our history."
Beliveau's funeral will be held at Mary Queen of the World Cathedral on Wednesday at 2 p.m.