Some Thoughts On Jean Beliveau

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Canadiens great Jean Beliveau gave Habs fans and the hockey world a scare yesterday. While attending the funeral of longtime friend, father Paul Aquin, Beliveau suddenly felt ill, and had to be dispatched by ambulance and transported to hospital.

It was later explained that a drop in blood pressure had caused him to feel a slight discomfort, and during the evening he was released and sent home.

My young girls are home for the holidays from school, and watched television in another room yesterday. I had RDS on all afternoon. I saw the clip of him being carried to to the ambulance, sitting somewhat upright, and speaking to those carrying him. The sight was both comforting in a sense, and alarming in another.

Think about it. Even our immortals are mortal. Here it was all being caught on film!

Nothing bypasses the mad Montreal hockey media, but this was big news. I thought long hard about adding the You Tube clip here of Beliveau being transported, but I didn't need, or want, to see it again.

That is not the way I want to think of him for the next little while.

I'm sure that everyone held their breathe for him, praying, and let out a hearty sigh at the news that everything seemed well later in the day.

Jean was on my mind most of the day yesterday. I was worried about what news the day would bring. I was surprised, and then again, not surprised that this seemed to concern me so much. 

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I know almost every detail of Jean's glorious on ice career, though I've only seen him play three seasons, much of it lost to memory. It is in fact his second act, that of an ambassador for hockey, for the Canadiens as its vice president for longer than he played, and his generosity to a multitude of causes that have marked me more.

In fact, even suggesting Beliveau as an ambassador for the game, short changes all that he is and means.

He has actually been an ambassador for the goodness of humanity.

His hockey memoir is called "My Life In Hockey". Had someone else written, it could be called "Life, And How To Live It!"

I do not have a great story of meeting Jean Beliveau. Thousands do. I met him briefly once at a hockey card show in Cornwall in the early 1990's, speaking for barely a minute. I got his autograph in an Esso All Stars sticker book, that some lucky person from the last Habs Fan Summit now owns.

Our little conversation was friendly. I informed him that I had been old enough to have seen the 1971 Cup dramatics, and that I recalled tuning in on the night he got his last hat trick, against Minnesota, when he scored his 500th goal. I was telling him that I had watched it with my Dad.

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My father was my early connection to knowing all about Jean. I heard all the hockey stories through him. What's more, my father and Jean share the same birthdate - August 31, 1931.

I mentioned that fact to Jean at the time, and he looked up to me and said, "So he will be sixty in a few weeks? What did he do for a living?"

"He's been in the printing business almost fourty years. He's just sold his shop, and is getting ready for an early retirement."

"Too soon I think, just like you!"

Jean smiled and asked, "His health is good?"

"Yes it is", I answered.

"He will enjoy retiring young", Beliveau pointed out.

Seventeen years later, my father's health is uneven. He has taken extremely good care of himself. His father almost lived to be 97 years of age. My father once promised his, he would live longer. My money is on him all the way.

One thing compromising my father's spirit, is the cruel pain of aging. He was a motorcycle racer for a number of years, and a damn good one. A bunch of trophies and prizemoney kept him on dirt tracks for over ten years. Today, the pain of crashing his bike a time ot two too many, gives him unlivable grief. He has sciatic nerves in his neck, near to his spinal cord, and in his shoulders. Painkillers are both a nuisance and a neccessity to him. If he manges to have a few hours a day pain free, it gets him through to the next day.

My old man, amazingly, doesn't look a day over 60. At 77, I'm awful thankful he and my mother, 73, are still around.

Dad has much in commom with Jean. I think of dignity, purposefulness, and treatment of folks, as traits they both share. I need him around for another 20.

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When thinking of Jean Beliveau, it often connects me right back to Dad because of the shared birthdate. It has been an inevitability for a while now.

When Beliveau gave us all an initial scare nine years ago, when diagnosed with a malignant tunour in his neck, it shook everyone who had known of him.

Not surprisingly, Beliveau beat his cancer. The spirit of a soul, I believe, as many also do, has great powers for healing. Jean conquered the tumour and never looked back.

Many of us fans attached to the Montreal Canadiens surely have fathers and mothers within the same age vicinity as Jean. Those who do, and are as passionate about the game, were likely on the receiving end of great Beliveau stories and accomplishments, as I once was, from my father. You may have even been fortunate to have been young enough to watch Jean together at the time.

I hope you were, because I cannot explain how much it meant then, and means now.

I recall years ago when Rocket Richard passed away. A few years prior, the Montreal Forum passed as well. A little part of every hockey fan, especially Habs fans, was swept away, confined to memories only.

This time, and moment, are not like that. Not anywhere like it for me, maybe you as well.

Jean Beliveau has much left to do. He has much left to offer and give. He may now just be slower in his giving of what he has. Less should be asked of him. More letters wishing him well, will likely flow to his mailbox, all to be responded to on his time. He will get around to it.

Just as Jean had beaten his cancer, this will also come to pass. He will take care of himself, as he is a man of purpose. He has his foundation and charity, which supports a great many causes.

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His life's work is far from done. He surely knows that he will continue to achieve things he seeks.

Jean Beliveau will surely take rest for a few days, but his spirit will spur him on. In a matter of a week or two, he will be well rested, and decide he has things to get busy on.

His comfort in that, will be our comfort.

For close to sixty years now, all of what Beliveau has done has meant a great deal to hockey fans far and wide. On ice, and off.

It was no small coincidence that after Andrei Kostitsyn scored a hat trick against Pittsburgh, that the Gazette and Habs Inside Out ran stories of a few Beliveau "tour du chapeau's" in the day.

The news that came shorty after the pieces ran, were equally coincidental, if not eerie.

Fast forward to a few hours later, when Quebecois born Maxim Lapierre scored his first career hat trick. Not eerie, but a good omen.

Lapierre, likely did not know it, but somehow his feat honoured and perhaps comforted Beliveau.

I'd like to think that he was back in the comfort of his own home at the time, watching this game, and this "glorieux" moment.

I went to bed last night, thinking this was how it should be:

"Elise, did you see that! Now that does one good. Brought my blood pressure right back to where it ought to be. Let's head off to sleep now"

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