The Montreal Canadiens have won the Stanley Cup 24 times, more than any team in National Hockey League history. Joseph Jean Arthur Beliveau was part of 17 of them—most of all time.
Born in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec—halfway between Quebec City and Montreal—on August 31, 1931, he was the eldest of eight children born into a traditional French-Canadian Catholic household. The Beliveau family moved to Victoriaville, about one hour to the southeast, when Jean was six. Jean’s father, Arthur, worked as a lineman for the power company and built a rink in the family’s backyard every winter, creating the winter gathering place for neighborhood hockey players. At 12, Beliveau began playing organized hockey—first in a house league at his school, L’Academie Saint-Louis de Gonzague—and later for the Victoriaville Panthers intermediate team. He played baseball in the summers, pitching and playing infield well enough to generate an offer for a minor league pro contract, and left home for the first time at 16 to pitch in a senior league in Val-d’Or, Quebec. Beliveau became a star in Quebec’s amateur hockey leagues, and was called up twice for brief appearances with the Montreal Canadiens in 1950-51 and 1952-53. He led the Quebec Senior League in scoring in 1953 and Frank Selke, legendary General Manager of the Canadiens, coveted the 22-year-old center so much that he convinced the Canadian Arena Company—which owned the Canadiens—to purchase the Quebec Senior League in order to secure Jean Beliveau.
The 6’3”, 205 pound center was among the biggest players of his time. He had a long stride, deceptive speed and was a stick-handling wizard, joining the Canadiens for the 1953-54 season. Three years later, Beliveau won both the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s scoring champion and the Hart Memorial Trophy as its most valuable player. On January 23, 1956, he became the first hockey player to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine. Beliveau possessed an astonishing range of skills, scoring three goals in 44 seconds against the Boston Bruins in 1955—a franchise record that still stands—and twice leading the league in assists. In 1961, “Le Gros Bill” was named captain of the Canadiens and the team only missed the playoffs once during his 18 seasons. In 1965, was awarded the inaugural Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs after scoring eight goals—including the Stanley Cup winner—while recording 16 points in 13 playoff games. Beliveau remains the only captain to win the Conn Smythe and score the game-winning goal on the same night. He served as captain for ten years, the longest tenure in team history, and played in 14 NHL All-Star games. In his final season, the 39-year-center scored six goals and 22 points in 20 playoff games to lead Montreal to their tenth and final Stanley Cup of the Jean Beliveau era.
Jean Beliveau was one of the greatest centers ever to play in the NHL. The consummate gentlemen, the well-spoken Beliveau was an idol in French-speaking Quebec from the time he was a teenager and was considered a worldwide ambassador for hockey. His Canadiens teams were more dominant that Mickey Mantle’s Yankees, and he played with two generations of great players. In the 1950s, he teamed with Maurice Richard, “Boom Boom” Geoffrion and Jacques Plante. Then, in the 60’s, he skated alongside Serge Savard, Yvon Cournoyer and Jacques Lemaire. During his 18 seasons, Beliveau’s teams won ten Stanley Cups, including five in a row from 1956 to 1960. He was the fourth player in NHL history to record 500 goals, second to score 1,000 points, and is the third all-time leading scorer in the rich history of the Montreal Canadiens, behind Guy Lefleur [Daily Dose, November 26] and Maurice Richard [Daily Dose, February 29, 2016].
Mr. Beliveau retired at the end of the 1970-71 season and moved to the front office, guiding Montreal to seven Stanley Cups as vice president and director of public relations. His sweater [#4] was retired by the Habs in 1971 and he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame the following year. The Hockey News named Beliveau the seventh greatest NHL player of all time.
Today is the one-year anniversary of the passing of the great Jean Beliveau, who died at age 83 in Longueuil, Quebec.