MONTREAL – News that hockey great Jean Beliveau is hospitalized following a stroke has prompted an outpouring of affection and get-well wishes for the legendary centreman, beloved as much for his gracious personality as his graceful skating.
Memories of the gentlemanly team captain, whom Jean Chretien once approached to be Governor General, flooded onto Internet comment boards and Twitter.
The prime minister wished Beliveau well. So did the interim leader of the NDP, Nycole Turmel, and other opposition politicians.
“Mr. Beliveau is a great Canadian and a remarkable ambassador for our national sport,” Stephen Harper said in an emailed statement. “We wish him a speedy recovery.”
Beliveau, who won 10 Stanley Cups while playing with the Habs, was resting in a Montreal hospital on Tuesday.
Montreal Canadiens spokesman Donald Beauchamp said there had been no new developments since initial news of the stroke and that the family had requested privacy.
The team reported earlier Tuesday that the 80-year-old Hall of Famer was admitted to hospital after having the stroke Monday evening.
The NHL team said Beliveau was being examined and undergoing treatment.
This was the second stroke suffered by Beliveau in as many years. He was also treated for cardiac problems in 1996, and in 2000 was diagnosed with a tumour on his neck. Beliveau underwent surgery last year to treat abdominal aneurysms.
Always hailed as a classy spokesman for the team and revered by fans, there is no question of the towering Beliveau’s impact on the sport.
Beliveau’s career began with short stints with the Habs for two consecutive years before he joined the team for good for the 1953-54 season. He had been such a coveted prospect that the Canadiens bought an entire league to gain his contractual rights.
He didn’t disappoint.
Beliveau’s rapid fire goal-scoring in a 1955 game against Boston, where he notched three into the net in 44 seconds, encouraged the NHL to overhaul its power-play rules.
In a change that stands to this day, the league decided to end minor penalties whenever the shorthanded team gave up a goal, limiting the potential for the kind of offensive carnage regularly produced by that 1950s Habs power-play unit.
Beliveau retired in 1971 after playing his entire NHL career in Montreal, capping it all with an unexpected Stanley Cup. He scored 507 goals during his career.
On Tuesday, even the fans of rival teams sent their best wishes to the silver-haired statesman of hockey.
“I’m a Leafs fan who has forever had the utmost respect for this quiet classy man,” said a Twitter user who identified himself as HockeyFirst27. “A superb hockey player and ambassador for our national sport.”
Ralph Dinger, the senior editor of the NHL Official Guide and Record Book, noted in a tweet that Feb. 28 was a landmark day for Beliveau, recalling that in 1959 he scored three of the six goals by Montreal which made them victorious over the New York Rangers.
Other fans urged the Habs to win Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning in tribute to the former team captain.