Jean Beliveau entered the NHL with all the hype of an Eric Lindros, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. He lived up to it and then some.
Jean Beliveau was a household hockey name before he ever reached the NHL, much like Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby and Eric Lindros have been more recently. That fame multiplied when he finally broke into the league full-time with the Montreal Canadiens in 1953-54 and subsequently lived up to expectations. And then some. The following is a portrait of the young NHLer, as published by The Hockey News in our Feb. 5, 1955 edition.
WILL THIS GREAT AMATEUR BE A GREAT PRO?
By Vince Lunny Montreal, Que. – The road to hockey’s graveyard, otherwise known as the bushes, is paved with the bones of maverick recruits who came into the National Hockey League as sure-fire prospects and wore out their welcomes almost before they soiled their uniforms. In the light of this great truth, Jean Beliveau of the Canadiens is unique. Now in his second season, Beliveau has more than justified the unprecedented ballyhoo that heralded his debut as a full-fledged professional.
At this writing he is leading the individual scoring race and, with a reputation of being a strong finisher in his amateur days, he likely will with the Art Ross Trophy and make the final All-Star team as well. He was the selectors’ choice for centre in the balloting over the first half of the season. Beliveau is Hollywood’s idea of what an athlete should look like, a hero-worshipper’s idea of how a prominent sports figure should conduct himself and every manager’s idea of how a hockey player should behave on the ice. Typical is the opinion of Tommy Ivan, manager of the Chicago Black Hawks. “That Beliveau is quite a hockey player,” he told Dink Carroll, sports editor of the
Gazette recently. “I liked him when I first saw him as a junior in Quebec several years ago. I took the Red Wings down there for an exhibition game and Beliveau scored three goals against us. “I like him even better now and I like him off the ice too. He’s a credit to hockey.” Beliveau came into the league at the start of last season, the beneficiary of a ballyhoo no rookie before him had ever enjoyed – or suffered. A huge, soft-spoken youth who was idolized in Quebec City, where he played with the Aces. Beliveau was subjected to intense pressure before he finally capitulated and signed a five-year contract with the Canadiens. The figure wasn’t disclosed but Frank J Selke, managing director of the Habs said, “it was the highest contract every given by any player – highest by a city block.” Although he played in only 14 of Montreal’s 70 games, he managed to score 13 goals and acquired 21 assists. Early in the season he suffered his first major injury, cracking an ankle bone in a game against the Hawks in Chicago. He was out of action exactly seven weeks. Shortly after he returned to the line-up he fractured a cheek bone in a game against the Rangers at Montreal. This year, having been left to his own devices by the injury jinx, Beliveau has been living up to his reputation as centre on the Habs G-O-B line with Bernie Geoffrion and Bert Olmstead and as the key man on Montreal’s potent power play. “Do you find the league easier this year?” Beliveau was asked the other day. “No it isn’t any easier,” he replied in a matter of fact tones. “But I’ve got more confidence and I’m profiting by the mistakes I made last year. I’m getting my shots away faster and I’m quicker to take advantage of openings.” Olmstead, probably the best play-making left winger in hockey, said he never saw any player get a shot away faster than Beliveau did in a recent game against the Leafs. “I gave him a rink-wide pass,” said Bert, “and then looked directly at the net. The puck was in it, the cords were still bulging and Harry Lumley was just making his move, too late.” That was a typical Beliveau goal, executed on a sharp slap shot with just a flick of his powerful wrists. One reason why the hockey experts expect him to win the scoring championship is his ability to finish each season in a blaze like Detroit’s Gordie Howe, a great scorer, particularly in the stretch. Beliveau is a slow starter. He didn’t take over the scoring leadership this season until well into the second half of the campaign when he began to pot goals with almost monotonous regularity. That is the pattern he followed while winning two scoring championships in the Quebec Hockey League. Back in 1951-52 he scored only three goals for the Aces up to Dec. 15 but he finished with 45 goals and 38 assists. In the following season Le Gros Bill scored twice and picked up two assists in the Aces’ opening game against Shawinigan Falls and then got only one goal in his next six games. At Christmas he was far down the scoring list. Then, like a thoroughbred, Beliveau made his move against the front runners. When the books were finally balanced Beliveau had set a league record with 50 goals in 57 games and added 39 assists for a point total of 89, also a league record. The Canadiens had a string on Beliveau six years ago, long before he rose to prominence with the Aces. He signed a Quebec Amateur Hockey Association playing certificate with the junior Habs but he was released to the Victoriaville juniors on condition that he revert to Montreal at the end of the season. The release was given only because Beliveau’s father wanted him to play in his hometown. Unfortunately, the Victoriaville club went broke and Quebec City interests assumed control. Beliveau was purloined by the Quebec Citadelles. All the Canadiens had was his signature on a NHL “B” form, binding him to play with the Montreal entry if and when he turned pro. He fulfilled his obligation when the Quebec Hockey League became a professional outfit, signing with the Canadiens after months of negotiations. Le Gros Bill’s athletic ability is apparently a gift from the athletic gods. Certainly It wasn’t inherited because his father, Arthur Beliveau, never played any organized sport and his mother, the former Laurette Dube, had no interest in athletic pursuits. She was too busy raising her family of seven, two daughters and five sons. Jean is the eldest. Only last week Buzzie Bavasi, vice-president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, was talking to Muzz Patrick, coach of the New York Rangers, and giving him the needle — but good! “You think big Jean is terrific,” said Bavasi. “Well he has four younger brothers who are twice as good. And I’ll bet they’ll all play for Canadiens.” With that remark Patrick swooned. Jean Beliveau was only a pre-school toddler when he got his first pair of skates and ventured onto the ice at Three Rivers, where he was born. He soon became a strong skater and an adept stickhandler. His natural athletic ability was further manifest in summer when he began to play baseball with bigger boys in the neighborhood. The Beliveau family moved to Victoriaville and by the time Jean was 15 he was more proficient as a ball player than as a hockey player. He pitched for the Victoriaville Tigers and played a fine first base. But hockey was his first love and it survived despite strong parental objections. His father thought it would interfere with schooling. The elder Beliveau was right and the records show that Jean quit school, after going to Quebec, because scholastic matters were interfering with his hockey. When conscientious teachers pointed out that Quebec’c Louis St Laurent didn’t become Prime Minister of Canada by neglecting his books, Beliveau countered by reeling off the names of top hockey players who never got beyond the eighth grade. However to his great credit, lack of a normal education basically never hampered Beliveaus development as a social being. He has poise and polish and he is acquiring even more of the social grades as time goes on. And he adds to his store of knowledge by reading classical literature. A serious minded-individual, Beliveau showed up for his signing with the Canadiens accompanied by an income tax expert and a financial adviser, representing a trust company. There is no thought of him ever squandering his money. Helping him in his decision is young wife, the former Elise Couture, whom he met at a party in Quebec. He invited her to a dinner. Soon they were going steady and Elise, who had never gone to hockey games, became a great fan of the Aces. Now, of course, she has switched her allegiance to the Canadiens. The Beliveaus live in an apartment in Montreal and when the Habs are home Jean always helps with the dishes and performs other chores. Elise must share some of the blame for Beliveau reporting to the Habs camp in Verdun about 20 pounds over his normal playing weight. She’s an excellent cook and her husband who carries some 200 pounds on a six foot-three frame, likes succulent steaks, heaping plates full of mashed potatoes and creamed vegetables. Between meals he’s addicted to hot dogs and ice cream. So that’s the background on a player who bids fair to become one of hockey’s greatest players. Aurel Joliat, a hockey star with the Habs in the era of the immortal Howie Morenz, watched Beliveau perform recently against the Chicago Black Hawks. “Wonderful!” he exclaimed. “Such style. Such finesse. He makes the game looks awfully easy.” Coach Dick Irvin nodded, “Beliveau has speeded up his moves 25 percent this season He always rises to meet the threat of greater competition. He responds to each new test like a thoroughbred. He’s going to have a long wonderful career.” And when Irvin starts talking in glowing terms about a player, watch out. Beliveau is a sure-fire candidate for a long tenure at the top. He has rated his ballyhoo, every word of it.
Had Hat Trick MONTREAL, Que.—Jean Beliveau was a National Hockey League star even before he signed with the Canadiens. In five lend-lease games he scored six goals for the Habs. Beliveau made two appearances with the Montreal team in 1950-51 and scored five goals including a hat trick in a contest with the Rangers in Montreal.
Nice Guy Quebec, Que. – What kind of an individual is Jean Beliveau? Well, the answer to that is one might be found in a statement once issued by his ex-Manager, Punch Imlach of the Quebec Aces. Said Punch, “One thing about Beliveau, he’s one of the best guys in the world, quiet and unassuming. It’s practically impossible for anyone knowing him well to have any ill feeling toward him. He goes out on the ice, plays one helluva game of hockey, changes and leaves without saying a word, unless spoken to. He’s one fellow all the players like. All the Aces’ directors felt the same way about him too.”