Montreal Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau will be laid to rest on Wednesday afternoon in Montreal, Quebec. Thousands are expected to attend the funeral of Beliveau, who was both one hockey’s greatest icons and one Canada’s foremost ambassadors to the world.
The 14-time NHL All-Star passed away on Dec. 2 at the age of 83. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman are among those attending. Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault, general manager Glen Sather and Hall of Famer Rod Gilbert have travelled to Montreal to bid a final farewell to the great no. 4.
Back in New York, Martin St. Louis and the Rangers skated on Wednesday at the team’s practice facility in Greenburgh, N.Y. St. Louis recalled his feelings from when he first learned of Beliveau’s passing.
“It hits you a bit,” St. Louis said. “I know what he meant to the population. He was one of my dad’s idols growing up. I met him a throughout my career when I’ve gone to Montreal. I remember meeting him at the 2009 All-Star Game in Montreal.”
St. Louis remembers the special feeling that came whenever he would meet Beliveau and shake his hand.
“He was like a God for us in Quebec,” St. Louis said. “When you got the chance to shake his hand, it was pretty special.”
Beliveau played with a stylish elegance on the ice and carried himself in the most debonair manner away from the rink. He was hockey’s gentleman and revered by all Canadiens. St. Louis believes that Beliveau set the standard for the players that followed his footsteps and even those who had entered the NHL decades after his 1971 retirement.
“I think so,” St. Louis said. “He was a true gentleman and a role model for a lot of people on how to conduct yourself and how to treat people.”
When St. Louis was playing at peewee level, Beliveau visited his team’s dressing room. Even though St. Louis has gone on to lift the Stanley Cup and earn a collection of personal awards, he remembers the sting of missing out on the chance of meeting Beliveau during his childhood.
St. Louis was sick as a dog in the locker room bathroom while peewee teammates interacted with Beliveau and posed for photos.
“When I was a kid, I played in a peewee Quebec tournament,” St. Louis remembered. “He came in the dressing room to talk to us, but I was sick in the bathroom. I didn’t see him. I only could hear him at that time. It was the first time I had ever been close to Jean Beliveau. Thankfully, I was able to meet him a bunch of times as a pro.”
St. Louis feels that it is an appropriate gesture for the Vigneault, Sather and Gilbert to be present at Beliveau’s funeral. He understands the particular importance for Vigneault to attend. Vigneault’s first NHL head coaching gig with the Canadiens in 1997. He went on to serve as head coach of the Habs for more than three seasons before being fired shortly into the 2000-01 season.
“For sure,” St. Louis said. “I’m sure AV had the chance to be around him a lot when he coached in Montreal. I wouldn’t expect anything less from this great organization that we play for.”