The Montreal Canadiens are renowned for putting on some of the most memorable pre-game ceremonies in all of sports, but Tuesday night’s tribute to the late Jean Béliveau, who died last week at the age of 83, was taken to an even higher level prior the game between the Vancouver Canucks and Montreal Canadiens.
With the lights dimmed the ceremony began as Béliveau's famous No. 4 flashed on the two Canadiens’ logos at centre ice. It followed with the inscription Jean Béliveau 1931-2014.
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The Bell Centre crowd was then treated to a photo montage on the Bell Centre ice that featured a chronology of the career of the former captain and 10-time Stanley Cup-winning forward.
Players from both teams then skated to their respective blue- lines where a video tribute of the Le Gros Bill played to the song ceux qui s'en vont (those who are leaving) by French Canadian singer Ginette Reno.
Béliveau's No. 4 jersey completely covered the back of his seat behind the Canadiens’ bench where it will stay for the balance of the season. To underline the image, the Canadiens listed the attendance at 21,286 — one below capacity.
Sitting next to that chair was Béliveau’s wife, Élise Couture, who was overcome with emotion at several points — none more so then when fans and players cheered after an awe-inspiring moment of silence.
This Says It All! Jean Beliveau's wife Elise Couture pic.twitter.com/WnAajqeplX— @HabsHappy
The scoreboard screen was focused throughout the ovation on Élise, standing at her seat beside her daughter Helene and granddaughters Magalie and Mylene.
Élise then prayed and thanked the crowd by waving her arms in the air several times.
"It was the most emotional night I've ever experienced in Montreal," said Canadiens centre Tomas Plekanec, who scored the winning goal in the home side's 3-1 victory. "I had chills all through the ceremony."
Once the game ended, Plekanec handed Élise the game puck.
"I grabbed the puck at the end and I talked with Manny [Malhotra] and we said it would be nice to give it to her, so I did," the Habs centre said.
Jean Béliveau will have what the Quebec government calls a "national funeral" on Wednesday at the Mary Queen of the World Cathedral in Montreal. CBC News Network, local CBC Montreal radio, CBC.ca and CBCSports.ca will carry Béliveau's funeral live beginning 1 p.m. ET, starting with the arrival of the guests.
Hockey Night In Canada music montage & features maker Tim Thompson produced this gem.
Absolutely the most moving, most truly silent, Moment of Silence just now in memory of Jean Beliveau. Could not have been improved upon.— @KeithOlbermann
And a note about Alexandre Burrows of Vancouver, who broke the stick-tap tradition and took off his gloves to applaud with the crowd. Bravo.— @KeithOlbermann
Lights are down in the Bell Centre as the Jean Beliveau ceremony begins. Pure silence. pic.twitter.com/hx30s6H1Kh— @VanCanucks