Jean Béliveau's death brings Winnipeg hockey great to tears
Winnipeg's own hockey legends, Joe Daley and Ab McDonald, fondly remembered one of the NHL's greatest ever players on Wednesday.
Montreal Canadiens icon Jean Béliveau died Tuesday night at age 83.
"He was just a great hockey player and a greater man," said Ab McDonald, a left winger who won three Stanley Cups alongside Béliveau with the Canadiens in the 1950s.
"He was big and strong and he had the fluid stride and stick handle and shoot, he was just unbelievable."
But the two players did have their careers overlap from 1967 to 1971 and Daley said he learned a lot from Béliveau in those few years.
"I was fortunate enough to have encountered Mr. Béliveau at the end of his career as I was coming up and it's always been stated that he was not only a great player but a great man and probably that's been an understatement," he said.
"He was a gracious gentleman both on and off the ice."
Those sentiments were echoed by McDonald, who said Béliveau acted with class off the ice and fairness on it, never delivering a dirty hit to anyone.
"You don't run into too many guys like that around. I mean he's at the top of the list when it comes to that," he said.
Daley, who now runs a sports memorabilia store in Winnipeg, struggled to put into words the impact Béliveau had, then broke into tears.
"Trying to emulate [him], Jean Béliveau was … everything that's being said about him … it's almost too hard for me to realize that I'm that age in my life now where all the people that I idolized are starting to go," he said.
"It's a sad time in the world of sport and certainly hockey. My good friend Pat Quinn is gone and Joe [Gilles] Tremblay just went now Jean Béliveau, Murray Oliver and we know Gordie's not doing well."
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Daley started his NHL career with Pittsburgh Penguins in 1967 and went on to play with the Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings. He played the final seven seasons of his professional career in the World Hockey Association with his hometown Winnipeg Jets — helping lead them to three championships.
He then joined the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1960-61 season and won another Stanley Cup — his fourth straight one. He also went on to play with Boston, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis.
Like Daley, McDonald joined the WHA’s Jets in the league’s inaugural 1972-73 season. He was the team’s first-ever captain and scored the first goal for the Jets before retiring from his professional hockey career after the 1973-74 season.
McDonald missed seeing Béliveau by about an hour last winter. He went to Montreal for a card-signing session and Béliveau had been there the hour before.
McDonald said it was about three years ago when he last saw Béliveau in person.