Hockey

Beliveau put Canadiens ahead of personal glory

Montreal Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas on Thursday night.

Hockey legend Jean Béliveau earned nearly every individual award an NHL player could ever desire during his 20-year Hall of Fame career.

Béliveau won his only Art Ross Trophy — given to the NHL's regular-season scoring champion — in 1956, collected a pair of Hart trophies as league MVP and played in 14 all-star games, representing the Montreal Canadiens.

The Trois-Rivières native also became the first player to be named the Stanley Cup playoffs' Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 1965.

Yet Béliveau never paid too much attention to his impressive list of personal accomplishments — he was too busy helping the Habs win a remarkable 10 Stanley Cup titles to concern himself with any solo triumphs.

"I've always said that personal records come after the team records," the 77-year-old Béliveau told CBC Sports Hall of Fame broadcaster Dick Irvin as part of the Canadiens' 100th anniversary season. "Play for the team."

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman presented Béliveau with the 2009 NHL Lifetime Achievement Award in Las Vegas on Thursday.

The league began this tradition by making hockey icon Gordie Howe its first recipient last season.

A classic team captain

The Canadiens needed a captain — their 20th in franchise history —- to begin the 1961 season.

Béliveau, sporting a cast on his foot from an injury during the team's training camp in B.C., was driven by his wife to the old Montreal Forum at the request of coach Toe Blake.

There, Blake dropped the bombshell on the unsuspecting Béliveau.

"Toe called me, and he said, 'Jean, you know that we have to vote for captain, can you come?' I was in a cast but I said, 'Sure,'" remembered Béliveau. "Toe came out from this little room and came towards me, shook my hand and said, 'Boys, here's your new captain.'

"I couldn't believe it, I almost fell [off] the bench. It was a big surprise.

"I was not even an assistant captain. It's one of my … after the Stanley Cups, it's certainly one of the nicest things that could happen to me in my life."

Béliveau wasted little time in getting accustomed to his new responsibility as he immediately addressed the rest of the players.

"When I was named captain, I got up after Toe shook my hand and I told my teammates, 'If you think I can be of any help with your career, even with personal situations or family [matters], my line is open 24 hours."

Fitting ending

Fittingly, Béliveau's last act as the team's longest-serving captain was accepting the 1971 Stanley Cup from NHL president Clarence Campbell after Montreal upset the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7.

"Watching Béliveau carrying the Cup in Chicago was special," Irvin told CBCSports.ca. "It was his 10th Stanley Cup and, to me, that was a wonderful moment for the history of the Canadiens because he meant so much to them."

Perhaps no illustration of Béliveau's modesty and team-first approach was better told than by Hockey Night In Canada's Bob Cole.

Recalling a story in one of his blogs for CBCSports.ca, Cole said he had just finished doing his usual play-by-play of a Canadiens-Bruins game at the old Boston Garden several years ago, which Montreal won in overtime.

The team had set up a VIP lounge after the game, with Cole and broadcast partner Mickey Redmond invited to drop by.

When Béliveau walked in, a woman asked the Montreal great if he had scored many overtime goals in his career.

True to form, Béliveau couldn't remember one time where he netted an OT winner.

"Yes, you did Mr. Béliveau," interjected Cole. "You scored a goal for Montreal right here in the Boston Garden.

"It was in the second overtime in a game in the 1969 playoffs. You scored the goal and won the game on a pass from Claude Provost at 11:28 of the second overtime.

"Jean nodded and, after a while, his eyes got larger and he said, 'I did?' [And] I said, 'Yes, it was a great goal, top corner, under the bar.'

"He couldn't believe it."

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