Dick Irvin picks Jean Béliveau as greatest Canadiens player

When CBCSports.ca asked legendary broadcaster Dick Irvin to pick his greatest Habs players, he went with the classiest player he’s ever seen — Jean Béliveau.

Called former Habs icon a ‘classic leader’

Montreal Canadiens legends Jean Béliveau, right, and Maurice Richard hold the Stanley Cup after their victory over Boston in 1958. (Associated Press)

Whether he was watching the Montreal Canadiens from the bench when his father coached the team or broadcasting their games with the late Danny Gallivan, no one followed the team closer than Dick Irvin.

In 2008, Irvin was inducted into the CBC Sports Hall of Fame for a broadcasting career that spanned 33 years (1966-1999) with Hockey Night In Canada — a tenure surpassed only by Bob Cole. In that time, he covered many of Montreal's remarkable Stanley Cup victories.

Shortly after his induction, CBCSports.ca caught up with Irvin to discuss several topics concerning the Canadiens.

One, specifically, caught us off guard.

When we asked the legendary broadcaster to share his greatest Habs players, Irvin went with the classiest player he’s ever seen — Jean Béliveau — at No. 1.

In honour of Le Gros Bill, who died at 83 on Tuesday night, we once again offer Dick's top-5 Canadiens:

  • 1. Jean Béliveau — "He was a classic leader, as well as a great hockey player."
  • 2Maurice Richard — "Most exciting player who ever played the game."
  • 3. Guy Lafleur — "The thing I remember most is that he gave it 100 per cent every game, every night and every season during that stretch when he was the best hockey player in the world."
  • 4. Howie Morenz — "He was the superstar of his era. His name sold tickets, he won Stanley Cups and for a period of approximately 10 years, he was the best player the Canadiens ever had to that point."
  • 5. Jacques Plante — "He was a wonderful goaltender and he revolutionized hockey. The game still owes him for [introducing the goalie mask]."

What struck Irvin the most about Béliveau was that he 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 Béliveau told Irvin during the Canadiens' 100th anniversary season in 2009. "Play for the team."

You've seen Irvin's list.

Now we ask you:


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