Anyone who first attends a Winnipeg Jets game when the Montreal Canadiens visit might be a little surprised to see so many red Habs sweaters in the crowd. It’s not quite as noticeable as it was when the old Jets were here from 1979 to 1996. Older fans in particular were raised on the original six, particularly the Canadiens and the Leafs.
At least part of the enduring affection for the Habs relates to some of the amazing stars they had back in the day, like the man who wore # 4, Jean Béliveau. The tall centre who captained the team for half of his 20 years on the Montreal roster appears to have been in a class by himself. When he died this past week at the age of 83, it was like a death in the Royal Family, and not just in Quebec by any means.
When the Habs won five Stanley Cups in a row between 1956 and 1960, the household names were Richard, Geoffrion, Plante, Tom Johnson and Doug Harvey, along with up and comers like Ab MacDonald of Winnipeg. Towering above all of them it seemed was Béliveau.
He played his last game in 1971, but continued to be a key man in the Montreal organization. What a different world it is now in the National Hockey League. There are now 30 teams, including hockey hotbeds like Tampa Bay and the Arizona desert.
The same week that Béliveau died, social media were filled with pictures of Evander Kane of the Jets, doing push-ups with some of the millions that he takes home. Winnipeg is doing better than expected this season, but Evander Kane only has two goals last time I looked. I wonder where he might be five years from now?
There was indeed only one Jean Béliveau, and he was such a class act.
I’m Roger Currie