Hockey stars say goodbye to Jean Beliveau
"Le Gros Bill" would have been touched.
Hundreds of fans, many clad in his famed No. 4 jersey, and a who's who of hockey stars and politicians paid an emotional farewell to Montreal Canadiens great Jean Beliveau on a snowy Wednesday.
The afternoon funeral for Beliveau, who died last week at 83, was held at Mary Queen of the World Cathedral and featured affectionate eulogies from former Canadiens teammates Dickie Moore, Yvan Cournoyer, Serge Savard and Ken Dryden, as well as Canadiens owner Geoff Molson.
"It is a tremendous honor to stand here for my teammate and friend, Jean Beliveau," Moore said. "Everyone has said so many wonderful words about him, words like strength, dedication, devotion and elegance. I was lucky to have been with Jean for many glorious years with the Canadiens, lucky to share amazing moments together, lucky to have him as a friend.
"Would you rather be good or lucky? I was lucky. He was good."
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was among those who attended the service, along with Gov. Gen. David Johnston, former prime ministers Jean Chretien and Brian Mulroney, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, and former Quebec premiers Jean Charest, Bernard Landry and Lucien Bouchard. Montreal mayor Denis Coderre and federal opposition leaders Justin Trudeau of the Liberals and Thomas Mulcair of the NDP also attended.
Moore was followed to the podium by Cournoyer, one of six pallbearers. Cournoyer spoke about Beliveau in revered tones as his "captain" and described what he called almost a father-son relationship with the late icon.
"Oh captain, my captain, bon voyage," Cournoyer said, his voice choking.
Dryden recalled being Beliveau's roommate toward the end of the 1970-71 season when the big goaltender was an NHL rookie.
"He treated everyone with respect," Dryden said. "He said the right things and in the right way, in French and in English, because that's what he believed and that's what he was. He made every occasion better. He made everyone who was there feel that their town, their organization, their province, their country, their event mattered. That they mattered.
"This is not the time to say goodbye," Dryden said in closing. "This is the time to say thank you."
Molson spoke of Beliveau as an athlete, a friend, a champion and an example to follow.
"He was a special man -- a Jean Beliveau like no other," Molson said of the star center, who won 10 Stanley Cups in 21 years as a player and another seven as a team executive.
The other designated pallbearers were Savard and former Canadiens players Phil Goyette, Guy Lafleur, Robert Rousseau and Jean-Guy Talbot.
Frank Mahovlich was among dozens of Canadiens alumni on hand, along with all of the current team's players and coaches. Other former stars attending included Mario Lemieux, Luc Robitaille, Gilbert Perreault, Johnny Bower, Darryl Sittler and Brendan Shanahan, the current president of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"It shows you how big of a deal it is," current Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban said. "A lot of people on the current team, we weren't able to watch Jean Beliveau play, but we definitely know about the legend, and it's our job to make sure that what he's accomplished and what he's built here in Montreal lives on."
League commissioner Gary Bettman also traveled to Montreal.
"He was just great to be around," Bettman told reporters before the service. "And he's going to be terribly missed."
He was asked about suggestions that the Conn Smythe Trophy could eventually be named after Beliveau.
"We've been focused more on his passing and that loss and celebrating his life, and I know at the appropriate time we'll focus on what is a remembrance fitting for someone like Jean Beliveau," Bettman said.
Harper described Beliveau as someone who transcended his sport.
"We've obviously lost a great citizen, somebody who was admired and respected by everybody everywhere in the country," Harper said on his way into the service. "I certainly have admired Mr. Beliveau since I was a young boy.
"He was an individual who was great in his sport, but ultimately even greater than his sport. He's already part of the Hockey Hall of Fame, and now he's become part of the history of our country."
After the service, a giant Canadiens flag that draped Beliveau's casket throughout the service was folded carefully and given to his widow, Elise.
A few hundred seats were reserved for fans on a first-come, first-served basis. Those who couldn't get inside were able to watch the ceremony on giant screens nearby.
Montreal police, who have been wearing camouflage pants and red ballcaps in recent months to protest pension plan reforms, wore their regulation uniforms out of respect for Beliveau.
Beliveau entered the Hockey Hall of Fame the year after his retirement in 1971. The Hall of Fame waived the normal waiting period for the Montreal star.
Thousands of people filed into the Bell Centre on Sunday and Monday to pay tribute to Beliveau and shake hands with Elise.
On Tuesday night, the Canadiens honored him before their game against the Vancouver Canucks.