Reprinted from the IIHF site (author Martin Merk) for educational, archival and discussion purposes:

MONTREAL – NHL legend Jean Beliveau passed away on Tuesday night [3 December 2014] at the age of 83. A household name in Canada, he had his name engraved on the Stanley Cup 17 times, more than any other, and exemplified the qualities of the Montreal Canadiens’ glorious era with his supreme skill, hockey intelligence and finesse.

“He embodied the very essence of a true sportsman,” said IIHF President René Fasel. “When I was young Jean Beliveau was a hero to so many hockey players in Switzerland, he was an inspiration and one of the first really great legends in our sport. He had such an aura about him that commanded respect and admiration from so many people in and out of hockey.”

Born in Trois-Rivieres as the eldest of eight children and growing up in Victoriaville, Beliveau learned his fine hockey skills at the family’s backyard rink. When his junior team folded he moved to Quebec City in his last junior years and started to play senior hockey for the Quebec As in the province’s senior league. Due to his eye-popping numbers in junior hockey expectations were high and Beliveau received significant earnings for that time in what actually was an amateur league. He had two short stints in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens in 1950/1951 and 1952/1953 before moving to the Canadiens permanently in 1953, after owner Frank Selke Sr. resorted to buying the entire Quebec Senior league with the intent to move Beliveau to Montreal.

The tall centre nicknamed “le gros Bill” in French immediately became one of the star players in the golden era of the Montreal Canadiens. He played for the team until 1971, the last ten years as the team captain. He won ten Stanley Cups as a player (1956, 57, 58, 59, 60, 65, 66, 68, 69, 71) in his 18 full seasons and added seven more Stanley Cup titles as an executive (1973, 76, 77, 78, 79, 86, 93) for the club.

Beliveau scored two Stanley Cup-clinching goals, won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player twice (1956, 64) and appeared in 11 NHL All-Star Games. He is the second all-time leading scorer of the Canadiens behind only Guy Lafleur. He was part of the organization in different functions for six decades and was a big supporter of the formation of the NHL's players' union in 1967.

Unfortunately Beliveau never had the chance to represent his country internationally during his illustrious career since NHL players didn’t play at Olympics or World Championships in his era. He missed the first competition between Canadian NHLers and a European national team by one year, when he retired in 1971 after winning his last Stanley Cup as a player. His jersey with the number 4 was retired by the Montreal Canadiens the same year and in 1972 he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Despite not having had the chance to play for a national team he earned high honours at a national level. He was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1998, a Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec, and was even offered the position of Governor General of Canada, though he declined for family reasons.

He made it to Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2001 and received the Order of Hockey in Canada as part of the first inaugural class in 2010. Since 2005, the Jean Beliveau Trophy is awarded annually to the Canadiens player who best exemplifies leadership qualities in the community.

Despite health issues Beliveau tried to attend as many Canadiens home games as possible with his wife Elise and was never tired of signing autographs even in his late age. He was even reputed to have answered every single letter he received from fans with a handwritten note. When the 2008 IIHF World Championship was hosted in Quebec City and Halifax, Beliveau was named Honorary President of the Organizing Committee. He went onto the ice for the opening ceremony and one or the other player award ceremony and held the speech on Wayne Gretzky’s nomination for the Centennial All-Star Team during the IIHF’s 100-year anniversary celebration.

The IIHF recognizes the passing of a true hockey great and one of the first worldwide ambassadors for the game.

MARTIN MERK