The sport of hockey was “elevated forever” by Jean Beliveau’s “character, dignity and class,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Wednesday as Canadians mourned the iconic player’s death at the age of 83.
“No record book can capture, no image can depict, no statue can convey the grandeur of the remarkable Jean Beliveau, whose elegance and skill on the ice earned the admiration of the hockey world while his humility and humanity away from the rink earned the love of fans everywhere,” Bettman said in a statement. “Mr. Beliveau was a formidable presence and his departure leaves an immeasurable void.”
The Canadiens reported Beliveau’s death just before 11:30 p.m. ET Tuesday. Even at that late hour, with some teams on flights home after games and others out West still in action, there was an outpouring of sadness as the hockey world mourned the loss of “Le Gros Bill,” considered one of the sport’s true gentlemen.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered his condolences on his official Twitter account early Wednesday.
“It is with sadness that I learned of the passing of Jean Beliveau,” Harper said. “He was a true legend and a class act. My thoughts are with his family.”
Mr. Beliveau, as so many called him to honour his class and stature, won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP twice and once captured the Art Ross Trophy as the leading scorer and the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. In 1,125 games, he recorded 1,219 points on 507 goals and 712 assists.
The native of Trois-Rivieres, Que., was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972.
Beliveau won the Stanley Cup as a player for the Habs 10 times and, including his time in management, has his name on the trophy 17 times. Montreal retired his No. 4 in 1971.
“A true legend has passed away,” Habs forward Brandon Prust tweeted. “Honoured to say I wore the same colours as the man.”
Habs owner Geoff Molson said the organization will “bring all the needed support to the members of Jean Beliveau’s family, and will work closely with them to organize the ceremonies that will take place in the coming days.”
The team plays in Minnesota against the Wild on Wednesday night as part of an ongoing road trip.
“It is with great sadness to hear that we have lost a hockey legend in Jean Beliveau, a friend I have known for more than four decades,” Canadian Olympic Committee president Marcel Aubut said in a statement. “He was a true gentleman and an inspiration to Canadians on and off the ice.
“On behalf of everyone at the Canadian Olympic Committee, we send our deepest condolences to his friends, family and the Montreal Canadiens organization.”
The Habs’ next home game is Tuesday against the Vancouver Canucks.
“Like millions of hockey fans who followed the life and the career of Jean Beliveau, the Canadiens today mourn the passing of a man whose contribution to the development of our sport and our society was unmeasurable,” Molson said in a statement Tuesday night. “Jean Beliveau was a great leader, a gentleman and arguably the greatest ambassador our game has ever known.”
Beliveau was the second former Hab to die in recent days. Gilles Tremblay, who won four Stanley Cups as a linemate with Beliveau in the 1960s, died on Nov. 26 at the age of 75.
“Meeting him is not like meeting other stars from the old days,” Tremblay once said.
“When people see Bobby Hull, they say: ‘Hi Bobby.’ When they meet Big Jean, it’s always: ‘Hi, Mr. Beliveau.’ He commands respect.”
It’s been a sombre time for the hockey world recently with the death of former player, coach and executive Pat Quinn died last week and the failing health of “Mr. Hockey” Gordie Howe
Within minutes of Montreal’s announcement, the Toronto Maple Leafs offered their condolences to the family of “a true hockey great.”
“He’s an unbelievable man,” Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien told reporters in Los Angeles following his team’s 2-0 loss Tuesday night.
“When you talk about class, it has Jean Beliveau written all over it. He spent a lot of time just chatting with me. When you grow up idolizing a guy like him and see him take the time to have some good chats, his wife as well, I thought he and his wife were tremendous people. What a class act he’s been. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to get to know him.”
Montreal mayor Denis Coderre tweeted “Farewell Mr. Beliveau, you were an inspiration for us all. A true gentleman. A role model, one of our greatest Habs.”
Montreal native and major league catcher Russell Martin, who was recently acquired by the Toronto Blue Jays, tweeted in French, “rest in peace Jean Beliveau. An idol!”
“Jean Beliveau was the classiest man,” tweeted Canadian women’s hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser. “Returned every piece of fan mail with a handwritten letter.”
“Sad to see such a legend in Jean Beliveau pass away,” Avalanche centre and Canadian Olympian Matt Duchene tweeted. “What a legacy he left behind, pure class.”