Guy Lapointe, the Hall of Fame defenseman who had his No. 5 retired by the Montreal Canadiens last month, is heartbroken today along with the rest of the hockey community at the death of Jean Beliveau, the Canadiens’ legend who died at 83 years old last night.
“It’s a pretty sad day,” Lapointe said earlier today during a phone interview from his home in Montreal. “It's almost like the Montreal Canadiens lost their dad.”
At the request of Beliveau, Lapointe, the Wild’s chief amateur scout, was invited to Beliveau’s home last month by his wife, Elise. It was the day after Lapointe’s No. 5 raised to the Bell Centre rafters.
“He was still lucid but pretty weak,” Lapointe said. “He couldn’t walk, he couldn’t stand up anymore. He had lost a lot of weight with the cancer and had a care service. But when I walked in, I know he recognized me. I saw a smile on his face. I came close to him and touched his hand. He wasn’t moving very much, but he touched my hand. And with slow words, he told me what I accomplished and how well deserved it was that the Canadiens retired my number.
“Thank God I didn’t cry. I held it in. He was classy to the end, a gentleman to the end. He found the energy and wanted to see me. It was pretty touching. I walked out the door and saw his wife and daughter [Helene] and we cried like babies. Wow. I mean, wow.”
As I wrote last month when we were in Montreal for the incredible banner-raising of Lapointe’s number and the reunion of the Big Three (Larry Robinson and Serge Savard), Lapointe wanted to be a cop as a kid. He had to be convinced to even attend the Canadiens’ training camp by his dad.
“As a kid growing up, he was my idol,” Lapointe said of Beliveau. “The No. 4, playing hockey in the street, we had his jersey. As I’ve told you before, my dad convinced me to go to the Montreal camp because my dad knew how much I loved Jean Beliveau. My dad told me, ‘Just think, even if you don’t make the team, you’ll be able to say one day you skated with your idol, Mr. Jean Beliveau.
“I had a chance to play one year with him and I’m telling you he was a gentleman, a classy guy, a good captain, a leader that any team in hockey dreamed to have. His last year was my first year, and I won a Cup with him. That was pretty special. I won other Cups, and for me and my teammates, he was still part of it. We were a family, we were a team, everything was about being a hockey team, to be a teammate, not about your individual stats whatsoever. Somebody need help, you help him, enjoy somebody else’s success even if you’re not having it. Be a family. That’s what Mr. Jean Beliveau taught all of us.”
Lapointe, like everybody in hockey, remembered Beliveau for his class and his grace.
“He’d shake your hand, and it was always, ‘How’s your family? How you doing? How’s your health?’” Lapointe said. “He always cared about you. He was just not a great hockey player, he was a great person to be around. If somebody wrote him fan mail, he answered it back. Every one. It was unbelievable, I’m telling you.
“Respect your fans, have time for them, he’d tell us. Respect the media, he’d tell us. They’re going to be good with you. At times, they’re going to be critical. Accept that. Be a man. They’ve got as much a job to do as you guys on the ice.
“Life is so unfair at times. Mr. Jean Beliveau was such a great man. What he did for hockey, not just Montreal, for the fans and the media, he was all about respect. Great man like him, the way he conducted himself, he deserved a better finish than the way he went.”
Lapointe talked about his banner-raising last month and how emotional he got when he saw his banner rise. He thought to himself how for the history of the Habs, of the Bell Centre, of his family going on generation after generation long after he's gone, how that banner will be there.
And he thought about his dad.
“It was very emotional, especially when that banner went up,” Lapointe said. “My dad made me go to camp because of Mr. Jean Beliveau, and my career became magic. My career was about work ethic and passion, and when you want to be a player, if you find that work ethic and passion, more times than not you’ll work yourself to a good career. I learned that my first year with Mr. Jean Beliveau.”
With the passing of Mr. Beliveau last night and the funeral of former North Stars coach and player Murray Oliver today, the Wild will hold a moment of silence before the Anthems prior to tonight’s game against the Habs.
All Canadiens players will don the # 4 on their helmets to honor the legendary captain tonight, too.