Canadiens turn Jean Beliveau’s seat into shrine, as it should stay

Via Dave Stubbs
Via Dave Stubbs

He would sit three rows behind the Montreal Canadiens bench at Bell Centre, a hockey god in human form. He would sit on the aisle, with friends and media and well-wishers greeting him as “Mr. Beliveau.” He had earned the formality. He was, after all, a legend.

That legend will be honored again on Tuesday night when the Canadiens play their first home game since Jean Beliveau died at 83 last week. Thousands of fans had already visited the arena last weekend to honor Beliveau, whose casket rested under the championship banners he helped the franchise collect during his Hall of Fame career.

But before the Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks take the ice, there will be more accolades, more remembrances; and, in one of the most stirring tributes to Jean Beliveau, his signature No. 4 jersey draped on his third-row aisle seat.

As it was during the memorial service, a single spotlight will be used to illuminate the chair, according to Dave Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette.

Habs
Habs

I hope the Canadiens have the good sense to keep this seat empty permanently as an honor to Beliveau.

I was still starting out as hockey writer with press box access when I met Dave Fay of the Washington Times, rightfully referred to as the dean of D.C. hockey writers. The manner in which he carried himself, the insight he brought to his coverage and the comedic tales from his life in hockey were inspiring.

When cancer took him in 2007, I remember the Capitals kept a seat open in the press box with his name on it. It was sacred ground. It’s so we could remember him and he could be remembered. It stuck with me.

Seeing that No. 4 draped across that seat evokes the same reaction. Of a life in hockey. Of a passion for the Canadiens, that continued well after his finale game. Of a friendly face on the aisle of the third row, whose presence was a connection to the past and a constant reminder that even if today’s Habs aren’t playing in the Forum, they have a shared legacy with hockey immortals.

Montreal is the last team that has to be reminded about honoring its legends. But in case there were any fence-sitters, put me down for keeping Jean Beliveau’s seat preserved. Because wherever he is, you know he’s watching hockey.

Photos via Dave Stubbs