For a couple of years now Canadiens legend Jean Béliveau joked that “I’m not getting any younger” and that he needed to conserve his energy to attend Habs home games.
Now the 80-year-old Béliveau’s famed energies are being channelled toward recovering from a stroke – his second in 25 months – which team officials said occurred late Monday evening.
He was taken to Montreal General Hospital, and is under the care of Canadiens’ team doctor David Mulder; the details of his prognosis and treatments are being kept confidential at his family’s request.
A plethora of well-wishers – from Prime Minister Stephen Harper to a series of former Habs greats – sent along messages, former Canadiens coach Jacques Demers told RDS that “I saw him three weeks ago and you could tell that perhaps things are getting more complicated for him health-wise.”
Even as his health problems have mounted over the past decade, the man known as “le Gros Bill” remains synonymous with the team whose jersey he first donned in 1950 and last removed in 1971.
He won 10 Stanley Cups as a player, and seven more as an executive with the team.
Béliveau still attends most home games with his wife Elise – who has reportedly had recent health issues of her own – sitting in his customary seat behind the Canadiens’ bench.
A paragon of class, Béliveau is one of the highest-profile links to the dynasties that carried the team to unrivalled success in the 1950s and 1960s.
Born in Trois-Rivières, Que., Béliveau first drew notice as a teenaged collegiate hockey player in Victoriaville, and at first resisted the Canadiens’ entreaties – at his father’s urging.
Instead of heading to Montreal, he signed on with the Quebec Aces of the amateur Quebec Senior Hockey League – the Habs eventually settled the impasse by buying the league, which Béliveau had dominated.
After brief call-ups in 1950-51 and 1952-53, Béliveau joined the Habs full-time in the fall of 1953.
By the time he retired in 1971, Béliveau had scored 507 goals and tallied 712 assists, second only to Guy Lafleur in team history, and had won most of the trophies awarded by the NHL (he was the first recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy for the MVP of the playoffs).
His iconic No. 4 jersey was swiftly retired, and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972.
Béliveau, who underwent abdominal surgery last summer, has a recent history of surviving health scares – he has had heart problems and was diagnosed with a cancerous tumour in his neck in 2000, but overcame the disease.
In 2008, he collapsed at a funeral service for a friend, was soon released from hospital.