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Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffrion was unique in character, nickname, the way he played hockey and finally, the circumstances in which he left this world.

The Montreal Canadiens great passed away early Saturday, the same day the National Hockey League team had planned a ceremony to retire his jersey -- No. 5 -- before a game against the New York Rangers, raising it to the Bell Centre roof next to that of his late father-in-law, Howie Morenz.

Geoffrion, 75, didn't make it to the event he'd looked forward to since it was announced last fall, succumbing to stomach cancer in Atlanta. But in the spirit of a man who loved celebrations, the show went on with him present in spirit only.

"He was a guy who loved life, liked to score goals and win games, laugh and make jokes," said Rejean Houle, president of the Canadiens alumni association. "He had it all.

"[On Wednesday]he'd told me 'I'm going to make it and there will be no wheelchair for me. I'm going to stand up to see my jersey retired.' But he told his family, '[If I don't make it]I want you to celebrate my life and my career in Montreal.' "

And so, before an emotional sellout crowd, many of whom were not born when Geoffrion retired in 1968, the team honoured his life with a tribute that included his family and many former teammates including Henri Richard, Dollard St. Laurent, Jean-Guy Talbot and Dickie Moore. Geoffrion's sons, Danny and Robert, wife, Marlene, daughter Linda and eight grandchildren all attended.

"It was terrific," said Dick Irvin, the retired broadcaster who acted as master of ceremonies for the on-ice tribute before Montreal's 1-0 win over New York.

"During the moment's silence, it was so powerful. There wasn't a peep. I think the fans appreciated what the family was going through."

The Canadiens had booked the date to coincide with a visit by the Rangers, the only other NHL team for which Geoffrion played. It also happened to be the 69th anniversary of Morenz's funeral.

Geoffrion had once told his wife about a dream to one day have his jersey raised alongside that of her father. He accomplished that and so much more.

He won six Stanley Cup titles, two scoring titles and a Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player in 1961. Geoffrion played 16 NHL seasons for the Canadiens (1950 to 1964) and the Rangers (1966 to 1968), scoring 393 goals en route to 822 points in 883 regular-season games

Geoffrion, who was born in Montreal, joined the Canadiens in 1950, stepping directly out of junior hockey at 19.

Then-Habs head coach Dick Irvin Sr. believed Geoffrion would win rookie of the year honours the next season, if he was eligible. And so he purposely dressed Geoffrion for just 18 games, preserving his rookie status by two games. Geoffrion scored 30 goals and 24 assists in 67 games in 1951-52 and won the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year.

Before Geoffrion joined the Canadiens, he'd already been tagged with the nickname that would follow him throughout his life.

There are several versions told of the origin of Boom Boom, although Irvin defers to one involving sportswriter Charlie Boire, who watched Geoffrion practice in junior, noting his shot boomed off the back boards each time he missed the net.

"[Boire asked Geoffrion] 'Do you mind if I call you Boom Boom?' " Irvin said. "So he was Boom Boom before he got to Montreal."

Geoffrion is best remembered for popularizing the slap shot, using it to become the second player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a season, the year after the first player to do so, Maurice (Rocket) Richard, retired in 1960-61.

"My dad's favourite player was the Rocket when we bought a TV in 1955," Houle recalled. "But my favourite was Boom. He was younger and he was amazing, scoring goals from the blueline with his slap shot and running the power play."

As loud as Geoffrion's slap shot was, he had a personality to match, commanding attention with his presence wherever he went, the free-spirit of the Habs of his era.

"Boomer was a very jovial type of fellow, especially when he scored," St. Laurent said. "Everyone knew when he was there. If we went out for an evening somewhere, the next thing you know he was on the [microphone]singing."

Teammates recall Geoffrion as a player whose mood was derived from his performance on the ice.

"My dad said some players need sugar and some need the whip," Irvin said. "In Bernie's case, you had to keep telling him how good he was. He needed sugar."

Coaching, Geoffrion's second career, didn't come as naturally to him as scoring. In the NHL, he coached the Rangers and Atlanta Flames before replacing Scotty Bowman behind Montreal's bench for a stint that lasted 30 games of the 1979-80 season.

Taking over a Montreal team that had won four consecutive Stanley Cups and that was without retired goaltender Ken Dryden proved to be an unenviable task.

"I always had the feeling that he didn't really want the job when he got it," Irvin said. "I never felt his heart was in it."

Geoffrion's heart would surely have been warmed by Saturday night and a ceremony which was only imperfect because he wasn't there.

Fittingly the game's only goal, by Canadiens defenceman Craig Rivet, was scored with a slap shot.