50 years since Habs visit

What was a devastating blow to Jean Beliveau’s leg is a mere footnote in history to most.

What was a devastating blow to Jean Beliveau’s leg is a mere footnote in history to most.

There is little fanfare today in marking  the 50th anniversary of the Montreal Canadiens visit to the Silver City. Yet it is the only time the actual NHL team (not an old-timers squad) visited Trail.

Montreal Canadiens’ forward Jean Beliveau was named team captain shortly after an incident in an exhibition match at the Cominco Arena that cost him half his season. But in some small way, it may have helped the “gentle giant” become team captain.

According to Murray Greig in his book “Trail on Ice;” on Sept. 30, 1961, the Canadiens were in town playing the Spokane Comets of the Western International Hockey League.

Beliveau told Greig years later at a memorabilia show in Vancouver, that the game was arranged so the City of Trail could thank the Habs for their financial support of the ’61 Smoke Eaters trip to the World Championships.

“We had an exhibition game in Vancouver and then we went to Seattle and Trail,” recalls Beliveau.

“We’re in this little hotel and I’ve got this really bad cold. I’m sweating. I’m coughing, I’m weak, but I went with the team to the (Cominco) arena.

“Toe (coach Blake) came to me: ‘Jean, can you dress?’ “ he asked. “ ‘The arena is full. They want to see you play. I’ve got to dress you, he said.’

‘Toe, I haven’t got much, but I’ll play a couple of shifts, I told him.’

“Second shift,” recalled Beliveau. “There’s this big guy (Bill Folk) on defence. I tried to go around him, but I had no legs. We fell. I pulled a ligament in my knee. Two months out,” he said with a sigh.

Trail hockey fan Cliff Tyson was at that game 50 years ago, sitting in the same section he occupied at the Smoke Eaters game on Wednesday.

“The place was packed, because well Montreal’s in town and I was a kid then and the kids were all sitting in the stairwells here,” said Tyson, a long-suffering Toronto Maple Leaf fan.

“I remember he (Beliveau) got hit by the blue line somewhere, and he went down and he was rolling around, he was in terrific pain. They packed him off the ice and that was it.”

Beliveau was wearing a cast when a month later his team voted him captain, over the likes of Dickie Moore and “Boom Boom” Geoffrion. His commitment to the team and devotion to the game became apparent as a result of the injury.

Beliveau missed almost 30 games that year, the most in his career but he would serve as the Canadiens captain for 10 years, the longest tenure in Habs history.

He also played on 10 Stanley Cup teams, yet the memory of being voted captain in 1961 still shines brightly, as does the painful recollection of his brief but character-building time spent on the ice at the Cominco Arena.