By Stu Hackel
In this darkest of seasons for Canadiens fans, the bad news continues to pile up. Their loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday night dropped them three points behind the Islanders and Hurricanes for last place in the East. They were unable to peddle anyone other than the disappointing Andrei Kostitsyn on Monday’s trade deadline day, prompting The Montreal Gazette’s Red Fisher to write, “Once, teams would line up looking for help from this franchise. The view was that if a player was good enough to wear the CH, he surely had something to offer. Now, the franchise is in disarray from the top down. Now, it’s an embarrassment unworthy of attention. Where has the talent gone? Where has the pride gone?”
And then the news came that Jean Beliveau, the man who personifies talent and pride — not just for the Canadiens, but all of hockey — had suffered a stroke, the latest of his many health setbacks. The living symbol of everything this franchise has wanted to stand for — excellence, achievement, dignity, class, respect — had been laid so low that Fisher concluded his Wednesday Gazette article on Beliveau with the three words he often reserves for those whose health is at grave risk: “Pray for him.”
Those of you born well after Beliveau’s playing career ended in 1971 may well wonder, “Who is this man I’m asked to pray for?” and it’s a legitimate question.