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Tributes pour in for hockey legend Jean Beliveau

Former Montreal Canadiens hockey legend and honorary captain

Former Montreal Canadiens hockey legend and honorary captain of the Canadian Olympic hockey team Jean Beliveau shows his Olympic ring at a ceremony in Montreal on Dec. 14, 2010. Credit: AP / Ryan Remiorz

Jean Beliveau, known throughout the hockey world as not only a symbol of the Montreal Canadiens, who won 10 Stanley Cup championships during his heyday, but one of the sport's most dignified ambassadors, died Tuesday night at 83.

The hockey community, especially in and around Montreal Wednesday, mourned the loss of the Quebec native, who had pneumonia earlier this year and suffered a stroke in 2012.

Tributes poured in from fans who idolized the 6-3 playmaking center to current and former players and coaches to political leaders.

"Like millions of hockey fans who followed the life and the career of Jean Beliveau," Canadiens president Geoff Molson said, "the Canadiens mourn the passing of a man whose contribution to the development of our sport and our society was unmeasurable."

Beliveau's body will lay in wake at Bell Centre Sunday and Monday. His No. 4 jersey hangs in the rafters at Bell Centre, where his legacy will be honored Tuesday before the Canadiens' next home game. In addition, all Canadiens players were set to wear Beliveau's No. 4 on their helmets last night when they faced the Wild in Minnesota.

The funeral is next Wednesday at Mary Queen of the World Cathedral in Montreal.

A lingering image for American fans in the late 1950s to late 1960s would be of Beliveau hoisting the Cup, which he did for five consecutive seasons beginning in 1956, and then four more times as captain in 1965, 1966, 1968 and 1969.

Beliveau, who skated surprisingly well for his size, also reached some milestones against the Rangers: During his second tryout, Beliveau had his first NHL hat trick, against the Blueshirts on Dec. 18, 1952. He scored his 300th goal on Jan. 26, 1963, against Gump Worsley and the final goal of his career on April 3, 1971, against Gilles Villemure.

In 1972, Beliveau, a two-time MVP, was inducted into the Hall of Fame, a year after the Canadiens edged the Blackhawks in seven games for the last Cup of his playing career. His name also is engraved on the silver trophy seven times as a Canadiens executive.

He concluded his 18-year career with 507 goals -- the second most in the NHL at the time -- and 1,219 points, and was a team vice president until 1993, then continued as an adviser and regular at charity fundraisers.

"Beyond being one of the greatest players in NHL history, Jean Beliveau was class personified," said Mario Lemieux, the former Penguins star and current owner. "He was a hero to generations of his fellow French Canadians and hockey fans everywhere. He will be missed."

Beliveau's legacy touched younger generations as well. Rangers rookie Anthony Duclair, 19, a Montreal native, tweeted a photo of him and Beliveau from several years ago, saying: "Rest in peace Jean Béliveau. One of the greatest players to ever play and even better person. #rolemodel"

Along with his ease at conversation and willingness to mentor young players, Beliveau had stature and presence.

"When people see Bobby Hull, they say: 'Hi, Bobby,' " the late Gilles Tremblay, a former teammate, once recalled. "When they meet Big Jean, it's always: 'Hi, Mr. Beliveau.' He commands respect."

Even Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre referred to him in that manner Wednesday: "Farewell, Mr. Beliveau," Coderre tweeted. "You were an inspiration for us all. A true gentleman. A role model, one of our greatest Habs."

Beliveau, who was born in Trois Rivieres, is survived by his wife Elise, a daughter, Helene, and granddaughters Mylene and Magalie.

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