Habs must buy Beliveau mementoes

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

It's not too late for the Montreal Canadiens to do the right thing.

Since they aren't exactly run off their feet at the moment, somebody from the front office ought to evaluate the mass of memorabilia that legend Jean Beliveau has put up for sale. And have the club buy it.

There has been a run on ex-stars hawking their keepsakes lately, but Beliveau peddling his past to the highest bidder is hockey heresy.

You can't blame him. There are family needs. It's just that his history, especially, should be retained by the Canadiens hockey family.

Former Leaf captain Darryl Sittler cleaned out many souvenirs of his career some time back and another Leaf captain, Rick Vaive, is in the process of doing it.

So is coach Jacques Demers, the back-to-back winner of coach-of-the-year honours with the Detroit Red Wings.

For those and others, there's not much future in the past and it's understandable.

There are kids just starting college to consider, there are charities (Demers' take from his Internet sale will go to Montreal battered women's shelters), there are pressures the current lockout placed on former luminaries.

In many cases, the crusty crests and tarnished tin are not the entire collection, just stuff deemed disposable by owners tired of looking at it cluttering up the closet.

To some athletes, the past is past. My son-in-law, for example, was tossing out the accumulation of an athletic career that included two Olympic Games until my daughter rescued it all.

But Beliveau is a different story. When Le Gros Bill steps up to the auction block to disperse any of the memories of his glittering 20-year career, it's hockey's version of someone flogging the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Here's a guy who defined the Montreal Canadiens, a player of supreme talent combined with a grace that moved sportswriters of his day to employ a word never used to describe an athlete before or since.

The word is elegant.

Through all 1,125 regular-season games and 162 more in the playoffs, the guy who led the parade to 10 Stanley Cups remained the constant star, one impervious to all provocation. All his hockey history should be preserved by the Canadiens.

Beliveau's friend Ray Getliffe was not surprised by the Beliveau sale.

"I have mixed feelings but I think he's wise because at least he'll know what's going on and he'll be able to leave investments for his family," the London resident and former Canadien said.

Maurice Richard, who was dubbed Rocket by Getliffe during Richard's rookie career, still had all his souvenirs at the time of his death and it was all sold.

Getliffe says it's difficult to question any decision made by Beliveau.

"He has so much grace," the London native said. "Someone was saying the other day that when our Governor-General steps down they'll offer him the post but I doubt he'd accept it."

The legendary player underwent surgery for throat cancer five years ago.

Speaking of memorabilia, how much has Getliffe kept from his days as a Montreal Canadien and Boston Bruin?

"None of it," he laughed. "Over the years, I handed it all away."

What amazes Getliffe is that more than 50 years after he retired from hockey, he still gets two or three requests for autographs. One came in last week from the Czech Republic.

Who knows how many Beliveau gets? And who knows what kind of bidding will come in for the 195 items that have graced his home of 50 years once the Internet's Classic Collectibles' Jean Beliveau Auction comes to a close in three weeks? His 1958-59 Stanley Cup ring alone has drawn a bid of $24,000.

The Montreal Canadiens Hockey Club should match it and keep the mementoes.


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