hockey players in hockey beds: unlucky jean béliveau

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Jean Béliveau went down injured in the fall of 1953, just seven games into his rookie season. He was 23 and (said the Canadian Press) fabulous. Montreal was in Chicago, where they won 3-2. When coach Dick Irvin phoned home to report the damage to reporters he made it sound like a Black Hawk stick had come to malevolent life, acting on its own to crack Béliveau’s ankle, though in fact it was Billy Mosienko who took the rap if not the rap (no penalty was called on the play). Irvin had to go, catch the Habs’ train home. “It was a bad crack,” he said. “We’ll put ice packs around it for the trip home and we’ll have it x-rayed as soon as we arrive.”

It was a cracked fibula. Doctors said he’d be out a month but it was December before he got back on the ice, 22 games later. Rocket Richard got a hattrick in a 5-3 Montreal win over the same rapacious Black Hawks the night he came back, though Béliveau wasn’t a big factor. His timing was off, said The Gazette, though he showed a flash of speed when he caught Chicago’s Jimmy Peters from behind on a breakaway. On a powerplay, Irvin put him out on a five-forward powerplay, on the point with Boom-Boom Geoffrion while Kenny Mosdell and Bert Olmstead patrolled with Richard upfront.

Montreal’s next game was against the New York Rangers. Again they won, 7-2, though Béliveau was injured again, his cheek this time, he fractured his rightside cheek, with the help of New York’s Johnny Bower. It was the second period and I’m sure Bower didn’t mean to hurt anybody, I mean, he was (and is) Johnny Bower. There was a jam in his goal crease, is what happened, and he tried to shove it out of the way (the jam), and Ranger defenceman Jack Evans fell, as did Béliveau, who banged his face against the goal post.

Dick Irvin didn’t think it was an accident. He had his doubts. To him it seemed like other teams were out to maim the Stanley Cup champions. What were the referees doing? Dickie Moore had been charged from behind, his shoulder broken; Fern Flaman broke Dollard St. Laurent’s nose; Elmer Lach had had his ankle slashed, just like Béliveau. Why do you think Geoffrion had to knock the Rangers’ Ron Murphy to the ice with his stick? Because the Canadiens had been under attack and the referees weren’t doing anything about it. (Geoffrion was suspended for the Canadiens’ remaining games against New York that season.)

Béliveau went to hospital. That’s him, above, after his cheek surgery. Parlons Sport called him unlucky in their caption — noting also as his convalescence got started, he at least had a chance to read a good newspaper.

The cheek kept him out four games. He was back on the ice before the year was out and though the Canadiens had a special plastic mask made for him, he wouldn’t wear it for the game in Toronto. The Leafs and Canadiens tied 2-2, with Béliveau scoring. “It was an ankle-high beauty,” Al Nickleson from The Globe and Mail decreed, “his third of the term and first since Oct. 15.”