4thought

It was this week in October, 69 years ago, that Jean Béliveau signed his first contract with the Montreal Canadiens, putting pen to paper in managing director Frank Selke’s Forum office on Saturday, October 3, 1953. Later the same day, the 22-year-old Béliveau joined his new teammates on the ice as the reigning Stanley Cup champions an array of NHL all-stars in the league’s seventh annual showcase. Detroit’s Terry Sawchuk foiled the Canadiens, mostly, as he led his team to a 3-1 victory, with New York Rangers’ winger Wally Hergesheimer scoring a pair of goals on Gerry McNeil into the Canadiens goal. Maurice Richard scored Montreal’s goal, rapping in a rebound of a shot by Béliveau that the Montreal Gazette qualified as smoking.

Béliveau had worn number 9 while starring for the QMHL Quebec Aces, but that was already claimed in Montreal by the Rocket. In the five games Béliveau had played previously as a call-up, he’d tried 17 and 20 (a game each in 1950-51) and 12 (three games in 1952-53). It was in September of ’53 that he posed, above, with Canadiens trainer Hector Dubois to commemorate his switch to number 4.

There was nothing specially to it, apparently. “Big Jean,” the Gazette duly noted, “said the number he wears is immaterial to him.” Pre-Béliveau, it had been passed around: Ivan Irwin, Reg Abbott, Eddie Litzenberger, and Calum Mackay had all taken a turn with Montreal’s 4 before he made it his own. There’s an argument to made that it should have been plucked from circulation before Béliveau ever arrived on the scene: 4 was the number that the great Aurèle Joliat donned when he joined the Canadiens in 1922, and the only one he wore throughout his 16-year career in Montreal. Canadiens did eventually get around to recognizing Joliat’s tenure as number 4, adding him as a “co-retiree” in 1984, 13 years after the team honoured the number in Béliveau’s name.

(Image: La Presse)

fours: some

Selkeites: The farm system seeded by Canadiens GM Frank Selke in the later 1940s began to bear fruit in the early 1950s. In 1953, it yielded a Stanley Cup, the first of six he’d win with Montreal. Above, Selke sits in a grove of his recruits in a photograph dating to (at a reasonable guess) the start of that championship ’52-’53 season, which would put all four players at 21 or 22. From the left, those are centres Paul Masnick, Reg Abbott, and Jean Béliveau along with left winger Dickie Moore. Selke, Masnick and Moore got their names etched on the Cup that year; Abbott and Béliveau weren’t so fortunate. Each of them skated in three regular-season games but neither one saw any ice in the playoffs. Abbott’s statistics were and remain blanks — he failed register a goal or assist, incurred no penalty minutes — and he never played another NHL game. For his part, Béliveau, scored five goals in his three games, launching a career that nobody has to be reminded to celebrate. It is worth noting, Abbott-wise, that he did wear sweater number 4 in ’52-’53, a season before Le Gros Bill got hold of it and made it his own. Having started his Montreal career in 1951 wearing number 17, Béliveau was by this time sporting 12 — which, of course, Dickie Moore would go on to make sufficiently his own that the Canadiens ended up retiring it in his name. Paul Masnick? While he tried out both 22 and 23 during his Montreal career, in 1953 he was 11.

(Photo: Weekend Magazine/ Louis Jaques/ Library and Archives Canada/ e002505710)