SPORTS

Canadiens, Canucks pay respects to Beliveau ahead of Bell Centre clash

12/08/2014 05:39 EST | Updated 02/07/2015 05:59 EST
MONTREAL - Both the Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks put their losing streaks aside for a while on Monday to pay tribute to hockey great Jean Beliveau.

Like thousands of Montreal fans who streamed into the Bell Centre for public visitation on Sunday and Monday, players and coaches from both clubs stopped in to pause by the casket on display at centre ice and give condolences to Beliveau's family, led by his tireless wife Elise who greeted every visitor.

The legendary Canadiens captain died last week at 83, while the team was away on a road trip. The club held off remembrance ceremonies, including the funeral at Mary Queen of the World cathedral on Wednesday, until they got back.

"The message from me and my teammates was that it was such an honour to be in the same room as them," said Canadiens alternate captain Max Pacioretty. "I told her how much respect me and my teammates have for her and her husband.

"And going forward, we have to play in honour of him, and he's looking after us. It was a tough morning, but it was nice to see current and former players show up and show their respect."

The arena had been turned into a giant, sombre funeral home for two days, but it will revert to a hockey rink when the Canadiens play host to the Canucks on Tuesday night.

The club is keeping secret the details of its tributes to Beliveau before and during the game, but they confirmed that the seat behind the Montreal bench that Le Gros Bil occupied for nearly every home game will be left vacant. His No. 4 jersey has been draped over the seat during the visitations.

The Canucks, who will wind up a seven-game road trip, cancelled their practice and visited the Bell Centre.

Vancouver coach Willie Desjardins, who has family roots in Quebec, was touched by the experience.

"To my father, Jean Beliveau was the best and when I started playing hockey, I wore No. 4 for Jean Beliveau," said Desjardins. "It wasn't just because he was a great player, it was the way he carried himself and how he approached the game.

"With all those great things, though, inside there was a winner. He always found a way. It's sad when you see the No. 4 on that seat and you wonder. It's a big loss for our game."

Today's players are too young to have seen Beliveau on the ice. He won 10 Stanley Cups with the Canadiens from 1950 to 1971 and is regarded as perhaps the greatest captain in the team's 105-year history.

But they know what he represented to the sport and to millions of fans.

Canucks forward Alex Burrows said Beliveau was his grandmother's favourite.

"My grandma, just outside Montreal, growing up here, listened to every game on the radio or on TV and every time she talked about the Canadiens it was with a lot of passion," he said. "And Jean Beliveau was mentioned in every topic, so he was a great leader for the Canadiens.

"For us, it was the least that we could do to pay our respects to his family and be here."

The Canucks were coming off a 4-3 overtime loss in Ottawa in which they blew a three-goal lead on Sunday night. That followed a 5-2 defeat in Toronto the previous night, although they are a respectable 3-2-1 on their road trip.

It has gone much worse of late for Montreal, which has lost three in a row and is 1-5-1 in its last seven.

Coach Michel Therrien juggled his lines late in a 4-1 loss in Dallas on Saturday and had the new units together in practice on Monday afternoon.

They included moving 20-year-old phenom Alex Galchenyuk from left wing to centre between Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher, while second-line centre Tomas Plekanec's new wingers are rookies Jiri Sekac and Sven Andrighetto.

David Desharnais, who has been Pacioretty's centre for most of the last three seasons, was dropped to the third unit with P.A. Parenteau and speedy grinder Michael Bournival.

Pacioretty said it was time for a change because his unit, on which Desharnais almost always passed and Pacioretty would always shoot, may have become too predictable.

"At times in a season, things go stale and that's what's happening now," said Pacioretty. "We've got to try to change things up, find a spark.

"It gives you a fresh feeling. It almost feels like day one of training camp. Personally, I'm excited to just go out and try something new."

Skating with Galchenyuk has possibilities. The slick stickhandler and shooter should take some of the scoring pressure off Pacioretty, who leads the club with 12 goals.

"I'm going to tell him 'instead of making that extra move, play the odds and put it on net,'" said Pacioretty. "He has a really good wrist shot and maybe I'd like to see him use it a little quicker than he has in the past.

"You make that decision as soon as you get the puck whether you're going to pass, shoot or deke. Once he gets to that stage, he's going to be deadly. Playing with Gallagher, maybe we can get him to that point."

The line changes were prompted by an upper body injury, believed to be a shoulder problem, to centre Lars Eller. Therrien said Eller went for tests but it was not yet known how long he would be missing.

The injury led to Andrighetto being called up from AHL Hamilton and the diminutive Swiss forward scored a goal in his first NHL game in Dallas.

Defenceman Mike Weaver is also out with a concussion, and veteran blue-liner Sergei Gonchar missed practice with an illness. Montreal called up Nathan Beaulieu from Hamilton to reinforce the blue-line.

MORE:cpSports