Guy Lapointe, a six-time Stanley Cup winner with the spectacular Canadiens team from the 1970s, had his No. 5 jersey retired ahead of a game Saturday night between the Canadiens and the Minnesota Wild.
The 66-year-old Lapointe was in tears with his family as well as the other members of the Big Three defence greats from the Canadiens 1970s dynasty, Larry Robinson and Serge Savard, as a banner was raised to the roof in a pre-game ceremony.
"It was emotional," Lapointe said. "I was thinking of my parents and what it would be like if they could be here.
"It was my father who convinced me to try out for the Canadiens. He said even if you don't make it, it's something you'll always remember. You can tell your grandchildren you skated with Jean Believeau, Henri Richard, Jacques Laperriere.
"Hopefully, he's up there somewhere with a big smile and saying 'I'm glad he listened to me, for once.' "
Savard had his No. 18 retired in 2006 and Robinson's No. 19 went up in 2007.
The No. 5 had already been taken out of service for Bernard (Boom Boom) Geoffrion, but the Canadiens have three numbers retired in the name of more than one player who wore it. In all, 18 players and 15 numbers have been honoured over the years.
The 30-minute ceremony opened with a highlight video of Lapointe's career that included tributes from former teammates Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden, Bob Gainey, Murray Wilson and Rejean Houle.
At a news conference after the ceremony, Houle and team president Geoff Molson presented Lapointe, a noted practical joker, with a jersey with the No. 5 upside down and his nickname Pointu on the back. It was signed by his former teammates, most of whom turned out for the game.
Savard said he suggested to the Canadiens to retire all three rearguard's jerseys at once, but that the team at the time had other plans. As years passed, Lapointe's family began to push for the oversight to be corrected.
"It was going to happen one day," said Savard. "It's like the Hall of Fame, sometimes it takes two or three times before they get in.
"It doesn't have anything to do with the value of the player. We knew it would happen for Guy one day. That it happened later is not the problem. He is having his day and he deserves it."
Robinson and Savard gave short speeches before Lapointe gave an emotional talk about how proud he was to play for the NHL's most storied franchise and to have won six Stanley Cups as well as being part of winning teams at the 1972 Summit Series and the 1976 Canada Cup.
He saved a special thank you for Claude Ruel, the former Canadiens coach and player development ace who helped tutor a long list of defence greats.
"It's the ultimate honour," he said. "To know that my grandchildren will be able to come to the Bell Centre and be able to say 'that's my grandfather up there.' It's unimaginable."
The current Canadiens, all wearing No. 5 jersey's with Lapointe name on the back, skated out for the banner raising, with P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov bringing out the banner.
That's when Lapointe' eyes welled up with tears.
He joked about it later, saying: "I was scared they were going to hook me up and put me up there."
The Wild players applauded from their bench. The date was chosen because Lapointe is Minnesota's co-ordinator of amateur scouting. Minnesota players had presented him with a signed Wild No. 5 jersey earlier.
His former teammates love telling Lapointe's practical jokes. He once put Vaseline on his hand to skate Prime minister Pierre Trudeau's hand, and once nailed Dryden's shoes to the floor. Savard told a story of how coach Scotty Bowman wanted to punish them with an 8 a.m. practice on the road. When their chartered bus didn't show up, Bowman called and was told that someone with a French accent had phoned to cancel the bus.
Lapointe was known for pulling jokes, then looking innocent and saying "hey, get the right guy."
In his 14 seasons with Montreal from 1968 to 1982, Lapointe was one of the NHL's premier puck-moving defencemen, combining speed and sharp passing with a powerful shot.
While Robinson was a physical presence and an offensive force, and Savard played with intelligence and skill, Lapointe was dynamic.
In 1970-71, he set a team record for goals by a rookie defenceman with 15 and in 1974-75, he set the standard for goals by a Canadiens' rearguard with 29. His highest points total was 76 in 1976-77, when he scored 25 times.
The Montreal native won four Stanley Cups in a row from 1976 to 1979 on a powerhouse Montreal team that, along with the Big Three, was led by Lafleur, Steve Shutt, Jacques Lemaire, Gainey and goalie Dryden.
Lapointe was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993.
He made his NHL debut on Oct. 27, 1968, his only game that season. He played five more the following season before joining the Canadiens for good in 1970.
Injuries plagued his final three seasons in Montreal and he was dealt to St. Louis in 1982. In 1983-84, he played one last season with the Boston Bruins before retiring as a player.
He later worked as an assistant coach with the Quebec Nordiques and the Calgary Flames and joined Minnesota as amateur scouting director for their expansion season in 1999.