I have not been just a fan of hockey players through all of these years. I have had an equal appreciation for sportswriters and broadcasters who have told the story of hockey as only they can. Everyone has their own style in they way they communicate the game, the players and the games themselves.
Red Fisher was the gold standard of sports journalism.
As a young boy of six, I started reading newspapers. The sports section was the first to get my attention. Red’s account of the previous night’s game was a must. It wasn’t just about stats and the standings. It was about a human side of the game that Red was always able to bring to a story. It was never that bad after a loss or that great after a win. It was a hockey game played by people and it was the people side that mattered more than the game side. I think that’s why I don’t get too down on players even during a bad season. Red “taught” me to understand that there was more to hockey than stats and results.
All I knew of Red was what he wrote and how he wrote it. He was hard but never mean, He was kind but never gushing and he was fair and unwavering in his fairness.
I see snippets of him in today’s journalists and radio people. There is the somewhat hard edged but great Mitch Melnick whom I suspect is as loyal to people that deserve loyalty as Red was to deserving people. There is the acerbic wit of Mike Boone that always makes me laugh. There is the humanity in the writing of Bertrand Raymond that makes me think past the stats. There are the rich stories like Stan Fischler can recount to you. Red had all this and more in the one package.
If there was a way I could describe Red Fisher about who he was and what he stood for, I would say to read his book “Hockey Heroes and Me”. I would urge you to read his chapter about Toe Blake. This chapter contains it all. From how principled Red was to how forgiving he could be. It also shows that even though he loved his friend, Toe he could only visit him the one time as it was too hard to visit him again seeing how Toe had been lost in the fog that is Alzheimer’s. One could say that was a selfish thing to do but I see it as a man who loved hard and cared hard. He cared and loved this man so much that seeing him so far removed from who he was hurt Red too much. Red would rather remember him as he was, not as a shell of a once mighty man. In order to hurt that much, one must care deeply. Red may have been a crusty guy but that gruff was all on the outside. If one was lucky enough to break down that wall, one would be met with a lifetime of loyalty and love. I envy those people as I would have liked to be in their place. I may even have liked to be rebuffed as only Red was able to do.
I missed his writing about the game, his musings on a long gone but revered era and the feeling that a young boy had about reading about his heroes written by a man who would become one of his heroes.
If ever there was a game that showed that the players of today were aware and cared about the history of the Canadiens, then last night was it.
A whole city felt down about losing one of their own. Jean Béliveau was an iconic figure that loomed large and helped make the CH brand one of respect and of greatness.
The city needed to know that their hockey team would respond by giving all they had. The team could have given the city a boost by playing well in honour of a fallen icon, one of their own.
Instead, we were treated to a disappointing first two periods in which the habs were outshot 30 to 10.
I like what Geoff Molson is doing with the team. Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien are steering the ship in the right direction. But last night was a chance for the players to show that they too are aware of the rich history of the habs. They didn’t show it. They did come out strong in the third but by then, Minnesota was playing defensively so I’m not sure if it was habs playing better or the Wild not thinking offense so much.
Its not that the habs lost, it was they way the lost. I am aware of the parity in the league and that the Wild are a good and fast team. That being said, the habs could have made a statement to a city in mourning. They could have said that we are with you in the pain of losing an icon like Béliveau. We are not mercenaries who don’t care about the past glories. Instead, they showed us just that.
It was a disheartening display to this longtime fan.
Last night was the chance to show that the players of today care about the players of yesteryear. The players of yesteryear that the owner and management keep trotting out to show fans the glory of the past. That chance came and went last night.
What can one say?
What can one say about a great hockey player that earned the respect of players across a tough six team league who couldn’t wait to pound on the new pretty boy of the habs making $20,000.00 a year? A princely sum back in the day.
What can one say about a man that current hockey players show immense respect towards?
What can one say about a man who transcended his sport and became a legend more for what he did off the ice than on the ice?
What can one say about a man who personally handwrote responses to the many thousands of letters he received throughout the years?
What can one say about a man who just would not say no to requests to appear at charity events? Events that earned much needed money for so many causes that otherwise would have had trouble earning anything at all.
What can one say about a man who oozed class and respect and who was called Mr. Béliveau by all regardless of generation?
What can one say about a habs captain that spoke little but managed to say much?
What can one say about a man that even fans of the hated Bruins and Leafs teams respect ?
What can one say about a man that will make a ultra comptetative player like terrible Ted Lindsay of Detroit go out of his way to show respect.
What can one say about a man that no one….NO ONE….has anything but great admiration for?
One can say thank you….
Thank you Mr. Béliveau…..thank you for the memories of stanley cups, for memories of the class and dignity you always showed.
Thank you Mr. Béliveau……….thank you so much…..
The ghosts at the Bell Center have a jersey with the C waiting for you.