Jean Béliveau holds four pucks from his huge game on Nov. 5, 1955. He’s joined by teammate Bert Olmstead, who had assists on Béliveau’s historic three goals that were scored on a single power play.
David Bier Studios, Gazette files
One from the files, published Dec. 29, 2008:
Andrei Kostitsyn won’t soon forget his first National Hockey League hat trick, his three goals Saturday giving the Canadiens all the offence they’d need in a 3-2 victory over the Penguins in Pittsburgh.
Nor will Christopher Higgins forget his, a Nov. 11 effort he dedicated to his mother following Montreal’s 4-0 home-ice win over the Ottawa Senators.
Kostitsyn and Higgins now are in lukewarm pursuit of Jean Béliveau, trailing the Canadiens icon by just 17 hat tricks. They’re 25 behind the late Maurice Richard, the team leader in the category.
Béliveau scored his first hat on Dec. 18, 1952 against the New York Rangers, a 6-2 Canadiens victory at the Forum. He wasn’t even a signed member of the club, up from the senior Quebec Aces for a three-game trial.
It was a doubleheader, of sorts – Bernie Geoffrion also scored three that night for Montreal.
Béliveau had more than one remarkable hat trick; the third goal of his last, on Nov. 2, 1971 at the Forum against Minnesota North Stars goalie Gilles Gilbert – not Cesare Maniago, as is commonly believed – was No. 500 in his career.
But it was Béliveau’s second three-goal performance, on his first of three career four-goal nights, that might have been his most important. He scored three times on Boston Bruins goaler Terry Sawchuk in a span of 44 seconds on Nov. 5, 1955, all during the same Montreal power play.
It remains the second-fastest hat trick scored in NHL history, though more than double the 21 seconds it took Chicago’s Bill Mosienko on March 23, 1952 against the New York Rangers.
The NHL would attempt to disable the Canadiens’ fearsome power play at the end of the 1955-56 season. Imagine – Doug Harvey and Geoffrion on the points, Béliveau, Richard and Bert Olmstead scoring almost at will up front.
So the league proposed a rule for the 1956-57 season that would release a minor-penalized player from the box should a goal be scored by the team with the man advantage. It passed with a 5-1 vote in the six-club NHL; only the Canadiens opposed it.
“You might outvote me on that one,” Canadiens manager Frank Selke said, quoted in D’Arcy Jenish’s book The Montreal Canadiens: 100 Years of Glory. “But you’ll never convince me of its justice.
“In all the years of Detroit’s dominance and their almighty power play, there was no suggestion of such a change. Now Canadiens have finally built one and you want to introduce a rule to weaken it. Go get a power play of your own.”
The photo of a joyful Béliveau after his 1955 history-changing four-goal effort is a story in itself.
The image appeared in the Montreal Star on Feb. 12, 1959 with Béliveau holding three pucks – two in his left hand, one in his right – above a caption describing his three goals and one assist in a 5-2 Canadiens win over Toronto the night before.
But both image and caption were misleading, at the very least. The photo had been taken four years and three months earlier, and in the unretouched image Béliveau is holding four pucks – two in each hand – to celebrate his output of Nov. 5, 1955.
The three-puck Béliveau of 1959 was a convenient fib to illustrate his seventh career hat-trick, his second of that season. And more than an octagonal-crested puck was cropped from the ’59 reproduction, the print heavily retouched to accommodate crude newspaper photo-engraving of the day.
Erased by an artist’s thick airbrush on the now brittle, half-century-old 8×10 glossy was fellow future Hall of Famer Bert Olmstead, in longjohns and flimsy shoulder pads, and the detail of the dressing-room wall, a white shirt and dark suit jacket hung casually behind the teammates.
A stripping yesterday of the opaque airbrushing with water, tissue and cotton swabs, and then a higher-tech digital cleansing, reveals the wonderful scene as late Canadiens photographer David Bier would have seen it more than 53 years ago.
From Keith Acton to Dainius Zubrus, the team’s excellent 100th-season media guide lists 97 Canadiens as hat-trick scorers since 1926, from the start of its “modern-era” database. The total is easily over 100, including players from the club’s formation in 1909.
From 1952-71, Béliveau feasted on Detroit, scoring five of his 18 hats against the Red Wings. He had three each against Chicago, Toronto and the Rangers and one against Boston, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Minnesota.
The photo files are rich with Original Six images of Béliveau holding a fistful of pucks, grinning from beneath a fedora, in dressing rooms post-game.
“If the photographer needed a hat, it probably was Toe Blake’s,” he chuckled yesterday of his fedora-topped head coach.
It remains Béliveau’s four-goal night against the Kings in Los Angeles on Nov. 2, 1969 that remains freshest in his mind, coach Claude Ruel inexplicably limiting his third-period shifts after he’d scored four times through 40 minutes.
Typically, he uttered not a word of protest.
“Claude said, ‘I’m going to rest you for the playoffs,’ even though we were still quite a bit of time from that,” Béliveau recalled. “I’ve always thought I should have told Claude, ‘Let me play, the puck seems to be following me all over the place.’ But I didn’t say a thing.”
Fedoras regularly were tossed by the finely dressed male fans of the 1950s and ’60s to celebrate a home-team hat trick. The custom began with the Biltmore Hats-sponsored Madhatters in Guelph, Ont., a Rangers farm team, and came to the NHL with the Maple Leafs, whose hat-trick scorers were awarded a fancy lid by a local merchant.
For all the fedoras thrown in his honour – Béliveau scored a dozen hat tricks on Forum ice – he never took one home. But footwear? That was another matter.
“If you didn’t have a pair of toe-rubbers after Monday practice,” he said, laughing again, “the trainer sent you to the big drum in the back and you found a pair that had been thrown onto the ice on Saturday night.
“I remember getting myself a pair of Size 12s. But just once.”
Below: From the Gazette of Nov. 6, 1955: