How Jean Béliveau changed hockey history on this day in 1955

Jean Beliveau

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:

The Gazette

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:


  1. jorgea says:

    Thanks for sharing a great post.

  2. Neutral says:

    I don’t care who’s returning to the line up – as long as we are winning leave the team as it is – send the returnees to Hamiliton for conditioning – than make a decision.

    • savethepuck says:

      You seriously can’t be referring to Marky in your statement.

      “They don’t hang Conference Championship Banners from the rafters here”
      Carey Price

  3. Bripro says:

    We’ve got a Christening to go to late this afternoon, and then this elaborate dinner.
    So what if it’s a posh restaurant!
    So what if the little guy only gets christened once!
    So what if my wife is the God mother!
    Why do I have to miss the game?
    Priorities suck, and my wife’s and mine seriously conflict.

  4. Habs fan in SF says:

    forget the habs/rangers game, this is where it’s at tonight! hahaha. you can’t make this sort of stuff up, folks!

  5. C_exacte says:

    no injury news?? are we a week or two away from seeing the FULL team finally?
    Cammalleri Plekanec Cole / Pacioretty Gomez Gionta / Eller Desharnais Kostitsyn / Moen Nokelainen White / (Darche)
    Markov Subban / Gorges Campoli / Gill Spacek / (Emelin)
    Price / Budaj
    (Diaz and Blunden to the dogs)

    • Ton says:

      Blunden is a good find. Big and can skate. Rare you could find both! Could be a quality 4th liner and Darche’s replacement next year. He looks good and needs playing time.

    • Clay says:

      I like that team, with a slight modification – it’s Gomez who goes to the ‘Dogs.

      Anyway, I’ve never been captain in 16 years in the NHL. But that didn’t stop me being a leader in my own way.
      Guy Lafleur

    • piper says:

      You forgot Weber or did we trade him for prust yet.

    • Hoegarden says:

      Our Swiss combo is doing just fine, in fact getting better and better, especially Diaz. He’s a keeper for now.
      I am more worried about Emelin as in how\when will they use him. I wish they would give Gill the odd night off so Emelin can prove his real worth.

      • piper says:

        Trouble is we’ll soon have too many D and I’d hate to loose Emelin, especially for nothing. I’d rather trade the swiss fellas who could bring something we need. You have to trade something decent to get something decent back. Were probably stuck with Campoli and the way Emelins been used, he won’t bring much return.

        • cuzzie says:

          It’s a long season. Teams these days have to be almost 30 players deep.Emelin will have his day. The more inner team competition we have the stronger we are. Sports is competition. Prove your worth and you will play. It’s life. Survival of the fittest and strongest. The meek will never inherit sports.

          Stay Thirsty My Friends!

          • piper says:

            If they do that I can see Emelin heading home. After trying for 5 years to get him here they give him a few games and give up on him.

  6. savethepuck says:

    Just read an interesting discussion on the last thread that some people don’t think the “loser point” should not be awarded to the team that loses in OT or a shootout. The only way that ever should happen is if they play OT 5 on 5 like a real hockey game and eliminate the shootout entirely. Deciding a hockey game by a shootout is like deciding a football game by the QB’s throwing footballs thru hanging tires. The league has to continue to award the “loser point” or actually allow games to end as ties. There is no way a team should be penalized and not even get a point because they played an equal 65 minutes but lost a skills competition.

    “They don’t hang Conference Championship Banners from the rafters here”
    Carey Price

    • Clay says:

      I despise shootouts as well.
      However, if they must stay (please no!), a way around the stupidity of the point system is awarding 3 points for a regulation win and none for a loss, 2 points for an OT or shootout win, and one for an OT or shootout loss…

      Anyway, I’ve never been captain in 16 years in the NHL. But that didn’t stop me being a leader in my own way.
      Guy Lafleur

  7. 86ontheice says:

    I was there when Beliveai scored his 500th. I talked with Jean a few years ago and mentioned I was there and his 500th was assisted by Frank Mahovlich and Phil Roberto. He smiled and replied” Not many people remember Phil Roberto”. Classic. Anytime one has a conversation with #4 , consider yourself blessed.

  8. habitual says:

    Watched Brendan Gallagher last night in a 2- 1 loss to Victoria. Great skater, hard to hit. Though noticeably small, he goes hard into corners and the front of the net and will not back down. Good passer.

    Weaknesses: average shot, can try to do too much sometimes.

    While he has many positives (principally his wheels) it is hard to see how, at this stage, he was considered close to making the team. He looks to me to be two years with the ‘Dogs before having a legitimate shot with Les Boys.

    • Hobie Hansen says:

      I was at the Ottawa 67s game last night and purchased a pair of tickets for their February 26th game against the London Knights.

      I’ll be sitting behind the Knights’ bench, really looking forward to seeing Jarred Tinordi in action. The players in the OHL are usually accessible after the game so I’m hoping to shake his hand and wish him well!

  9. harpman says:

    Beliveau scored his 500th in Feb 1971….he retired after the Habs won the Cup later that season.

  10. jimmy shaker says:

    As per Betrand Raymond: Budaj will be the starting tender tonight


    • showey47 says:

      I would have come back with price. We were just off for a week and don’t play again till tuesday. Gotta keep riding the hot hand till we can dig ourselves out of the early season hole and at the same time take advantage of a fairly injured rangers lineup. There are plenty of chances in the upcoming weeks to give budaj some starts.

  11. habstrinifan says:

    Great read Mr Stubbs!

    Busy day ahead so I’ll make my prediction NOW.

    Boone’s unwitting clairvoyancy will hold up.

    HABS 5 Rangers 2. Game will be over in First period when a hungry habs team would light the light for 3 BIG BEAUTIFUL ONES… all on the PP.

    OK maybe not on the PP.

    • habs001 says:

      i think we will score vs the rangers but a very big test for the d..if their forwards are at the top of their game it will present major problems for our d….

  12. JohnBellyful says:

    Great read. Great guy. An inspiration to all.
    (And if they added up all the hat tricks I scored in pond hockey in Jean’s name to his in the NHL, that would be some kind of record. I won’t bother calling Guinness, though. The memories will suffice.)

  13. Chris says:

    The Biltmore hat company still exists here in Guelph, and they have started handing out fedoras to any Guelph Storm player that nets a hat-trick.

    It isn’t quite the same as seeing them rain down from the stands, but it is a nice link to the past.

  14. Ian Cobb says:

    The greatest hockey times in Montreal and in the world was the 50’s and 60’s.

    Thanks for this Dave Stubbs.!

    • Dave Stubbs says:

      Look forward to seeing you and the Summiteers on Nov. 19, Ian. I’ll join you for your pregame dinner!

      Dave Stubbs

      Hockey Inside/Out
      Sports Columnist/Feature Writer, Montreal Gazette
      • On Twitter:
      • Email:

      • Ian Cobb says:

        That’s great Dave. A lot of out of townees and first timers will be looking forward to meeting and talking with you. As will we all again.

        Children’s Charity Raffle starts at 3pm. Dinner after that. See ya there everyone.!

      • habitual says:

        Dave, if you have written a book with these types of stories, I want to know. I still have that picture and email you sent after your story on Elmer Lach.

        If you haven’t, will you?

        • Chris says:

          That would be an awesome idea.

          Of course, we all KNOW that Dave is going to do it on all the old goalies if he does take the time to put together a book… 😉

    • Chris says:

      Here in Montreal, no question.

      But the fans in Edmonton sure had a treat of a team through the 1980’s, and the Montreal teams of the 1970’s were absolutely dominant.

      There is a great quote in Ken Dryden’s book “The Game”:

      Hall, Sawchuk, Jacques Plante, and Bower – they were the heroes of my childhood. Performing before my adolescent eyes, they did unimaginable things in magical places. Everything they did was braver and better than I had ever seen before. Then later, when I got old enough to get close to them, they had gone. And so it was that as a boy, my impression of them was fixed and forever frozen. They were the best. It meant that later, when I would get better, they would get better too.

      For any goalie who came before – Georges Vezina, George Hainsworth, Framk Brimsek, Bill Durnan, Tuk Broda – I have only record books and someone else’s opinion, invariably exagerrated by time. For those who have come later – Bernie Parent, Tony Esposito, Gump Worsley, Vachon, Ed Giacomin – I have seen each of them up close, too close. I have seen their flaws and remember more than their highlights, and I have fixed on them a thirty-year old’s cold, jealous judgement. I know that pucks are now shot faster by more fast shooters. I know that players train harder and longer, and receive better coaching. I know that in any way an athlete can be measured – in strength, in speed, in height or distance jumped – he is immensely superior to one who performed twenty years ago. But measured against a memory, he has no chance. I know what I feel.

      Nothing is as good as it used to be, and it never was. The “golden age of sports”, the golden age of anything, is the age of everyone’s childhood. For me and for the writers and commentators of my time, it was the 1950’s. For those who lived in the 1950s as adults, it was the 1920s or 1930s. Only major disruptions like wars or expansion can later persuade a child of those times that what he feels cannot be right. For me, the greatest goalies must always be Hall, Sawchuk, Plante and Bower.

      So true. Anybody who has not read “The Game” should absolutely do so…it can be a bit of a slog sometimes, as Dryden’s pontificating nature was fully in evidence when he wrote the book but it is an excellent insight into the sport and the players who play it.

      I love the retrospective looks at the Habs teams and players of the past. But we always look at these guys through tinted glasses, biasing our opinions and assessments of players.

      Jean Beliveau is without question one of the greatest players in the history of sports and one of the best role models any sport could wish to have. But that torch not only can be passed on, it was…Bobby Orr. Wayne Gretzky. Sidney Crosby. Nicklas Lidstrom.

      Hockey has seemingly always been blessed with exceptionally talented individuals who also happen to be exceptional people.

      • Ian Cobb says:

        Great Chris, thanks for that. I have not ever been able to read a book in my life of nearly 68 years.

        But I think I will start, now that I can absorb the meaning when I read.! I just might start with his.!

        • NoTinFoilCups says:

          That’s not exactly an easy read for starters. “Slog” is a good description but Chris is correct it is insightful. Better to start off with George Plimpton’s “Open Net”. You’ll get a lot more chuckles.

      • The Game is such a wonderful book, I think I might read it again over the winter break. Thanks for the quote Chris, it really reminded me how great that book is.

        Seriousfan09 has started a Movember team named McPhee’s Irregulars. Donate to him, or me or the team to raise money for a great cause!

        • Habfan4lfe says:

          Read it 3 times when I was like 14. It was an excellent book. Might read it again, almost 30 years later. What was cool was when he wrote it he was living in my area. I met him and got his autograph which I stupidly lost lost later on. Not to mention I should have thought of getting him to sign his book! He moved shortly after I think because when people found out where he living nobody gave the guy peace.

        • Chris says:

          If you do decide to read it again, try to grab the more recent version. He added an extra chapter to the end.

  15. Tony McLean says:

    We’ll never see the likes of him again. Some interesting kids in the pipeline but nothing like Le Gros Bill. So glad I got to see him play in person.

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