AT RANDOM: Adieu to a legend

Most Canadians are aware that hockey legend Jean Béliveau has gone on to that great rink in the sky

Unless they’ve been living on Mars, most Canadians are aware that hockey legend Jean Béliveau has gone on to that great rink in the sky.

When the Habs great died Tuesday, the tributes came pouring in for the man who led the Montreal Canadiens to 10 Stanley Cups.

My own introduction to the man they called Le Gros Bill came around the same time he retired from hockey in 1971, and it had nothing to do with our favourite national pastime.

It was because he was spokesperson for the Bank of Nova Scotia (now Scotiabank) and its savings accounts for kids. The account had a hockey theme and as a member you automatically earned a subscription to the Hockey College News magazine.

By all accounts a gentleman and all-around nice guy besides being a great hockey player, Béliveau was depicted in photographs, in the magazine and I think even a life-size cutout, but that might just be my nostalgic imagination working overtime.

This was also around the time my obsession with hockey began.

Just as I was saving up my weekly allowance and, eventually, babysitting money,  I was learning a little something about the game of hockey.

I didn’t come from a hockey family. My dad — and his three kids — grew up in Vancouver, and we didn’t grow up playing shinny on an outdoor rink. My sister and I took figure skating lessons and spent weekends at the rec centre rink, but neither my dad nor my brother played the game.

But  when the Vancouver Canucks joined the NHL in the 1970s, hockey fever began to heat up in a town where you were lucky if just once in your childhood the temperatures dropped enough for ponds and lakes to freeze and allow for safe skating.

And I was lucky enough to enjoy many of those games in the first decade of the modern-day Canucks, which first got its start in 1945 as a member of the Pacific Coast Hockey League.

My best friend, Shelly, came from a hockey-mad family; they had season tickets to the Canucks and I was lucky enough to tag along on more than one occasion.

I still have the program from the time the Canucks played the Philadelphia Flyers captained by my favourite player, Bobby Clarke.

And around this same time, as my bank account was slowly increasing in size, a Canadian oil company came up with what was the holy grail for kids crazy about hockey.

If memory serves, they were called the Esso Hockey Power Player Trader Cards. When your parents filled up the family station wagon at Esso, you were given a pack of these six cards — more like large stamps — and inside would be a random selection of NHL Power Players. And they came with a small vinyl wallet in which to store them.

But the real fun was in hoping you could pick up your favourite player, and the schoolyard trading during recess was fierce.

I remember trading a more coveted player, such as Paul Henderson or Bobby Orr, for one of Keith Magnuson, who played for the Chicago Blackhawks. No disrespect to the late defenceman, but the only reason I wanted his card — which shows my rather limited knowledge of hockey and apparently spelling — is because I thought he was related to Canadian figure skating champion Karen Magnussen.

So valuable were our collections of Power Player cards that when my teacher confiscated them one day at school, I risked detention by sneaking back into the classroom, opening her desk drawer and taking them back.

I still have my collection somewhere, and like to think that my daughter would get a kick out of seeing the cards. But since she has pledged her allegiance to the Vipers, and not to any team currently playing in the NHL, I might just try my luck on eBay.


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