Students, teachers thrilled to see him at Lachine’s Maple Grove Elementary School as ambassador for Goodfood and Breakfast Club of Canada.
Jean Béliveau will always be the epitome of what a Canadiens captain should be.
He was Le Gros Bill. He was Class with a capital C — like the one he wore on the shoulder of his Canadiens sweater for 10 seasons as captain.
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Nick Suzuki is heading into his second season wearing that “C” and at age 24 it can be a heavy weight. But Suzuki is doing his best to follow Béliveau’s path both on and off the ice.
It was hard to tell who was more excited to see Suzuki — the teachers or the students. But it was a day none of them will forget.
“I think it was a tie,” Deborah Shizgal, the school principal, said about the reaction from teachers and students when Suzuki showed up.
Shizgal added that Suzuki spending time with the kids and posing for photos with them can have a huge impact.
“It’s super-important because these are kids that have dreams and aspirations to be all kinds of things,” Shizgal said. “He’s a good example for them to look up to. They couldn’t believe that he was really coming … like it was for real.
“He’s just super-relaxed and seems like a really nice guy and easy-going,” Shizgal added about meeting Suzuki for the first time. “He was willing to do whatever we asked him to do.”
Suzuki said he would be doing charitable events like these even if he wasn’t captain of the Canadiens. But the fact he is carries more weight. This is the second straight summer Suzuki has stayed in Montreal, getting to better know the city and Canadiens fans.
“It’s cool to experience a day like this with the kids and how excited they get,” Suzuki said. “It’s awesome for me.
“When I walked out of the principal’s office I didn’t expect to see a lot of the cameras and all the teachers were super-excited,” he added. “When I came in the kids lit up. I don’t think you ever get really used to that. I just see myself as Nick. I don’t see myself as that big celebrity. But it’s cool to see that reaction and I want to make these kids’ days and I think they had a good time.”
They certainly did. So did the teachers and the principal.
“Over the past two summers I’ve been able to do a lot of different things,” Suzuki said. “Festivals, new restaurants. The people are so nice here. Summer is so much fun just walking around the Old Port and everyone coming up to say hi and just wanting to chat. They care so much for the team. That’s probably the biggest thing that I’ve been able to grasp over the last two summers is how much we mean. I want to keep playing well and showing them that I care about the team and the city.”
At the Canadiens’ golf tournament last week at Laval-sur-le-Lac, Suzuki played with Yvan Cournoyer — the oldest living team captain at age 79 — and they rode in the same cart. Cournoyer played with Béliveau and also wore the “C” with the Canadiens for four seasons at the end of his career, which included 10 Stanley Cups. Cournoyer shared some stories from his playing days and also told Suzuki he was proud of the way he was carrying himself as captain.
“You see everyone come up to him and how much he meant to the people of Montreal playing for the Canadiens,” Suzuki said about Cournoyer. “He’s a legend and it was great to spend the day with him.”
Suzuki was named the 31st captain in franchise history at last year’s golf tournament. He also became the team’s youngest captain at age 23. Suzuki said he’s getting more comfortable wearing the “C” and handling everything that comes with it. He wants to lead by example on and off the ice.
While it has been almost nine years since Béliveau passed away, Suzuki said it’s special to hear the way people still talk about him.
“Béliveau was such an amazing man,” Suzuki said Monday. “That’s the mark I want to leave when I finish my playing career. I want to be more than a hockey player. I think he was able to do that. It’s something I try to strive for.”