Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion, the hockey Hall of Famer credited with inventing the slap shot, died hours before his No. 5 jersey was retired by the Montreal Canadiens.
Mr. Geoffrion, who helped lead powerhouse Montreal teams to six Stanley Cups in the 1950s and early '60s, died Saturday (March 12, 2006) after a brief battle with stomach cancer. He was 75.
Mr. Geoffrion died in an Atlanta hospital, the Canadiens said. His cancer was discovered during surgery last week.
He didn't live to see his number retired, but still relished the knowledge that his place in history was secure, said Rejean Houle, former Montreal general manager and current head of the Canadiens alumni.
"He had known six months ago, and he enjoyed every minute of it," Houle said. "At least it's not like we decided to do it after he passed away."
The Canadiens went ahead with the ceremony before Saturday night's game against the New York Rangers. Mr. Geoffrion's wife, Marlene, his three children and his grandchildren attended.
His number went up next to the No. 7 of Marlene's father, Canadiens great Howie Morenz, just as Mr. Geoffrion predicted many years ago when the two were dating.
"Tonight marks the realization of his life's dream and brings closure to a magnificent career," said Danny Geoffrion, whom his father coached with Montreal in 1979-80. "Dad, your family loves you more than you'll ever know."
Danny addressed the crowd in English, and brother Bobby spoke in French. Marlene, married to Bernie for 54 years, flew from their home in Atlanta along with their daughter, Linda, as the ceremony proceeded according to Mr. Geoffrion's wishes.
Mr. Geoffrion was the first coach of the Atlanta (now Calgary) Flames and briefly coached the Rangers and Canadiens.
As a player, he was the first to bring his stick far above his head when shooting, leading to his nickname - the sound of his stick hitting the puck made a boom and the sound of the puck hitting the boards made another.
Mr. Geoffrion was a scoring star on teams that also featured Hall of Famers Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Jean Beliveau, Doug Harvey and Jacques Plante as Montreal won a record five straight Stanley Cups from 1956-60.
In 1960-61, Mr. Geoffrion won the Hart Trophy as league MVP. He played 16 seasons, 14 with Montreal, and had 393 goals and 429 assists. In 132 playoff games, he had 58 goals and 60 assists.
Mr. Geoffrion's supporters say the Canadiens waited too long to retire his number.
"They procrastinated a long time," said Dan Bouchard, who played for Mr. Geoffrion with the Flames. "Everybody else in Montreal who made the Hall of Fame had their jersey retired. His jersey should have been hanging up in the old Forum."