THE BEGINNING

“The Hockey Cultural Program” initially began in 1972 when Jean Beliveau and the late Peter Bronfman contacted Robert (Bob) Beale (founder and Executive Director of the Canada Student Exchange Programs). They wanted to propose to Bob an exchange program that would involve the hockey club “Les Canadiens” that would use the game of hockey to bring young Francophone and Anglophone Quebecois together, to foster friendship and better understanding between them.

Bob Beale, Jean Beliveau, Peter Bronfman and former NHL’er Marcel Bonin created a modus operandi for minor hockey teams in the Atom and Pee-Wee categories to participate in a weekend of cultural awareness. Jean Beliveau suggested that, in light of the objectives of the Program, the competitive aspect of hockey should be eliminated. Therefore, goalies could change sides, coaches could change benches, players would change sweaters, and no score would be tabulated a friendly fun-filled weekend experience could be had by all.

The visiting teams arrived on a Friday afternoon and were received and entertained by the host players and their parents. On Saturday, buses took the teams to the Montreal Forum to watch their hometown NHL heroes and the visiting team practice, take pictures and get autographs. The thrill of a lifetime came next when the kids skated onto the NHL ice for the first time.

As one visiting NHL player who, was at the Forum to play against “Les Canadiens”, told a reporter: “You know, the first time I skated on the Forum ice, I was only 8 years old when I participated in Jean Beliveau’s HCP. I remember my heart was in my mouth. Imagine me, skating on the same ice as “Rocket Richard”, and Jean Beliveau. I looked up at all the Stanley Cup banners hanging from the rafters and right there and then, I realized that my dream was to someday play here as an NHL player, and here I am. You know, sometimes when we’re kids, we don’t fully realize how lucky we are” – Luc Robitaille.

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