Frank Mahovlich and his wife leave the memorial service for former team general manager Sam Pollock. (CP PHOTO/Peter McCabe)
Former star players Jean Beliveau, Senator Frank Mahovlich and Dickie Moore, former coaches Scotty Bowman and Claude Ruel and others from the organization were among about 150 to attend the one-hour service at St. Elizabeth of Hungary church in the picturesque Eastern Townships village where Pollock kept a country home.
Pollock died last week in Toronto at 81 of cancer.
"This was a gifted man," said Moore, who played under Pollock with the Junior Canadiens in the late 1940s before going on to a Hall of Fame NHL career. "It was a sad thing to see him go.
"We're all going to miss him. Montreal lost a great man."
Pollock, a Montreal native, was hired by the Canadiens in 1947 and later served as director of player personnel. He was named general manager in 1964 and over 14 seasons, his teams won nine Stanley Cups.
He is considered the best general manager the league has ever had, swinging brilliant deals to land stars like Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden and, in 1971, Mahovlich, whose arrival that season from Detroit brought an unexpected Cup victory.
He also saw the talent in young coach Scotty Bowman and mentored him to a Hall of Fame career behind the bench of a Canadiens dynasty in the 1970s, and more Cups laters with Pittsburgh and Detroit.
"Sam knew how to make the trades and make the team better," added Moore.
But the simple, wooden country church packed with mourners, with Pollock's wife Mimi and children Sam Jr., Mary and Rachel in the front pews, priest Lucien Vachon recalled him as a deeply religious man who asked only that his good works be kept private.
"Many things that deserve to be made public won't be mentioned here, since that was always forbidden by Sam," the preist told the gathering. "He wanted to be remembered not by a monument, but by a simple mass."
He said that Pollock prayed and read the bible an hour each day and attended church every Sunday, except twice when he was away on business or holidays in communist countries that at the time were without churches - Cuba and Russia.
However, Elizabeth Kinsella, a member of the Gray Nuns order and sister of Mimi Pollock, told how Pollock and Quebec preimier Jean Charest worked to have the St. Elizabeth church expanded and repaired and a garden added in the back to place two icons found buried during the construction work.
"A thing that people may not know is that he was very generous, but on the condition that no one talked about it," said Beliveau, perhaps the greatest captain in Canadiens history.
"He was a very talented man who would work 18 or 20 hours a day if he had to. He had great vision. He took care of the team that he had for the year, but he also he saw what the team should be like in two or three years."
Also at the mass was Marcel Aubut, the former president of the Quebec Nordiques, who joined the NHL in 1979, a year after Pollock left the team.
"He was as exceptional in business as in sport and he was probably the greatest general manager ever," said Aubut. "What I remember about him was that he always wanted to stay out of the limelight, to do his work without making noise. He didn't need to be on page one."
"He was a mentor to any manager of a sports business. He had vision and he won."
Pollock was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 1978 and received the Order of Canada in 1985.
He later served on the board and was CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Pollock coached teenagers in the 1940s and managed a softball team that included some Canadiens players.
Junior teams under his management won Memorial Cups in 1950 - with Moore as a star player - and 1958. It was after helping the Omaha Knights win the Central Hockey League title that he was named GM of the Canadiens.