Canadiens: Remembering Herb Carnegie, Beliveau’s First Pro Linemate

MONTREAL, QC - 1971: Jean Beliveau #4 Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Melchior DiGiacomo/Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QC - 1971: Jean Beliveau #4 Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Melchior DiGiacomo/Getty Images) /

In the long and storied history of the Montreal Canadiens franchise, Herb Carnegie exists as merely an asterisk attached to one of the greatest ever to don the Blue, Blanc et Rouge.

In the long and storied history of hockey’s color barrier, though, Carnegie exists as a pioneer like few others, in the same vein as Willie O’Ree, Tony McKegney, Jarome Iginla, Grant Fuhr, and so on. While he never had the NHL careers like those who came after, he was a true scoring star in a league that was long intertwined, with Montreal’s quest to obtain a true hockey superstar.

Jean Beliveau is, by acclimation, one of the, if not the greatest player in Canadiens history, being held in the same regard as storied legends like Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard, Toe Blake, and Elmer Lach. In 1125 NHL games, all with Montreal, Beliveau put up 1219 points, being a consistent point per game player even up until his final NHL season in 1970-71. However, while he’s regarded as one of the greatest players in Habs history today, early on in his career, he had little interest in playing in Montreal in the first place.

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After putting up 124 points over 46 games for the Junior A Quebec Citadelles in 1950-51, Beliveau was spotted by former Canadiens GM Frank Selke, signing a “B-Form” contract with Montreal. Unlike the entry level procedures nowadays, NHL contracts back then were divided into “A”, “B”, and “C” types, with C-form contracts requiring the player to report  to the signing team’s training camp. B-form however, allowed Beliveau to continue playing amateur hockey, while agreeing to play for Montreal should he ever turn pro. With this, Beliveau joined the QSHL’s Quebec Aces, where a scoring star was already in the waiting, in Carnegie.

Born in Toronto, Ontario but having been of Jamaican descent, Carnegie had seen continued interest from NHL teams, a sign of the immense talent he showcased over the course of his career, yet intense racial segregation prevented him from ever seeing NHL ice. After bouncing around various junior and mines leagues (teams which played in various mining towns across Quebec), Carnegie played for a number of teams in the semi-pro Quebec Provincial Hockey league. Playing alongside his brothers Ossie and Manny, Carnegie recorded career highs of 127 points over 56 games in 1947-48.

This strong performance led to Carnegie being given a tryout with the New York Rangers, who subsequently offered him multiple contracts to play in the team’s minor league system. However, at the time, many of the semi-pro leagues outside of the NHL were paying players well as to prevent them from signing elsewhere, so Carnegie opted to remain semi-pro. In the 1949-50 season, Carnegie made the transition over to the QSHL, becoming one of the Aces star players alongside a number of future Canadiens like Marcel Bonin, Jackie LeClair, and Dick Gamble.

Here’s a look at one of hockey’s first to break the color barrier, and an early teammate of Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau, Quebec Aces star Herb Carnegie.

Founded in 1933, the QSHL was seen as a top competitor to the NHL and, more specifically the Canadiens, having possessed a number of star players who were left off NHL rosters for one reason or another, mainly size, with all-time leading scorer Andre ‘Whizzer’ Corriveau, coming in at just 5’08 and 135 pounds in spite of his immense offensive talent. Despite similarly coming in at 5’08 and 170 pounds, Carnegie became a star player on one of the league’s most profitable teams in the Aces, averaging nearly 9500 fans a game in the 1951-52 season.

After posting back to back 50 point performances in his first two seasons with the team, the Aces received another superstar with the addition of Beliveau. Recording 83 points over 59 games in his rookie season in 1951-52, the Aces posted a league best 37-16-7 record, with Carnegie recording his third straight 50 point season. However, while Beliveau continued to up his point totals, posting 89 in the 1952-53 season, Carnegie’s numbers slumped to 29 over 52 games, subsequently retiring after spending the 1953-54 season in the OHA-Sr. league.

Eventually, in a desperate effort to get Beliveau to play for the Canadiens, Selke bought the entire QSHL in 1953, subsequently turning it from an amateur to a professional league, thus forcing Beliveau to report to the Canadiens for the 1953-54 season, and well, the rest is history. While the QSHL would continue to live on in the form of leagues like the QHL, it didn’t last long, with the QHL folding after the 1958-59 season. Carnegie would go on to start the Future Aces Hockey School, one of Canada’s first hockey schools, writing a “Future Aces Creed” Which attempted to foster diversity, respect, and sportsmanship amongst young people.

He would continue his Athletic career in Golf, winning numerous Senior championships, and had a successful business career as a financial planner. He would be named to the Order of Canada and Order of Ontario in 2003 and 1996 respectively, and a continuing petition to get him into the Hockey Hall of Fame recognizes his immense contributions to breaking color barriers in the sports world. While he didn’t have as decorated a career as those that came after him, ultimately passing away in 2012, at the age of 92, Carnegie’s contributions to racial diversity and equality in the sports world are immense, managing to hold his own as a top player in spite of the numerous remarks and hurdles he faced along the way. His 1996 autobiography, A Fly In A Pail Of Milk: The Herb Carnegie Story, detailed his life and accomplishments, both on and off the ice, that have unfortunately remained in anonymity, as racism kept him away from his NHL debut.

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While Beliveau has long been seen as one of the greatest in Canadiens history, his start was categorized by superb play, and the talented cast around him, none of which have had as much of an impact on sports today, as Herb Carnegie.