Guy Lafleur dies at 70

Former Montreal Canadiens star player Guy Lafleur has died at the age of 70 following a long battle with lung cancer.

Posted at 7:58

Richard Labbe

Richard Labbe
The Press

Before becoming Guy, the famous Guy adored by the Montreal Forum crowd, Guy Lafleur was simply… Guy Lafleur.

Simply a guy from Thurso, from rural Quebec, with a dream. A dream and also a crazy talent. Already, at a very young age, he was filling the opposing nets with pucks that he used to throw with a fire stick, with such speed that most goalkeepers couldn’t see it.

Having moved on to junior hockey, with the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL, Guy Lafleur began to build his legend: a season of 170 points in 1969-1970, and then another, even more spectacular, of 209 points (including 130 goals!) in just 62 games in 1970-71. This would make him one of the most coveted first picks in National League hockey history in the 1971 draft.

On this subject, the legend is already well known, probably also improved by the passage of time: the California Seals, poor club of the expansion of 1967, had the bad idea to exchange their first choice in the draft of 1971 , the Canadian and general manager Sam Pollock, who probably didn’t believe it himself. And yet, it was the reality: in return for their first choice, the Seals had the “chance” to acquire the first choice of the Canadian in the draft of 1970 and an unimportant player, a certain Ernie Hicke.


PHOTO PAUL-HENRI TALBOT, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

Sam Pollock in 1971

The Canadian knew too well that the first overall choice of the 1971 auction would lead to the acquisition of a top player, either Lafleur or Marcel Dionne, the other star player of Canadian junior hockey. The embarrassment of choice, in short, and regardless of the name of the chosen one; the Canadian was certainly not going to be wrong.

He was not mistaken, indeed.

Certainly, Lafleur took a little time before getting started. With the Canadiens, his first three seasons were considered disappointing, including that of 1973-1974, where a production of 21 goals in 73 games was poorly received by many supporters. In the crowd, the rumor about him was not very favorable. “For many, Guy Lafleur would be a good player, nothing more,” writes author Georges-Hébert Germain about this period in shadow and light, biography published in 1990.

Then, in 1974-1975, it was the explosion.


PHOTO JEAN GOUPIL, PRESS ARCHIVES

During the 1974-1975 season, Guy Lafleur’s production exploded. For the first time, he passes the milestone of 50 goals.

From seasons of 29, 28 and 21 goals, Guy Lafleur went on to produce a spectacular 53 goals in 1974-1975, to go with a total of 119 points in 70 games. This is the player that the Canadian and his supporters have been waiting for since the 1971 draft, and here he finally showed up. Coincidence? The outbreak of the number 10 came just as the Canadian was building the second dynasty in its long and glorious history; the following season, that of 1975-1976, it was a harvest of 125 points that Lafleur added to his record, in addition to allowing his club to dethrone the wicked Philadelphia Flyers in the grand finale.

In all, Lafleur’s hour of glory will not be calculated in hours, no, but in seasons: six consecutive seasons of at least 50 goals, including that of 1977-1978 with 60 goals, a career high for him . He would collect the Conn-Smythe Trophy, awarded to the playoffs most valuable player, in the spring of 1977, thanks to his 26 points in just 14 playoff games. During this time, he allowed the Canadiens to collect the Stanley Cup four times in a row, the last of the lot in the spring of 1979.

Then, it was for him the end of the beautiful days. Injured following a sneaky blow, he had to watch, on the sidelines and powerless, the surprise elimination of the Canadiens the following spring, against the Minnesota North Stars. It marked the beginning of a new era, far less glorious, for the Canadiens, and Lafleur himself suffered from it: during the following season, that of 1980-1981, he missed the 100-point mark for the first times in seven years, having to settle for 70 points in 51 games. More than respectable figures, certainly, but not enough for the taste of his supporters who are starting to grumble again.


PHOTO ROBERT NADON, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

Guy Lafleur did not manage to obtain as many points during the 1980-1981 season.

Slowly there is a setback, a crack, and Lafleur’s relationship with the club’s management, often strained, deteriorates even more with coach Jacques Lemaire, a former teammate who removes some of his responsibilities from him. Exasperated, the one nicknamed the Blond Demon had had enough and chose to return home in the middle of the season, in November 1984. A retirement, at the age of 33, which took the hockey world by surprise. But many expect a possible return, including Henri Richard, the ex-glory of Glorious, who declares: “I do not believe it, I give him a year and I think he will come back. »

Well, it will take three years before he comes back.

Lafleur will indeed return to the ice, but this time in the jersey of the New York Rangers, during the 1988-1989 season, the time to collect 45 points in 67 games. He would play two more seasons, his last two, with the Quebec Nordiques, before truly retiring at the end of the 1990-1991 season.

Over the years, the name of Guy Lafleur will remain associated with hockey everywhere in Quebec, in particular through an energy drink that will bear his nickname (“Flower Power”), and also through his numerous public appearances, at the Bell Center or in the corridors of his restaurant in Rosemère, the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge, which he will sell in 2012.

But that’s not what we’ll remember. We will first remember the 560 goals, his five Stanley Cup conquests, and also the “Guy! Guy! Guy! which resonated during many evenings at the Montreal Forum. And which undoubtedly still resonate, on winter evenings, in this corner of the city center.

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