He did not fuel the social fiber of Quebec as Maurice Richard did in the 1950s and he did not always display the diplomacy of Jean Béliveau. That didn’t stop Guy Lafleur, in his own way, from rising to their level to form the most illustrious trio of players in the history of the Montreal Canadiens.
Lafleur, one of the most electrifying and charismatic hockey players of his generation, who is seen by many observers as the pillar of the Canadiens dynasty of the late 1970s, died after a long battle with cancer. He was 70 years old.
The announcement of his death, which occurred on Friday morning, immediately aroused many reactions in all spheres of society.
“All members of our organization are deeply touched by his departure,” commented the team’s president and owner, Geoff Molson. Guy Lafleur has had an exceptional career and he has always remained simple, accessible and close to fans and hockey fans in Quebec, Canada and around the world. »
“Throughout his career, he has allowed us to experience great moments of collective pride. He was one of the greatest players in our organization while becoming an extraordinary ambassador for our sport. »
For his part, the commissioner of the NHL, Gary Bettman, wrote that “Lafleur joined the organization with the difficult task of following in the footsteps of the legends of the team, Maurice Richard and Jean Béliveau. He lived up to those expectations, becoming the Canadiens’ all-time leading scorer and one of the most beloved players in the club’s history — the torch was passed to him and he held it high.”
The Premier of Quebec, François Legault, also paid tribute to the player and the man: “Quebec is losing a giant, he wrote on Twitter. I would like to extend my deepest condolences to his family and loved ones. All of Quebec is thinking of you. Guy Lafleur is one of our legends. He marked an entire generation of Quebecers. He made us dream. He made us win. »
Born in Thurso, Outaouais, on September 20, 1951, Lafleur, a right winger with dynamic skating and a powerful and precise shot, played for 17 seasons in the NHL with three different organizations, between 1971 and 1991.
With the Canadiens, the New York Rangers and the Quebec Nordiques, he amassed 560 goals and 1,353 points in 1,126 regular season games. He added 58 goals and 134 points in 128 playoff games.
Claimed first overall in the 1971 draft after two spectacular campaigns with the Quebec Remparts in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Lafleur played for the Canadiens from 1971 to 1984. He accumulated 518 goals and 728 assists for a total of 1246 points in 961 games.
In the playoffs, he totaled 133 points in 124 games with the Habs, including 57 goals, and helped win five Stanley Cups, including four in a row between 1976 and 1979. Lafleur also had his name engraved on the precious trophy in 1973.
Nicknamed the Blond Demon, he ranks first in team history in assists and points in the regular season, and is second only to Maurice Richard (544) in goals scored. . He holds or shares about twenty team records.
The first player in the history of the Canadiens to reach the milestone of 100 points in the same season, Lafleur was at the top of his game between the 1974-1975 and 1979-1980 seasons, to the point of becoming the number one player in the NHL.
During this period, Lafleur became the first player in NHL history to have six consecutive campaigns with at least 50 goals and 100 points.
During these six seasons, he won the Art-Ross trophy (top scorer) and Lester B. Pearson (most outstanding player) for three seasons in a row (1976, 1977, 1978). He added two Hart Trophies, given to the most valuable player to his team (1977, 1978), and the Conn-Smythe, in 1977, as the most valuable player during the playoffs. Also in 1977, he also earned the title of Male Athlete of the Year from The Canadian Press.
The Blond Demon has been named to the First All-Star Team every year.
On March 4, 1981, in a 9-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets at the Forum, Lafleur scored two goals and an assist and reached 1,000 points in his 720th game.
At the time, no other player had reached that milestone in so few matches. To date, only five players — Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, Peter Stastny and Jarri Kurri — have done better than Lafleur.
After a shock retirement at the age of 33 in November 1984, following a difficult start to the season and a decline in performance at the turn of the 1980s, Lafleur made an equally unexpected return to the game in 1988. .
In the wake of his induction into the Hall of Fame, he signed a one-year contract with the Rangers, then managed by Michel Bergeron, after having participated in a training camp in Trois-Rivières.
After just one season in New York, Lafleur joined the Nordiques. In doing so, he reunited with an organization he had come close to playing for, back in the days of the World Hockey Association in 1973.
That spring, he had instead initialed a 10-season pact with the Canadiens for the sum of one million dollars.
A beloved man
A hockey player endowed with an innate sense of showmanship who never took half measures, a whole man with an outspoken attitude that is sometimes very sharp, the “Blonde Demon” or “Flower” — depending on the mother tongue of his supporters — ranks among the most adored personalities in all of Quebec’s history, along with Richard and Béliveau, the two other great French-speaking legends in the history of the Canadiens.
This love of Quebecers for Lafleur has never faded and perhaps even reached its climax nearly 30 years after the end of his sports career, in circumstances that are worrying to say the least.
On September 25, 2019, all of Quebec was shocked to learn that Lafleur was going to have to undergo a quadruple coronary bypass.
Then on November 28, Lafleur underwent another delicate operation, this time for the removal of the upper lobe of one of his lungs after the discovery of a cancerous spot.
After public appearances at the beginning of 2020 where he had seemed in fairly good shape, the Center hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal, which had carried out the two delicate operations, announced on October 7 of the same year that the legendary hockey player was fighting against a recurrence of his cancer.
On November 30, in a video, several former Lafleur teammates and rivals came together to offer their support.
Then, starting in early March 2021, Lafleur made other public appearances, this time as an ambassador for the University of Montreal Hospital Center Foundation in an effort to raise more funds for research. on cancer.
During a virtual meeting with the media, Lafleur often appeared out of breath, sometimes very emotional, but also positive despite the hard fight he had to fight.
“Fortunately, there are positives in the field of research and treatments. I’ve been on treatment for four, five months, and the mass has decreased by 30%. So that’s what encourages me to continue. »
Lafleur was also spotted at the Bell Center when the Canadiens were on their spectacular journey to the Stanley Cup final last season.
He made his last public appearances at the end of October in Quebec City, as part of two emotionally charged days.
On October 27, Lafleur attended the unveiling of a work of art honoring his famous career on the commemorative alley of Place Jean-Béliveau.
The next day, at the Videotron Center, he received an ovation of more than four minutes when the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League announced the retirement for posterity of number 4, which he had worn with the Remparts between 1969 and 1971. .
Then on March 9, Hockey Canada honored Lafleur with the Order of Hockey, which honors individuals for their outstanding contributions or service to the growth and development of hockey in the country.