“Once in a generation”: Quebecers mourn Montreal Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur

Strands of long blond hair parade.

That’s what Montrealer Sébastien Ayotte remembers most when he watched Canadiens superstar Guy Lafleur on the ice as a young teenager: Number 10 heading for the blue line, helmetless, his signature flow blowing behind him.

“It was pretty sad this morning,” he said.

The Habs icon, a native of Thurso, Que., who won five Stanley Cup titles, has died at the age of 70.

The cause of death was not immediately known. However, Lafleur suffered from health problems in the later stages of his life.

In September 2019, he underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery, where doctors discovered damage to his right lung. He underwent surgery to remove part of the lung a few months later. But in October 2020 the cancer was back and he had chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments.

He went public with his experience to warn others of the dangers of lung cancer and the need for early detection. It was another example of Lafleur trying to use his fame to help others.

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Standing outside the Bell Center area — home to a statue of the Blond Demon or the Flower, as Lafleur was affectionately known — Roger Daoud also remembered the imprint the hockey giant left on a generation of Quebecers. and the world of hockey in general.

Montreal Canadiens icon Guy Lafleur appears in a June 1977 photo with the Art Ross, Conn Smythe and Hart trophies he won in the 1976-77 NHL season. The hockey great died at age 70 after a battle with lung cancer. (Chris Haney/The Canadian Press)

“He was, you know, a monumental person in Montreal,” Daoud said, recalling how active Lafleur was in the community – raising money for charity and contributing to several minor hockey leagues.

“His name was synonymous with Quebec and Montreal. And whether you’re Anglophone or Francophone, everyone loved Guy Lafleur.

The Montreal Canadiens said the entire organization was in mourning.

At a Friday afternoon press conference, team owner Geoff Molson said the Hall of Famer “has delighted generations of Canadiens fans around the world” and called him a “symbol of the history of sport in Quebec”.

Molson said he admired Lafleur growing up, but got to know him better in 2009 when he hired the Habs legend as a team ambassador.

“He’s a wonderful person. He has an incredible sense of humor and is dedicated to everything he does, all the time,” Molson said, adding that Lafleur has always remained accessible to fans.

Molson said the team will honor Lafleur in a special ceremony at a later date.

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Martin St. Louis, the Canadiens’ interim head coach, said Lafleur was his first favorite player growing up, watching the Canadiens play from his living room.

“When Guy took off, you were sitting down but you were standing up because something exciting was sure to happen,” he said.

“He was electrifying.”

But in addition to being “a superhero” on the ice who inspired the next generation of hockey players like him, St. Louis said he also came to understand Lafleur’s humanity off the ice. ice.

When St. Louis was playing for the New York Rangers in 2014, his mother died the day before the series opener against the Canadiens. Lafleur and former Canadiens player Réjean Houle both showed up at his mother’s funeral.

“It was very touching for me and for my father in particular,” he said. “I learned a lot from Guy that day.”

“A guy who didn’t let go”

No one can better attest to Lafleur’s character and brilliance on the ice than former great and longtime Canadiens friend Yvan Cournoyer, who was rocked by the news this morning.

“I’m having trouble… we had anticipated it but…”, he said, holding back tears during an interview with Radio-Canada. First hour.

“He fought hard…Guy is a guy who didn’t give up.”

Cournoyer, nicknamed the Roadrunner, played alongside the Flower with the Habs from 1971 to 1979. He said he and Hall of Famer Henri Richard took Lafleur under their wing when he arrived with the Habs. ‘team.

“When I first saw Guy I knew he was good, but I didn’t know he would be this good,” Cournoyer said, adding that while Lafleur didn’t have much time Early on, he “played like a superstar.”

A fan pays his respects in front of a bronze statue of Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur, outside the Bell Center in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Another longtime friend and former teammate, Serge Savard, shared Cournoyer’s sentiments.

“He just dominated the National Hockey League, just like [Wayne] Gretzky dominated in his time and Mario Lemieux dominated in his time,” he said in an interview with The dawn of CBC.

“He was a big hero here, especially in the French population…he’s a unique player who only comes once in a generation.”

Named one of the NHL’s Top 100 All-Time Players in 2017, Lafleur finished with 560 goals and 793 assists for 1,353 points in 1,126 games over his 17 seasons — notable for his speed of skating and his brilliant style of play.

He enjoyed 14 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, rewriting the record books along the way. He is still the Canadiens record holder for points (1,246), assists (728) and game-winning goals (94).

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Asked about friendships off the ice, Cournoyer said the pair were often together — even recalling when Lafleur first met his wife in Montreal.

He said that, being from Quebec, Lafleur was missed a lot at home, so the team often tried to talk to him and get him out in an effort to “help him love Montreal.”

“That’s how we became close friends,” he said.

For Savard, the last time he saw Lafleur in person was last fall, on the occasion of his 70th birthday. A dozen players and former teammates gathered for dinner with him.

“He was joking, talking about the past, laughing…and he knew it was the end,” he said.

During his own health crisis, Lafleur partnered with the University of Montreal Hospital Center (CHUM) as an ambassador to raise funds for cancer research with the creation of the Guy Lafleur Fund.

“He raised over $2 million for the CHUM,” Savard said, adding that Lafleur rewarded each $5,000 donation with a jersey and a phone call to the donor.

“When I say he made a difference, he made a difference in every aspect.”

Yvan Cournoyer weeps as he eulogizes another beloved Canadiens legend, Jean Beliveau. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

In a press release, the CHUM, where Lafleur has been treated in recent years, thanked him for his generosity and courage.

For both former teammates, the loss of Lafleur is greater than the depth of talent.

“With the Canadiens, we were all together. So when you lose one, it hurts,” Cournoyer said.

“He is my brother.”

Politicians pay tribute

Quebec Premier Francois Legault, a certified Canadiens fan, paid tribute to Lafleur on Twitter.

“Quebec has lost a giant,” wrote Legault. “I want to offer 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. made us win.”

During a Friday afternoon press conference, Legault announced that the Quebec government was in talks with Lafleur’s family to hold a state funeral for the great Canadian.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, another notorious Habs fan, said Lafleur was “different from everyone else on the ice.”

“His speed, skill and scoring were hard to believe,” Trudeau said on Twitter. “Record setter and five-time Stanley Cup champion, he inspired countless Quebecers, Canadians and hockey fans around the world. We will miss you, number 10.”

In a tweet, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante called Lafleur one of the greatest players in Canadiens and NHL history.

“Montréal mourns the loss of this great man,” Plante writes.