Guy Lafleur, dynamic star of the Montreal Canadiens, dies at 70

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Guy Lafleur, the dynamic, freewheeling right-winger who led the dynastic Montreal Canadiens to five Stanley Cup championships in the 1970s, including four in a row, died Friday in suburban Montreal. He was 70 years old.

The NHL said the cause was cancer and Lafleur died in a hospice. A lifelong cigarette smoker, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 2019.

Lafleur, nicknamed “The Flower” by fans, was a magician on the ice, a creative force capable of deftly splitting defenses and whose offensive rushes had Montreal fans chanting “Guy! Guy! Guy!

He was the first player in NHL history to score at least 50 goals and 100 points in six consecutive seasons – a streak that was topped by the 136 points (56 goals and 80 assists) he had in the during the 1976-77 season.

“He loved shooting high from the side of the glove, and it was a dangerous, downright scary shot,” John Davidson, a former New York Rangers goaltender, said in a phone interview Friday. “When he picked up the puck at the blue line of the Old Forum in Montreal and walked to the ice, you could feel the rush. You could feel people making noise, and that noise was getting louder and louder, and people were getting up whether he scored or not.”

Lafleur had 560 goals and 793 assists in 17 seasons, including 14 with the Canadiens, one with the Rangers and two with the Quebec Nordiques. In the playoffs, he registered 58 more goals and 76 assists,

He won the Art Ross Trophy for leading the league in scoring three times and the Hart Memorial Trophy twice, as NHL MVP. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote on Twitter that Lafleur “was unlike anyone else on the ice,” adding, “His speed, skill and scoring were hard to believe.

Lafleur’s death comes a week after that of another great scorer, Mike Bossy of the New York Islanders.

Guy Damien Lafleur was born September 20, 1951 in Thurso, Quebec to Réjean and Pierette Lafleur. He was so fascinated by hockey as a youngster that he would sneak into a local arena on weekday mornings and early Sundays to get some ice time when no one else was around, according to his Temple biography. of hockey fame.

“When I was a kid, all we saw on TV was the Canadiens, and all I wanted to be was Beliveau,” he told the Hall of Famer, referring to to longtime Canadiens star Jean Beliveau. He dreamed that the Canadians would draft him.

He was spectacular in high-level junior hockey, scoring 103 and 130 goals for the Quebec Ramparts during the 1969-70 and 1970-71 seasons and the Canadiens selected him with the No. 1 pick in the NHL Entry Draft. Lafleur said if the Canadiens hadn’t chosen him, he would have signed with the Nordiques, then in the rival World Hockey Association.

He joined a team that had won the Stanley Cup the previous season, but had a new coach, Scotty Bowman, and had lost Beliveau to retirement. Lafleur started relatively slowly, scoring 29, 28 and 21 goals in his first three seasons before breaking out with 53 in the 1974–75 season.

With his blonde hair flowing in the days when players routinely wore helmets, Lafleur has become a star of the legendary Montreal franchise, an innovator with a stick in his hands.

“He’s not the easiest player to play with because he’s all over the ice,” teammate Steve Shutt once said. “He doesn’t know what he’s going to do, so how do I know?”

Lafleur’s most electric seasons as a scorer, from 1974-75 to 1979-80, almost coincided with the Canadiens’ four consecutive Stanley Cup-winning seasons, from 1976-79. During the 1976 playoffs, he was the subject of an alleged kidnapping threat and was protected by security.

In the 1978 Stanley Cup Finals, Boston Bruins coach Don Cherry ordered his players to raise their sticks against Lafleur in an attempt to deter him. They slashed him, causing him to play with his head covered in bandages, according to an article on The Hockey Writers website. Lafleur nevertheless scored three goals and had two assists, and the Canadiens won in six games.

After Lafleur scored 125 points in the 1979-80 season, his production gradually declined. Nineteen games into the 1984-85 season, he abruptly retired after scoring just two goals and three assists. He did not get along with the coach, Jacques Lemaire, who regularly benched him, nor with the general manager, Serge Savard.

He remained retired for the remainder of that season and three more, but just weeks after being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in September 1988, he signed to play for the Rangers. At the time, he told the New York Times that his last days with the Canadiens were “the worst times of my life”, adding: “I had a choice between ulcers at 33 or retirement.

After a season in New York, he signed with the Nordiques, who joined the NHL in 1979.

“It’s been an enjoyable year in exile in New York,” Lafleur told reporters when he announced his move to the Nordiques. “But now I would like to end my career in Quebec, where it started.”

He played two years with Quebec, with modest results, before retiring. He eventually returned to the Canadiens as a team ambassador.

He is survived by his wife, Lise; his mother; his sons, Martin and Mark; four sisters; and a granddaughter.

In 2008, four bronze statues of great Canadians – Lafleur, Beliveau, Howie Morenz and Maurice (Rocket) Richard – were unveiled at the Bell Centre, the team’s home.

“I’d rather be playing again,” Lafleur said with a laugh, “than having a statue.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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