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Guy Lafleur provided unique thrills as an enduring NHL icon

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If you think Connor McDavid, Artemi Panarin, Trevor Zegras, Jack Hughes and the like are electrifying, then you should have seen Guy Lafleur, because there was never anything like it and there was never anyone. one like that. The Blond Demon.

This was part of Lafleur’s magnetism and dynamism. His long blond hair billowing in the wind, he generated a run down the right side with the puck on his stick until he unleashed his killer shot which, more often than not, hit the back of the net.

You don’t have that anymore. Players wear helmets and there are no 1970s wide open spaces on the ice. More is a pity. And you can’t even fully experience the Lafleur sensation watching YouTube clips of the Canadiens’ beloved No. 10, because you can’t quite share the community excitement and anticipatory buzz that built up in an arena after the other accompanying these rushes.

That’s what they were, and that’s what Lafleur provided: a rush.

But Lafleur, who we lost Friday to cancer at age 70, was bigger than hockey. He was bigger than his numbers, which included six consecutive 50-goal, 100-point seasons and a career total of 560 goals and 1,353 points. He was more than his two consecutive Hart Trophies and three Art Ross goalscoring titles. He was more than his five Stanley Cup championships.

Guy Lafleur
Getty Images

Lafleur was a cultural icon in Montreal and throughout the province of Quebec. He held high the torch passed to him by legendary Rocket ancestors Richard and Jean Béliveau as harmoniously as Jacques Lemaire passed him the puck on the ice. He handled life in the spotlight with a grace and appreciation that made him proud.

I happened to be at the Forum when Lafleur made his NHL debut in the 1971-72 season opener against the Rangers, having been the first pick in the previous draft thanks to the manager’s agreement. general of the Canadians, Sam Pollock. of a lifetime with the California Golden Seals for this top pick. Lafleur wore a helmet, as he did for the first two seasons of his career, which helped put a damper on his charisma.

I watched him as a fan for the first five years of his career and then got to know him professionally, covering a good chunk of Montreal playoff games in the late 1970s. He was always approachable, friendly and cooperative. I was working for the Devils when he came out of three season retirement to join Rangers for the 1988-89 season and scored 18 goals in 67 games aged 37.

It sort of reminded me of when Bernie “Boom-Boom” Geoffrion came out of two-year retirement in 1966-67 and scored 17 goals at age 35 playing for the Blueshirts. Lafleur as a Ranger, that was cool.

Guy Lafleur (left) kisses the Stanley Cup.
Guy Lafleur (left) kisses the Stanley Cup.
PA

How would you rank the most memorable goals in hockey history? Paul Henderson in Moscow from Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series would be the first by acclamation, right? Then, and largely because of Ray Lussier’s iconic photo, maybe Bobby Orr flying through the air after scoring the 1970 Cup winner, at No 2? Perhaps you would rank Sidney Crosby’s golden goal against Team USA to win the gold medal at the 2010 Olympics at No. 3.

But there has never been a more spectacular goal in Stanley Cup Playoff history than the one scored by Lafleur on a pass from Lemaire that tied Game 7 of Too Many Men against the Bruins in the semifinals. of 1979. Blow hit, low, far side against Gilles Gilbert. It was a prime example of a marquee athlete meeting a marquee moment and owning it.

Lafleur played brilliantly. He wanted to play hockey in style. He took your breath away on those sprints across the boards as a member of one of the great lines in hockey history, which had Lemaire at center and Steve Shutt at left. He lifted you from your seat. He was Salvador Dali on ice, an artist who mixed dream and reality. Off the ice, he was a rock star, acclaimed as such and reveling in living that life.

Guy Lafleur
Guy Lafleur
Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty

But Lafleur was even bigger than that. Throughout his career and after his retirement, after 1991-92 and his last two seasons with the Nordiques, he represented a lifeline for Béliveau and Richard, and the time when Montreal was the center of the hockey universe. and where Quebecers dominated the league. He always knew who he was and what he stood for.

At the time Lafleur had a quadruple bypass in September 2019, I spoke about him with Mike Bossy, who began his career with the Islanders six years into the No. 10’s career, before succeeding him as as the NHL’s preeminent right winger.

“I never considered him a rival,” Bossy, who passed a week to the day before Lafleur, told me. “He was a model”

After Lafleur, they broke the mould. May he rest in peace.

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