Guy Lafleur, Dynamic Star of the Montreal Canadiens, Dies at 70

Guy Lafleur, Dynamic Star of the Montreal Canadiens, Dies at 70

Guy Lafleur, the dynamic, freewheeling right wing who helped lead the dynastic Montreal Canadiens to five Stanley Cup championships in the 1970s, including four in a row, died on Friday in a suburb of Montreal. He was 70.

The National Hockey League said that the cause was cancer and that Lafleur had died in a palliative care center. A longtime cigarette smoker, he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and had quadruple bypass surgery in 2019.

Lafleur, known to fans as “the Flower,” was a magician on the ice, a creative force who could deftly split defenses and whose offensive rushes prompted Montreal fans to chant, “Guy! Guy! Dude!”

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 totaled in the 1976-77 season.

“He loved to shoot high on the glove side, and it was a dangerous shot, downright scary,” John Davidson, a former goalie for the New York Rangers, said in a phone interview on Friday. “When he got the puck at the blue line at the old Montreal Forum and headed up the ice, you could feel the rush. You’d feel the people make noise, and that noise would get louder and louder, and the people would stand, whether he scored or not.”

Lafleur amassed 560 goals and 793 assists over 17 seasons, 14 of them with the Canadiens, one with the Rangers and two with the Quebec Nordiques. In the playoffs, he had 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 the NHL’s most valuable player. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada 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 on Sept. 20, 1951, in Thurso, Quebec, to Rejean and Pierette Lafleur. He was so enthralled with hockey as a boy that he would sneak into a local arena on weekday mornings and early on Sundays to get ice time when no one else was around, according to his Hockey Hall of Fame biography.

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

He was spectacular in top-tier junior hockey, scoring 103 and 130 goals for the Quebec Ramparts in the 1969-70 and 1970-71 seasons, and the Canadiens selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL amateur draft. Lafleur said that if they had not chosen him, he would have signed with the Nordiques, which were then in the rival World Hockey Association.

Lafleur joined a Montreal team that had won the Stanley Cup the season before but that had lost Béliveau to retirement and had hired a new coach, Scotty Bowman. Lafleur started relatively slowly, scoring 29, 28 and 21 goals in his first three seasons before he broke out with 53 in the 1974-75 season.

With his blond hair flowing in the days before players routinely wore helmets, Lafleur became a star for a storied 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,” his teammate Steve Shutt once said. “He doesn’t know what he’s going to do, so how can I know?”

Lafleur’s most electric seasons as a scorer, from 1974-75 to 1979-80, almost paralleled the four consecutive years that the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup, from 1976 to 1979. During the 1976 playoffs, he was the subject of an alleged kidnap threat and protected by security.

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

After Lafleur scored 125 points in the 1979-80 season, his production began falling off. Nineteen games into the 1984-85 season, he abruptly retired after having scored only two goals and three assists. He was not getting along with the coach, Jacques Lemaire, who regularly benched him, or the general manager, Serge Savard.

Lafleur stayed retired for the rest of that season and for three more, but just weeks after being inducted into the 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 Canadians had been “the worst time of my life.”

“I had a choice of ulcers at 33 or retiring,” he said.

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

“It was a pleasant year in exile in New York,” Lafleur told reporters when he announced his move to the Nordiques. “But now I’d like to end my career in Quebec, where it began.”

He played two years with the Nordiques, with modest results, before retiring for good. He later returned to the Canadians 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, Béliveau, Howie Morenz and Maurice (Rocket) Richard — were unveiled at the Bell Centre, the team’s home.

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

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