Guy LaFleur

Born: September 20, 1951 (Thurso, Quebec, Canada)
Juniors/College: Quebec Remparts
Years Active: 17 years
Teams: Montreal Canadiens (1971-85), New York Rangers (1988-89), Quebec Nordiques (1989-91)
Position: Right Wing   Height: 6'0"   Weight: 185 lbs   Shoots: Right
Goals: 560   Assists: 793   Points: 1353
Stanley Cups: 4x (1973, 1976-79)
Olympic Medals: N/A
Individual Awards: 3x Art Ross Trophy (1976-78), 2x Hart Trophy (1977, 1978), Conn Smythe Trophy (1977)
Hall of Fame Class: 1988

It was a sight as beautiful as his name suggested: Guy Lafleur (“The Flower”), his long blond locks, unimpeded by helmet, flowing behind him as he rushed down the ice, defenders in full retreat, goaltender crouched in anticipation of the puck that would soon be launched his way by the man opponents called the “Le Demon Blond” (The Blond Demon).’’

For 14 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens (1971-1985), Lafleur was the embodiment of the 

“Flying Frenchmen” who won five Stanley Cups, playing with a panache and joie de vivre that made him one of the most beloved players ever to wear the sweater of the bleu, blanc et rouge. In all, Lafleur played 17 years in the NHL, returning after a three-year retirement to skate one season with the New York Rangers and two with the Quebec Nordiques before walking away for good in 1991.

 “Lafleur was a Jackson Pollock painting on ice, a frenetic innovator who pushed the boundaries of his art beyond what had ever been conceived, a singularly dynamic force that turned an everyday sight as simple as a man on skates with a puck on his stick into a masterpiece — something you had seen before, perhaps, but never quite like that,’’ SportsNet Canada wrote of him. 

A right winger elected to the NHL Hall of Fame in 1988, Lafleur skated like a dream. His shot was called the “Hammer of Thor.” As soon as he leaped over the boards, you took your eyes off him at your own peril.

“Guy had such a pure shot,’’ teammate Brian Engblom recalled. “He’d go out early for practice and he’d take 8 or 10 pucks to the top of the right circle. Then he’d start shooting. It was like a click off a golf club. Click, bang—post and in. Click, bang—crossbar and in. His sense of the net, his sense of the corners, was beyond normal human comprehension.”

Three times Lafleur led the National Hockey League in scoring, becoming the first player in league history to string together six consecutive seasons of 50 or more goals and 100 or more points. Twice he was the league’s most valuable player and in 1977 was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

From 1974 through 1980, a 462-game stretch, Lafleur scored an astounding 327 goals and 439 assists for 766 points (1.66 points per game). The only other players to play at a higher point-per-game pace for such an extended period of time were Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Lafleur is the Canadiens’ all-time leading scorer (518 goals and 728 assists in 14 years) and holds the franchise record for most points in a season (136).

 But the numbers and the hardware merely hint at what set Lafleur apart.

 “Besides his enormous ability and great desire, Guy had extraordinary charisma,” Scotty Bowman, the Canadiens coach during the 1970s dynasty, said. “He had the ability to bring spectators to the rink and then show them something unusual.”

Lafleur also brought a new sensibility to how the game should be played.

 “In the 1970s, North American hockey was up and down, all straight lines, like the slots in a table-hockey game,’’ wrote Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated. “Lafleur and [Canadiens teammate Steve] Shutt were the exceptions, pioneers of the modern game’s kaleidoscopic style. The linemates would circle and attack on their off-wings, which baffled some of the occupationally challenged shadows who used to wait for their man at the far blue line.’’

 A native son of Quebec—he was born in Thurso, a small mill town on the Ottawa River– Lafleur grew up idolizing Montreal legend Jean Beliveau, playing hockey on the rink behind his house that his father built every winter.  “We played hockey at noon, and after school, we practiced until dark. All the brothers (priests at École Ste. Famille) were mad about hockey,”  Lafleur said.

Long before reaching Montreal, Canadiens fans were closely tracking his exploits in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where he began playing when he was just 15 and  culminated in him scoring an astounding 130 goals and 209 points in his final season. Montreal G Sam Pollock made a couple of trades that ensured the Canadiens would have the first overall pick in the draft, and in 1971 he selected Lafleur.

 “When I was a kid, all we saw on TV was the Canadiens, and all I wanted to be was Beliveau,’’ Lafleur recalled. “We had one bleu, blanc and rouge Canadiens sweater and I fought the others for the right to wear it. I dreaded to be drafted by any team but Canadiens and when they took me, I was so happy.”

 After three seasons in which he produced modest returns, Lafleur blossomed into superstardom in the 1974-75 season, when he scored 53 goals and recorded 66 assists, breaking the team’s records for goals, assists and points in a season and evoking comparisons to Maurice “The Rocket” Richard and his hero, Beliveau.

The Canadiens won four straight Stanley Cups, with Lafleur leading the team in scoring in each of those seasons. The dynasty came to an end after the retirement of goaltender Ken Dryden, forward Jacques Lemaire and others after the 1978-79 season. Lafleur was injured and only played 51 games in the 1980-81 season, but he still managed to  score 27 goals and 43 assists, the first time in seven seasons he failed to score 50 goals.

 But there would be other career highlights. In 1981, playing for Team Canada in the Canada Cup (ultimately won by the Soviet Union), Lafleur skated on the same line with Wayne Gretzky and Gilbert Perreault. He called it the best line he ever played on, an experience that abruptly ended when Perreault fractured an ankle after just four games.

 “It was the greatest experience of my life,’’ he said. “We had so much fun.’’

 The experience also made a lasting impression on Gretzky.

 “Everybody knew that Guy was a special person,” said Gretzky’s Edmonton teammate, defenseman Kevin Lowe, who grew up in Lachute, Quebec, near Lafleur’s hometown. “He was a humble guy, he was a quiet guy.

 “But I’ll never forget in ’81 when Wayne came back from the Canada Cup. Wayne was a second-year pro and he was just astonished at how welcoming Guy was, how much fun he was, they just bonded as people. I really think that helped mold Wayne into the person that he became in terms of being a great leader.”

Lafleur’s tenure with the Canadiens did not end well. He clashed with defensive-minded coach Lemaire, his former teammate, their differences leading Lafleur to abruptly retire early in the 1984 season. His No. 10 jersey was retired a few months later, and in 1988 he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Only then he decided to launch a comeback, one of three Hall of Famers (Gordie Howe and Mario Lemieux) to come out of retirement after their Hall induction.

A season with the New York Rangers, two with the Nordiques in his home province, and then it was over, at last, at age 40.

 “I’m retiring because I want to retire. I’m ready,” he said. “I will always regret that I cannot keep the great days with me forever. That I cannot go on forever scoring 50 goals a season, that my feet do not forever have wings, that my muscles never get tired. You hear the cheers and a light shines so brightly it can blind you forever, it is true. But also, so brightly it can light you the rest of your days.”

 When Lafleur, who suffered from lung cancer, died at age 70 on April 22, 2022, an entire nation grieved. His funeral was a national event, attended by Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, as well as a host of former teammates among the mourners. The Archbishop of Montreal, the Most Reverend Christian Lépine, officiated the mass at Mary Queen of the World Cathedral.

 “My thoughts are with all who are mourning this tremendous loss — in Quebec, across Canada, and around the world,’’ Trudeau said in a statement. “We’ll miss you, Number 10.”