Former teammates remember Habs great Lafleur for on-ice skill, off-ice personality

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MONTREAL — It's been 37 years since Guy Lafleur last played for the Montreal Canadiens, but it was his name that fans chanted before the team took to the ice Sunday.

For 10 minutes, Habs fans gave Lafleur, who died Friday at age 70, a standing ovation, as cheers of "Guy, Guy, Guy!" mixed with chants of "Ole, Ole, Ole!" and "Go Habs Go!"

Twice, the game's announcer began to say something, only to let fans keep cheering. Finally, he asked the fans to be quiet for a moment of silence in honour of Lafleur.

It was a mixture of sombre and celebration as the Canadiens marked the passing of one of their greats.

Images of Lafleur's youth were projected on the ice, before videos of his time with the Habs were shown on the arena's screen to the tune of Frank Sinatra's "My Way."

While there was video of Lafleur's greatest goals, with a crucial goal against Boston -- the team the Habs faced Sunday -- in a Stanley Cup final drawing the biggest cheer.

But there were also images of "The Flower" lifting up the Stanley Cup -- he won five with Montreal -- and participating in the victory parades that were a regular event in Montreal during his time with the team.

"We must never forget playing hockey isn't a job, it's a game, we have to have fun," Lafleur said in one of the clips. "And win as much as possible."

On the boards, the usual ads were replaced by a simple tribute to Lafleur: his name, his number, his signature and the years of life -- 1951 to 2022.

Yvan Cournoyer, who played with Lafleur between 1971 and 1979, told reporters he knew there was something special about Lafleur from the moment he joined the Habs.

"I won five Stanley Cups before he arrived, I said, I tell you there's something with this guy, I'm gonna win more Stanley Cups and I was right," Cournoyer said, a black button with Guy's No. 10 on his lapel.

Cournoyer said that while anyone could see how many goals Lafleur scored, it was his friend he would remember.

"You don't forget a guy like Guy, I'm talking about the man," Cournoyer said, describing Lafleur as someone who deserved his popularity. "He loves everybody, everybody loves him."

Chris Nilan, who played with Montreal between 1980 and 1988, said Lafleur helped him feel like he belonged on the team when he first joined, skating with him before his first practice with the team.

"The two of us skated together on the ice, just me and Guy, it was unbelievable. We passed pucks, he gave me some tips on shooting, I never quite got the shot that Guy had, but he tried. I'll never forget that day, it was so special for me," he said.

"He always treated me with respect, never less than. Some stars, they put themselves on another level, kind of on a pedestal, not Guy, he never looked down on me," Nilan said. "Just an awesome guy."

Before the ceremony, fans gathered in front of statue of Lafleur outside the arena.

Fan Danielle Lessard, who laid a bouquet of flowers in front of the statue, said Lafleur remained her favourite player long after he stopped playing.

As a child, she said she wrote to Lafleur and he sent back a card and autograph.

For her it was the "the speed, the elegance," of his play that she loved.

"You could count on him. You knew he would score that goal."

A national funeral for Lafleur is scheduled for May 3, Quebec's premier said earlier on Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 24, 2022.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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