Hockey world grieves Guy Lafleur's passing, celebrates his legacy

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Guy Lafleur racing down the right side, his trademark mane trailing behind him, before he struck one of his signature thunderclap slapshots is an image that's been burned into the memories of hockey fans around the world.

Tributes poured in Friday from teammates, opponents and admirers after the Montreal Canadiens confirmed that the Habs legend had died at age 70, a week after the death of New York Islanders great Mike Bossy.

"I can remember actually some of the first games I played against Guy," said Calgary Flames coach Darryl Sutter, who squared off against Lafleur as a player while he was a member of the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1980s.

"Opening night at the Forum, our line had to check his line so I was the left-winger and he was the right-winger.

"That was a big thing opening night, but we beat Montreal 8-7. I had four assists and I held Lafleur to three goals," Sutter said with a chuckle.

Sutter said Lafleur could "score from anywhere."

"Sad to see him go," Sutter said. "Seventy years old. Losing Mike (Bossy) and (Islanders star) Clark Gillies, those are guys in my age group. Kind of take a look at mortality a little bit.

"He's one of those guys that used the whole ice when he got the puck. He used the whole ice and when he took it, he was at full speed."

Former Canadiens tough guy Chris Nilan remembers being invited to lunch by Lafleur in Montreal after getting called up as a rookie.

"I knew he was a superstar, no question," Nilan said. "But the magnitude of it and realizing I was in the presence of greatness ... he's an icon. He was always good to me, friendly with me up until the end here."

Others, from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fellow legend Wayne Gretzky, paid tribute to the life and legacy of the player known as "The Flower:"

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"The entire Montreal Canadiens organization is mourning the loss of legendary Hall-of-Famer and Canadiens Ambassador Guy Lafleur, who passed away at the age of 70. Rest in peace, Guy."

— Montreal Canadiens

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"The New York Rangers are saddened to learn of the passing of hockey legend and former Blueshirt Guy Lafleur. Our thoughts are with Guy's family, loved ones and friends as well as the entire Montreal Canadiens organization as we mourn the loss of one of hockey's greats. Guy was admired and adored by many and he will be greatly missed."

— New York Rangers

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"I think the Montreal Canadiens are an integral part of the community in Quebec, and they always have been. And no matter which corner of the province that you're from the feeling is that Quebecers own this team and that it belongs to them and Guy Lafleur represented that perfectly because no matter where he went he represented the people who love this team. And I think it was so appreciated that he was that way."

— Canadiens owner Geoff Molson

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"Guy Lafleur, or 'The Flower,' was unlike anyone else on the ice. His speed, skill, and scoring were hard to believe. A record-setter and a five-time Stanley Cup champion, he inspired countless Quebecers, Canadians, and hockey fans around the world. We’ll miss you, Number 10."

"I think all of us of my generation suddenly feel a little bit older today to learn that Guy Lafleur is no longer with us. He was a hero to so many of us. I remember meeting him as a kid and being overwhelmed in a way that meeting presidents and queens didn't necessarily overwhelm me."

— Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

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"You didn't need to see Guy Lafleur's name and number on his sweater when 'The Flower' had the puck on his stick. As distinctively stylish as he was remarkably talented, Lafleur cut a dashing and unmistakable figure whenever he blazed down the ice of the Montreal Forum, his long blond locks flowing in his wake as he prepared to rifle another puck past a helpless goaltender — or set up a linemate for a goal."

— NHL commissioner Gary Bettman

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"We lost two hockey legends this week. It was an honour to play with both. My thoughts and prayers are with their families."

— NHL legend Wayne Gretzky

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"There's certain names that when you talk about the Montreal Canadiens it's (Maurice) Richard, it's (Jean) Beliveau and it's Guy Lafleur. There are, obviously, a lot more, but these are the names that (make us) really proud to wear the Montreal Canadiens logo and wear that 'C-H' because of all the history and tradition that comes with it.

"These are the guys that built that tradition and they mean a lot to the organization and they mean a lot to all the fans that we have. So, it's a tough day for everyone in the organization and the Montreal Canadiens community."

— Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher

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"It’s really unfortunate this week that two of the best players in my lifetime have passed away in Guy and Mike Bossy. I remember playing against Guy and almost being enamoured watching him more than playing against him. When he wound up inside the blue line and his hair was just waving back and forth you could tell how fast he was going. He was almost impossible to stop. …

"One of the greatest players of all time. He’ll go down in Quebec and Canadian circles, but mainly Quebec, as right up there with the Maurice Richards of the world. It’s a tough loss for hockey. Our family’s lost too many good ones lately."

— Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau

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"Another great gone too soon. Feel fortunate to have skated along side Guy a few times. Lovely man, incredible player."

— Canadian women's hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser

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"So sad to hear the passing of the legendary Guy Lafleur. He was one of my heroes growing up. I always pretended to be him when I was playing street hockey. A true legend of the game and an even better person."

— Former star NHL goaltender Martin Brodeur

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"The QMJHL has just lost the one who was at the origin of this league in 1969. Guy Lafleur was the best player in the history of the QMJHL and became its number one ambassador. Thank you Guy for everything you have done for us."

— QMJHL commissioner Gilles Corteau

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"I wish I got to see Guy Lafleur play hockey. The videos of him going end to end with his hair flowing, skating faster and shooting harder than anyone else are amazing to watch. A true game breaker and a winner. Rest In peace."

— Former NHL player Ryan Whitney

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"We have lost two of the greatest players in the history of our sport over the last 2 weeks. RIP Flower!! Godspeed Guy Lafleur!!"

— Play-by-play announcer Joe Bowen

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"RIP Guy Lafleur. For our whole lives he has never been anything but a god."

— Canadian actor, director and screenwriter Jay Baruchel, a noted Canadiens fan.

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— With files from Joshua Clipperton in Toronto and Donna Spencer in Calgary.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 22, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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