Canadiens icon Guy Lafleur, one of hockey’s most striking players, dies aged 70

Montreal Canadiens icon Guy Lafleur, who won five Stanley Cup titles and was a hockey hero in Quebec long before his NHL playing days, has died. He is 70 years old.

The cause of his death was not immediately known. However, Lafleur suffered from health problems in the later stages of his life. In September 2019, he underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery, which was followed by lung surgery two months later.

Then, in October 2020, he again developed lung cancer.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of Guy Lafleur’s death. All members of the Canadiens organization are devastated by his death,” Canadiens President Geoff Molson said in a statement.

“Guy Lafleur has had an extraordinary career and has always remained simple, accessible and close to Habs and hockey fans in Quebec, Canada and around the world. Throughout his career, he has allowed us to experience great moments of collective pride. He is one of the greatest players in our organization and an outstanding ambassador for our sport.”

Quebec is in talks with Guy Lafleur’s family to hold a national funeral for the Montreal Canadiens legend, Prime Minister François Legault announced at a press conference Friday.

For decades, Lafleur—nicknamed “The Flower”—seemed to score with ease at all levels of hockey and grew into the role of one of the game’s most striking superstars. She often dazzles fans with her signature long blonde hair that cascades behind her as she dashes across the ice before unleashing one of her patented slapping punches.

By his 10th birthday, there were already signs that Lafleur was a generational talent, skating around kids three years his senior at the international peewee hockey tournament in Quebec City.

Lafleur played junior hockey for Quebec Jr. Aces and Quebec Remparts. He collected a staggering 465 points in two seasons and two playoffs with the Remparts, leading the team to the Memorial Cup title in 1971.

That year, Lafleur set a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League regular season record of 130 goals, which was beaten by another French hockey prodigy, Mario Lemieux (133), in the 1983–84 campaign.

VIEW | Jamie Strashin looks at Guy Lafleur’s legacy:

Montreal Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur dies aged 70

Montreal Canadiens icon Guy Lafleur, who won five Stanley Cup titles and was a hockey hero in Quebec long before his NHL days, has died aged 70. 3:51

Being recruited by Canadiens is fitting

Guy Damien Lafleur was born on September 20, 1951, in Thurso, Que., a small town in the western part of the province, and grew up idolizing the great Jean Béliveau of the Canadiens.

So it was fitting that he made his debut for the Montreal Canadiens in the 1971–72 season, taking the torch from his hero just months after Béliveau ended his career skating as Stanley Cup champion for the 10th time in the spring of 1971.

Lafleur’s arrival in Montreal, like his departure years later, was controversial. General manager Sam Pollock struck a deal with the California Golden Seals to move up in the NHL draft to pick Lafleur, succeeding another highly acclaimed French Canadian, Marcel Dionne.

Dionne outperformed Lafleur in their rookie season, leading some fans to think Pollock had made a mistake in choosing Lafleur. But critics backed down in 1973 when Lafleur lifted his first Stanley Cup with the franchise.

All doubts were cleared in the 1974-75 season when Lafleur broke his first record of six consecutive seasons with at least 50 goals and 100 points.

VIEW | Lafleur’s most famous goal explains:

Lafleur’s most famous goals

Hockey Night Hero: Guy Lafleur scored over 600 times in the NHL. Dick Irvin and Bob Cole reflect on his most famous goal. 1:14

He dominated the second half of the decade, leading the Habs to four consecutive Stanley Cup titles from 1976 to 1979, and winning the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player twice during that period. He also captured the 1977 Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

His goal-scoring prowess was so domineering in the legendary late 70s Hockey Night in Canada announcer Dick Irvin Jr. called him the greatest player in the world.

Lafleur goes beyond exercise despite his smoking habit. Former coach Scotty Bowman said he would even smoke between periods.

“He’s going to smoke in [hotel] room, but always in the bathroom,” said former Quebec Nordiques team-mate Joe Sakic. “I told him he didn’t have to. I mean, I admire him.”

Close call

On March 24, 1981, Lafleur narrowly escaped a fatal accident after crashing his Cadillac into a highway fence while driving home. A sign hit the windshield, losing his head by inches. Minor plastic surgery was needed to repair his right earlobe.

Lafleur’s relationship with Canadiens management began to deteriorate in the 1980s. He was asked to rein in his free-wheeling style in favor of a more defensive style by Hall of Fame teammate and later coach Jacques Lemaire. After the team refused to comply with his request for a trade, he shocked the hockey world when, at the age of 33, he suddenly announced his retirement week to the 1984 season.

For the next three years, Lafleur generally played only in public at charity hockey events, and he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988.

NHL is back

That same year, New York Rangers general manager Phil Esposito convinced him to come out of retirement and return to the NHL. Lafleur played a season in New York, highlighted by a two-goal performance at the infamous Montreal Forum, earning a rare standing ovation for opposing players. He then played two more years with his hometown Quebec Nordiques before calling it a career for the second and final time after the 1991 season.

VIEW | Lafleur returns to Montreal as Ranger:

Guy Lafleur returns to the Forum as a Ranger

Habs fans cheered for beloved Canadien Guy Lafleur after he retired, then returned to the NHL as the New York Ranger. 2:11

At the time, Lafleur was only the second player in league history, after Gordie Howe, to return to the NHL as a player after being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

In his post-game career, Lafleur became an ambassador for the Montreal Canadiens and established the Guy Lafleur Award of Excellence, a prize given annually to the best student-athlete hockey player in the province of Quebec.

In the late 2000s, Lafleur made headlines for non-hockey reasons.

Lafleur testified in 2007 at a bail hearing for his son Mark and was the subject of an arrest warrant in 2008 for allegedly giving contradictory testimony. He was found guilty in 2009 before the sentence was overturned on appeal a year later.

Today his statue stands outside Montreal’s Bell Center arena alongside the all-time greats of the Canadiens Howie Morenz, Maurice Richard and Béliveau. His number 10 hung from the arena ceiling after being retired on February 16, 1985. At that time number six was retired by the Canadiens franchise.

VIEW | Lafleur discusses his retirement plans:

Guy Lafleur discusses his retirement plans

In December 1984, Guy Lafleur spoke about his plans after retiring from his playing days. 2:35

Lafleur still holds the Canadiens record for points (1,246), assists (728) and winning goals (94).

He was named No. 11 on the Hockey News list of the 100 greatest players of all time by Hockey News in 1998. Lafleur was also named one of the NHL’s 100 greatest players as part of his centennial celebrations in 2017.

Lafleur is survived by his two sons, Mark and Martin, and his wife, Lise.

Hadwin Floyd

"Coffee enthusiast. Hipster-friendly social media fanatic. Certified zombie expert. Problem solver."

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