In Part Two of IIHF.com’s exclusive interview with hockey legend Guy Lafleur (click here for Part I), the former Montreal Canadiens superstar talks about international hockey past and present, and reveals what he’s up to nowadays.
When your NHL All-Stars lost the 1979 Challenge Cup to the Soviets at New York’s Madison Square Garden, some thought Canada had truly been supplanted by the Soviet Union as the world’s top hockey nation. Was that justified? How did you feel about it?
It wasn’t everybody, but a lot of people were thinking that way. I think the NHL guys were so proud and wanted to win so badly against these guys. They had nothing to lose, these guys. They came over here and they knew they were good. But to play against us, we had everything to lose. And that was putting pressure on us.
In the 1972 Series, I think it really proved that we could compete with any team in the world by beating them in Russia. Now the rivalry’s not the same anymore. It doesn’t mean the same anymore. Times change.
In the 1981 Canada Cup, you got to play on a line with a 20-year-old kid named Gretzky. What was Wayne like back then?
It was fun. I remember he had curly hair. [laughs] He was skinny too. But a hell of a hockey player. I remember in 1981, they put him on my line with Gilbert Perreault. That’s the best line I ever played on, ever. We looked at each other and we said before the games: “Who’s going to carry the puck?” [laughs] Gilbert was a left wing, so Wayne said: “I’ll stand by the blue line and Gilbert, you see if you can pick up the puck.” Me, I was coming along inside my zone and tried to follow Gilbert.
Unfortunately, Gilbert got injured [in the fourth game with a broken ankle]. That was sad. I loved to play with these guys.
How do you like the international game compared to the NHL game?
Personally, I prefer the NHL game. The international game on the international ice surface, to me, it’s too big. You’re not into the game as much as on the North American size rink. So that’s what I prefer.
How important is it for the NHL players to go to the Sochi Olympics next year?
I think it’s important because they represent the NHL. [The Canadians and Americans] represent North American hockey. They’ll go there with one thing in mind: to win and prove we can beat these guys again. I’m sure they’re going to be there.
Who would you pick for Canada’s 2014 goalies?
[shakes head] I have no clue. A lot of times it depends on what kind of season they’re having.
Some think they might come back with Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo again.
I don’t know. Brodeur is almost at the end of his career. It would be nice for him to participate. Maybe it will be his last one? [laughs] Luongo, I don’t know. He seems to be very nervous in events like that, the Olympic Games.
How do you explain that?
Some guys are like that. Like me. When I used to play in the Canada Cup, it seemed like I had a big wall in front of me, and I couldn’t pass the wall. I don’t know why. It’s mental. It was not the Olympics. It was the Canada Cup or the World Championship in Europe. I don’t know...you’re not [in the right frame of mind]. Except if you go to the Olympics now and you practise together and you get prepared for the Olympics, it’s a different story. Like in ‘72, when they beat the Russians.
In 1981, I went to play in Sweden for the World Championship, and...my mind wasn’t there. We got beaten by Edmonton in the playoffs.
And you got knocked out of the tournament by Rick Van Gog of the Netherlands on the first shift of your very first game.
Yeah. Me and Larry [Robinson], we didn’t sleep for two days. [Team Canada GM] John Ferguson asked us: “Do you guys want to play? It’s going to be good for you guys to play on the Olympic-sized ice.” We said OK. But then that first shift, bang! I was playing with Lucien DeBlois. Blind pass.
Did you ever get an apology from Van Gog?
No. [pause] It was a good hit. [laughs] It’s the best one I took in my career!
Well, you had a lot of guys chasing you around in your career. Who was the most annoying one?
Don Marcotte [of the Boston Bruins] was my checker. I think if I had room in my pants, he would have jumped in! [laughs] He was a pain in the neck. Geez. He was following me, following me, following me. You just go nuts. I said: “Get a life! Try to score a goal instead of checking me.” [laughs] He said: “That’s what I’m paid for!” He is a good guy, though.
How much do you stay in touch with your old NHL colleagues?
I coach in the Legends of Hockey game with the Montreal alumni. They have a schedule of about 55 games. I do about 20. I “coach,” but really I don’t do anything. [laughs] I quit skating two years ago. I traded my hockey equipment for [Michael] Schumacher’s racing suit.
Really? Are you driving now?
No. It’s just as a souvenir. I got his helmet, his boots, his suit.
You always liked fast cars.
I used to, but not anymore. When Gilles Villeneuve was racing, we used to be good friends. So we did a weekend at Mont Tremblant, racing – well, not racing, but I was in the car – with Gilles. That was very special.
It’s surprising you don’t do anything behind the bench when you coach. You had Scotty Bowman for all those years!
Yeah, but the Legends, they know what they have to do. [laughs] I just ask the guys to put on a good show. It’s all money they raise for different organizations. People come to see the Legends against local teams, and they want to see a good show. They don’t want to see a bunch of guys fooling around all the time. But, hockey is a fun game. It’s not something where you go and “work” on the ice.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m still working as an ambassador for the Montreal Canadiens and the Legends of Hockey. My hobbies are flying helicopters and boating. That’s it! [laughs] I fly delivery helicopters for Bell to Dallas-Fort Worth and Bristol, Tennessee.
And I sold my restaurant and closed it on December 23. Business is tough in the restaurant business, especially when we didn’t have any hockey on. I did this for my kids. My oldest son was not too sure about keeping the restaurant. I said: “Hey, let’s get rid of it.” I was lucky enough to find a buyer. So I’m completely out.