Au revoir et merci, Flower
by Andrew Podnieks|22 APR 2022
Guy Lafleux during an NHL game of the Montreal Canadiens against the New York Islanders.
photo: Paul Bereswill / HHOF Images
Guy Lafleur, one of the most loved and admired members of the Montreal Canadiens, passed away early today in Montreal from lung cancer. He was just 70 and died just a week after another great star, Mike Bossy, from lung cancer

Nicknamed “Le Demon Blond” in French or “The Flower” in English, Lafleur didn’t just score goals and win Stanley Cups; he did that and more with grace and elegance and a flair few before or since could equal. His long, blond hair seemed to trail the rest of his body as he tore down the right wing and let go his patented slap shot. He played every shift like it was his first or last, and despite his status as a great player and the attention he got from opponents, he never retaliated or fought. He truly was a flower in a garden of weeds.

Lafleur rose to prominence in the late 1960s as a member of the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL, and after leading the team to a Memorial Cup in 1971 he was drafted first overall by the Canadiens. In his final season of junior, he scored 130 goals and 209 points in 62 games, and in the playoffs he had 43 points in 14 games. There was no greater junior in all of Canada. How Montreal had acquired that first overall selection is a story for the ages, as GM Sam Pollock first swindled Oakland out of the choice and then traded Ralph Backstrom to the struggling Los Angeles Kings to ensure they finished ahead of the Seals in the standings.

When Lafleur arrived for his first training camp he was offered number 4, the same number worn by the just-retired legend Jean Beliveau. “Guy” declined the honour and said he wanted to make a number of his own famous. He was given 10, and the rest is history. As a rookie, Lafleur continued to wear a helmet as he had in junior, and he scored an impressive 29 goals. But his production stagnated over the next couple of seasons, even as the Habs were winning the Cup in 1973. 

But starting in 1974-75, he went on a scoring spree that at the time was unprecedented. He scored 53 goals and 119 points, and over the next six consecutive seasons he eclipsed the 50-goal and 100-point plateaus each time, the first player ever to do so. Not coincidentally, the Habs won four straight Cups between 1976 and 1979, and the screams of “Guy! Guy!” whenever he roared up ice were thrilling sounds every Saturday night at the Forum.

Lafleur was part of Team Canada at the inaugural Canada Cup in 1976. He scored his only goal in the series during a 6-0 win over Czechoslovakia in game one of the finals, and he was a member again five years later for the 1981 Canada Cup, scoring against Sweden and the Soviets in the round robin. His only other international experience came during the 1981 World Championship in Stockholm, Sweden. Teammates included Larry Robinson and Lanny McDonald, and Canada was coached by Don Cherry. The team finished fourth, and Lafleur had one goal in seven games, that coming in a round-robin game against the Soviets.
Guy Lafleur during a 1976 Canada Cup game in Montreal.
photo: Frank Prazak / HHOF Images
The Lafleur-Cherry connection was forged forever at the 1979 playoffs. In the semi-finals, Boston, coached by Cherry, was leading Montreal, 4-3, in game seven, at the Forum. Late in the game, however, the Bruins took a penalty for too many men, and Lafleur scored perhaps his most famous goal on the ensuing power play. Getting the puck inside his own blue line, he quickly skated up ice and passed ahead to Jacques Lemaire coming over the Bruins’ line. Lemaire dropped it to Lafleur whose blistering one-timer beat Gilles Gilbert, who famously fell backwards, flailing arms and stick akimbo. Yvon Lambert then scored in overtime, and the Habs went on to defeat the New York Rangers in five games to win their fourth straight Cup.

Lafleur had 13 straight seasons of 20 or more goals with Montreal, and he had 30 in 1983-84, his last full season with the team. By this time his former linemate Lemaire was now the team’s coach, and the two didn’t get along well because Lemaire’s defence-first coaching didn’t mesh with Lafleur’s offence-first skills. Early in the 1984-85 season, Lafleur retired. By this time, he had scored 518 goals and 1,246 points with the Habs. His number 10 was retired by the team early in 1985, and in 1988 he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. 

But his passion for the game had not waned, and he came out of retirement to play for the New York Rangers. Now 37, he still managed to score 18 goals in 67 games, including two goals in what remains perhaps the greatest ovation ever given a visiting player. On 4 February 1989, Lafleur returned to the Forum for the first time as an opponent, now wearing the colours of the Blueshirts. He scored two goals as fans chanted “Guy! Guy!” all night long, just as they had for 14 years. Lafleur later played two more years with the arch-rivals Quebec Nordiques, but no matter the sweater he was still cheered whenever he returned to play. He retired for good in 1991, his legend not tarnished in the least by his passionate late-career play. 

Players just don’t play like Lafleur anymore. A glorious skater with power and a blazing shot, his legend was enhanced by playing under the booming thrill of Danny Gallivan’s voice, rising excitedly every time Guy got the puck in his own end and saw open ice. Gone too soon in life, he will forever be remembered for what he did on ice so very, very well.