As It Happens·Q&A

Guy Lafleur was 'a superstar,' says Serge Savard — but he always put his team 1st

Guy Lafleur accomplished as much off the ice as he did on it, says his longtime friend and former teammate Serge Savard.

The Habs legend, who won 5 Stanley Cups, has died at the age of 70

FILGuy Lafleur, centre, of the Montreal Canadiens cuts in front of Aaron Broten of the New Jersey Devils during third period NHL action at the Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., Dec. 20, 1983. Lafleur, who helped the Montreal Canadiens win 5 Stanley Cup titles in the 1970s, died on April 22. (Bill Kostroun/The Associated Press)

Story Transcript

Guy Lafleur accomplished as much off the ice as he did on it, says his longtime friend and former teammate Serge Savard.

Lafleur, a Montreal Canadiens icon who helped his team win five Stanley Cup titles, has died at the age of 70.

His cause of death was not immediately known, but Lafleur suffered several health issues, including lung cancer, towards the end of his life. 

Savard, who played 10 seasons alongside Lafleur, spoke to As It Happens guest host Dave Seglins about his friend's life and legacy. Here is part of their conversation. 

Mr. Savard, first off, my condolences on the loss of your friend.

Yes, thank you very much. It's a big loss for all the teammates and all the fans, especially here in Quebec.

He was like God here. You know, he's one of those superstars. Here in Montreal, we had [Maurice] (Rocket) Richard, Jean Béliveau, and him. 

What kind of teammate was he?

Playing in Montreal, you had to go into the mould, and nobody was bigger to the team. And on the team, he was the best player by far, and he was a great teammate. 

He participated in all the activities and, you know, he was not bigger than the game. He liked all his teammates. And no matter if you were No. 20 or No. 2 on the team, you know, he liked them all. We formed a big family.

Guy was a very humble superstar. You'd never see him turning down an autograph from a kid or anybody else. He was just a good person.

Three eras of the Montreal Canadiens icons are pictured together on April 12, 1979. From left to right, Jean Béliveau, Guy Lafleur and Maurice (Rocket) Richard. (Doug Ball/The Canadian Press)

You became friends. What kind of friend was Guy Lafleur?

We just were close.

The last time I saw him ... was at his birthday on the 20th of September, the day of the national election, and he turned 70. And we were about 10 of his former teammates and his two sons. I think [Montreal Canadiens CEO and President] Geoff Molson was there also. And those were great moments. You know, he knew he was in trouble, and we had a great time with him. A great time.

Thinking back to his glory days — I mean, he was known for his play. He was also known for his hair. Did you ever tease him about that?

Well, he didn't have that many at the end [chuckles]. But yeah, his hair was floating in the air because, you know, he was so fast.

Watch: Remembering a hockey legend:

Remembering Guy Lafleur

4 months ago
Duration 4:49
Montreal Gazette sports columnist Pat Hickey reflects on the legendary career of Guy Lafleur, one of the greatest Canadiens players of all time.

He was fast and he was an amazing shot and he had great hair. But was he a fighter? What did he think of fighting in the hockey world?

For us, fighting had no place in hockey … and I don't think Guy Lafleur ever fought. He didn't have to. He was the best player in the league.

What did he make of his success? The Stanley Cups, you know, but also becoming the superstar that he claimed he never wanted to be.

He was born a superstar. He became popular at the peewee tournament in Quebec City. He made the front page of the paper at 12 [or] 13 years old. 

And then playing junior with the … Quebec Remparts. They won the Memorial Cup. And he was the best junior in the world. 

When Montreal had the first pick that year [1971], we knew that a superstar was coming in Montreal, and that's exactly what happened.

So how did he stay humble when he was so good?

That's the way he was.

He was the best player on the team. But, you know, team came first in our time.

I've been reading, you know, beyond being humble, he always wanted to improve his game. Is it true that he used to go out on the ice an hour before game time with a bucket of pucks and continue to practise?

Games were [at 8 p.m.] in those days, and we used to come to the rink at 5:30, 6 at the latest. He was coming to the game at two o'clock in the afternoon. And he never stopped.

Guy Lafleur, you know, maybe played some games not as good as others, but I cannot pinpoint one game that Guy Lafleur didn't try to give 100 per cent. That's the way he was.

Montreal Canadiens' captain Serge Savard leads his teammates around the ice in a victory parade, holding the Stanley Cup. On his left are Lafleur and Rejean Houle. To his right are Rick Chartraw and Pierre Mondou. (The Canadian Press)

You were friends right up to the end. How did a man with those physical gifts respond to the news that he had lung cancer?

First of all, he was convinced that he was going to beat it all the way up to the last few weeks.

He raised over $2 million for the [Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal foundation]. 

Guy, on and off the ice, he made a difference. And he made a difference in the lives of people all the way up to his last few weeks.

So how will you remember your friend in the coming weeks and months?

I love him, and I only have great memories about him being a good person. 

What he accomplished on the ice, it was one thing. And what he accomplished off the ice is just as great. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC Montreal. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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