'Larger than life': Hockey world reacts to death of Guy Lafleur
Mario Lemieux, Justin Trudeau, others reflect on impact of legendary Canadien
The death of Hall of Famer and Montreal Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur on Friday at age 70 sent ripples throughout the hockey world.
The No. 1 pick in the 1971 NHL draft, Lafleur registered 518 goals and 728 assists in 14 seasons with Montreal. With the flashy forward leading the way, the Canadiens won it all in 1973, and then four more times from 1976 to 1979.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a noted Canadiens fan, said Lafleur was "unlike anyone else on the ice."
"His speed, skill, and scoring were hard to believe," Trudeau posted on Twitter. "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."
WATCH | Trudeau reacts to Lafleur's death:
Named one of the NHL's 100 greatest players of all-time in 2017, Lafleur finished with 560 goals and 793 assists in 1,126 games in his 17 seasons.
He holds the Canadiens' all-time record for assists and points. He scored at least 50 times in six straight campaigns from 1974-75 to 1979-80.
Lafleur won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer three straight years from 1976 to 1978, the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 1977 and 1978, and the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1977.
"As a boy in Montreal, Guy was larger than life to me," fellow Hall of Fame forward Mario Lemieux said in a statement. "I idolized him as a player, I respected him as a person, and always cherished him as a friend. He will be missed."
The Penguins join the hockey world in mourning the loss of Hall-of-Famer Guy Lafleur.<br><br>Our thoughts are with Guy's family, the Montreal Canadiens organization, and all those who watched in awe as Guy Lafleur sped down the ice with hair flowing in the wind. <a href="https://t.co/Mp4KUrs7pz">pic.twitter.com/Mp4KUrs7pz</a>—@penguins
Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur, a Montreal native, said Lafleur was one of his childhood heroes.
"I always pretended to be him when I was playing street hockey. A true legend of the game and an even better person. My condolences to the Lafleur family," Brodeur wrote on Twitter.
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. My condolences to the Lafleur Family. <a href="https://t.co/dS3dFZKvgC">pic.twitter.com/dS3dFZKvgC</a>—@MartinBrodeur
Calgary Flames coach Darryl Sutter said he remembered playing some of his first games against Lafleur as a member of the Chicago NHL team 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 [Islanders stars] Mike [Bossy] and 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."
"He was a great player. He was a classy player."<br><br>Darryl Sutter reflects on his time playing against the late Guy Lafleur and what he meant to the hockey community. <a href="https://t.co/6YJD3qb4Tz">pic.twitter.com/6YJD3qb4Tz</a>—@NHLFlames
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."
Wayne Gretzky also offered his condolences.
"We lost two hockey legends this week," he said of Lafleur and Bossy. "It was an honour to play with both. My thoughts and prayers are with their families."
WATCH | Lafleur's jersey raised to rafters in Montreal:
Added Canadian hockey great Hayley Wickenheiser: "Another great gone too soon. Feel fortunate to have skated alongside Guy a few times. Lovely man, incredible player."
Current Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher said Lafleur is synonymous with the club.
"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," he said.
Brendan Gallagher s’adresse aux médias suite au décès de Guy Lafleur.⁰⁰<br><br>Brendan Gallagher is addressing the media following the passing of Guy Lafleur. <a href="https://t.co/jftRe8JBvx">https://t.co/jftRe8JBvx</a>—@CanadiensMTL
Lafleur, who retired from the NHL in 1985 after Montreal denied his request for a trade, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988. But he made a comeback later that year with the New York Rangers and then played two more seasons with the Quebec Nordiques before hanging up his skates for good in 1991.
"You didn't need to see Guy Lafleur's name and number on his sweater when 'The Flower' had the puck on his stick," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "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."
Lafleur was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2019 when tumours were discovered by doctors performing emergency quadruple bypass heart surgery.
Two months later, he went under the knife again to remove both the upper lobe of his lung and lymph nodes.
Lafleur, however, received bad news in October 2020 that the cancer was back, forcing him to resume his treatment.
Lafleur's family released a statement earlier this month thanking fans for their empathy and "the outpouring of love" shown the Canadiens' great, adding he was being monitored closely by doctors and had occasional hospital checkups, but was at home.
Lafleur underwent his quadruple bypass surgery in September 2019 after it was discovered four of his coronary arteries were fully blocked, and a fifth was clogged close to 90 percent, during a routine medical exam to have his helicopter pilot's license renewed.
WATCH | How Lafleur became a Hab:
Once the cancer was discovered, he had one-third of his right lung removed by doctors two months later.
A chain smoker up until those health scares, Lafleur had been partnering with Merck Canada as part of its "Be The MVP" campaign to raise awareness about early lung cancer detection.
Canadiens president Geoff Molson said the organization was devastated.
"Guy Lafleur had an exceptional career and always remained simple, accessible, and close to the Habs and hockey fans in Quebec, Canada and around the world," Molson said in a statement. "Throughout his career, he allowed us to experience great moments of collective pride. He was one of the greatest players in our organization while becoming an extraordinary ambassador for our sport."
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.<br><br>Rest in peace, Guy. 🕊️❤️<a href="https://t.co/vEqp39p0KL">https://t.co/vEqp39p0KL</a>—@CanadiensMTL
Vancouver Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau talked about playing against Lafleur, saying he was "almost impossible to stop."
"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," he said.
"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."
Lafleur, who had his No. 10 sweater retired by the Canadiens in 1985, hadn't been out in public much in recent years following his cancer diagnosis and the COVID-19 pandemic, but did get a thunderous ovation at the Bell Centre during Montreal's improbable run to last season's Cup final.
He also had his number retired by the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in October.
WATCH | Trudeau, Dryden, Savard, Molson among many sharing emotions:
With files from The Canadian Press and CBC Sports