As it is for so many members of the Montreal Canadiens family, Canadiens fans and so many around the NHL, the passing of Guy Lafleur on Friday is hitting Canadiens interim head coach and Laval, QC native Martin St. Louis extremely hard.
It was no secret over the last week that Guy Lafleur, 70, was sadly losing his battle with cancer and that this sad day could arrive soon but that never makes it any easier. That was clear when St. Louis addressed the media on Friday as he recalled how his boyhood idol, Lafleur, helped get him through the grieving process when his Mom passed away on May 8, 2014.
“He wasn’t just an excellent hockey player, one of the best of all time, but the human off the ice,” St. Louis said. “I’ve said this story before, but when my mother passed away, it was the day before Game 1 against the Montreal Canadiens while I was playing for the New York Rangers. Guy Lafleur and Réjean Houle came to my mother’s funeral. It was a very touching moment for me and my father especially. It’s tough to see a guy like that go. For me, I lost my first hero….his presence at my mom’s funeral….I learned a lot from him that day….(he was) just a great example.”
Like so many Quebec-born hockey players his age, Martin St. Louis, 46, was heavily influenced by Lafleur’s on-ice accomplishments and he played a role in the Habs coach’s inspiration to play in the NHL one day.
“He was my first favourite player,” St. Louis said. “I was born in 1975 and it wasn’t because he was my father’s favourite player. He had a presence; he had an image and blond hair that would blow in the wind when he would skate. He was electrifying when you’d see him skate down the ice at 100 km an hour. He was a guy that helped me find that passion for hockey by watching him. It’s a huge and heavy loss for the Montreal Canadiens.”
Throughout the day Friday, the famous goal that Guy Lafleur scored to tie Game 7 of the 1979 semifinals was essentially being played on loop. That goal epitomized the magic of Lafleur’s game and style and that and so many of his amazing plays are etched in the memory of Lafleur’s fellow hall of famer, St. Louis.
“My best memory of Guy as a kid is when he’d grab the puck in the defensive zone and take off at full speed with his hair in the wind,” St. Louis recalled. “He would take the puck and you knew he was going to score. He played with authority and such confidence and it would make the whole building jump out of their seats. In my younger days, I came to the Forum twice, but we watched every game at home. When Guy had the puck, you’d be up out of your seat because you knew he was going to do something special. He was like a superhero.”
As St. Louis pointed out, Lafleur’s combination of skill, passion and an unwavering love for the game of hockey put him on the Mt. Rushmore of the Montreal Canadiens.
“Guy was the face of the Montreal Canadiens,” St. Louis said. “And he wasn’t the face of the team because of who he was as a hockey player. He would show up 4 hours before a game. He was a pro, he played with fire and that’s what a lot of the alumni told me the other night and love to hear it. They would say, some nights, even if he didn’t score, he’d be mad and go out there to give a big hit. Then after the game, he’d ask Michel Larocque to come to the rink early the net day to shoot 200 pucks at him before practice. You realize that this guy wasn’t all talent, he had real drive.
You have some big legends that have played for the team, but there are 3-4 guys that truly are the Montreal Canadiens – Jean Beliveau, Maurice Richard and Guy Lafleur is part of that. The most notable of legends.”
RIP Guy Lafleur.