The Montreal Canadiens honoured the memory of Guy Lafleur on Sunday night against arch-rival Boston Bruins in one of the most emotional and passionate pre-game ceremonies in Bell Centre history. The ovation from the crowd and the atmosphere in the building helped to remind the world of how unique the relationship between the city and the Canadiens truly is.
The Montreal Canadiens faithful would put on one of the most legendary ovations of all time. Loud waves of adulation engulfed the Bell Centre and left no room for any doubt: Guy Lafleur was the very heart of the most storied franchise in all of hockey. Like Maurice Richard and Jean Béliveau before him, Lafleur helped elevate a hockey team into the cultural beat of an entire city. The Bell Centre crowd gave Lafleur some of that passion and emotion he left on the ice in kindness, cheering for the legend for over 10 minutes and drowning out poor Bell Centre announcer Michel Lacroix on two occasions.
The emotion is surreal in here.
Loud "Guy Guy Guy" chants in waves and the crowd isn't stopping any time soon. pic.twitter.com/vZT3R2Pucc
— Montreal Hockey Now (@MTLhockeynow) April 24, 2022
The Legacy Of Guy Lafleur
As Hall of Fame teammates of Lafleur began to shuffle through the Bell Centre corridors, one could get a sense that the evening was going to be special. From the very first moment you walked into the rink, it felt like it was a playoff game and that something truly historic was about to happen. That’s the feeling that Guy Lafleur would permeate throughout the city during his run with the Montreal Canadiens, especially in the 70s. It was only fitting to see that same sense of anticipation and excitement once again for his tribute.
“He was my dad’s favourite player growing up, ” said François, a Montrealer who was paying tribute to Guy Lafleur next to his statue outside the Bell Centre. “I would hear stories of how good he was and how important he was, but tonight I think I’m going to get a first-hand view.”
Watching fans, young and old, shuffle into the Bell Centre two hours early to ensure they didn’t miss a second of the ceremony shows just how important the player was to a team that is today as equally important in the lives of so many. Guy Lafleur was the heart of the Montreal Canadiens, the proudest symbol in Montreal’s 380-year history. In a sense, he belonged to the people of this city, this province and this country, and the man embraced it like very few athletes ever have.
“To be able to share this moment with my son is something truly special, ” said Guy, a long-time Canadiens fan paying his respects to Lafleur with his adult son outside the Bell Centre. “He was my hero. He was the heart of this team. I want to show my son just how important he was.”
The Montreal Canadiens pay tribute to Guy Lafleur at The Bell Centre. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/E588sEqCVu
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) April 24, 2022
A Legacy Passed Down
For younger fans and especially the younger players on the Montreal Canadiens, Guy Lafleur’s ceremony did nothing but reaffirm the weight and legacy of the Montreal Canadiens in this city. In a season that will go down as one of the worst in Canadiens’ history, Lafleur’s memory helped the fanbase put a pause on the present to better remember the past and set expectations for the future. Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki, the club’s two brightest stars, took in the pregame ceremony and soaked in what it truly means to be a Montreal Canadien.
Robbed of the rabid crowd reaction en route to the Stanley Cup Finals last season due to Covid restrictions, the youngsters got a first-hand taste of true greatness and how passionate the fan base can genuinely be. Like a 10-year veteran, Suzuki sat at the podium and spoke of what Lafleur’s ceremony meant to him and what lessons he’s taken from the evening.
“You never want to take playing for the Montreal Canadiens for granted, ” said Suzuki of the organization’s prestige. “It’s the most historic franchise in the league, all the jerseys in the rafters and all the players that came before us. It’s truly an honour to play for those guys and carry the torch. For me, it’s never take a day for granted playing for this organization, how much players mean to this city and how we can inspire people around the city.”
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) April 25, 2022
Head coach Martin St. Louis doubles down on the sentiments felt by his youngsters and the younger fans in the crowd, experience such a legendary ovation for the first time in their lives.
“If you didn’t know what the Montreal Canadiens mean to the province of Quebec, I think you do now,” said Martin St. Louis of the impact of Guy Lafleur’s ceremony on the rest of the hockey world, including younger fans and players.
St. Louis took it a step further, highlighting the curative powers the sport and especially the Montreal Canadiens had in being able to help the people of this city and province weather any storm that came their way.
“With my mom, hockey helped me cope with the loss of my mom, “said St. Louis about getting through his mother’s passing in 2014. “We try to do our job to help the fans and alumni cope with the loss of Guy. Hockey is a big part of trying to help people cope with those losses. We try to do our job.”
Martin St-Louis répond aux questions des médias.
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) April 25, 2022
As the Montreal Canadiens, their fans and Quebecers as a whole mourned the loss of one of the greatest hockey players the game has ever seen, Lafleur left behind a parting gift nobody knew they needed. He left a reminder of the importance of this franchise to people, the curative and uniting ability the crest has had for over 100 years. In a season so dark, he shone a light that helped bring back the passion and the emotions that were felt on a nightly basis when he put on his skates for the Bleu Blanc Rouge.
That passion won’t soon be forgotten. It will be cherished and remembered in fables, as it has for almost 50 years now.
Thank you for the memories, Guy.
Merci beaucoup, Guy.