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Remembering The Great Guy Lafleur

April 23, 2022

Trust me, this is not easy or fun, however, perspective manifests, thinking how the truly great player Guy Lafleur, who died too young at age 70, exceeded the great expectations regarding him, ones I recall “Ike,” (Dr. Howard Eichenstein) stating one long ago day on a stairs landing when we were still in high school.

As the (Montreal Canadiens) team’s superb netminder, Ken Dryden stated and as I cited regarding such as Bill Russell, Joe DiMaggio and another Canadiens’ legendary superb player, Jean Beliveau, Guy Lafleur was the best player on the best team.

The (’76-’79) Canadiens, who titled in each of those seasons, were no ordinary “best team,” they were as I have opined in past posts, close to the best hockey team ever and on a short list of any sport’s greatest teams.

Lafleur led that team, scoring 50 or more goals in all 4 Cup winning seasons, 6 straight overall (he also was on the ’73 title winning team coached by Scotty Bowman, who coached 5 title winners in his 8 seasons as Habs coach).

Those Canadiens teams, especially the ’76 and ’77 vintage were so dominant and almost made all others including excellent Bruins, Flyers, and Islanders teams (the Isles would have their day and it is so sad that we lost greats, Mike Bossy and Mr. Lafleur within a week) playing for second best.

Guy had the Cup winning goal at Philadelphia, breaking a tie fairly late in the third period of game 4 in ’76.

Lafleur was my choice as “Athlete of the Year” in 1977, as the Habs had an incredible 60 wins, 8 losses, 12 ties (remember ties and I add the juxtaposition of that Canadiens’ team and the current one’s awful mark is truly sad) in 1976-1977 and again won the title, this time losing 2 ‘0ffs games, one more than they lost going (12-1) in the ’76 playoffs.

Lafleur had both assists including an overtime set up of the superb player, Jacques Lemaire, who finished the series with a goal in overtime of game 4, at Boston, as Montreal swept the final series.

It took 6 games to win vs the Bruins in ’78 and it was Mr. Lafleur that ruined Gerry Cheevers great effort in goal for the Bruins, with a goal in overtime of game 2, as I fruitlessly rooted for Boston, watching on a little television in my room with my father and a man named Pasquale “Pat” Bartolone.

We all were effusive in our praise of the one and only “Flower” or “Le Demon Blond” (oh how his hair moved, as he skated with increased speed, evoking memories of “The Golden Jet,” Bobby Hull) after the tilt.

My most special memory and I believe the greatest of all Guy’s moments came in the following playoffs season, one in which the Canadiens would again prevail, but not without a real struggle.

They did not get the league’s top mark (it went to the Isles, who were semi’d in 6 by the Rangers, a crushing low point for the “still no crowns or even a final round appearance Islanders–oh how that changed in the next 5 seasons!) and in the semis, Boston led Montreal by a goal (4-3) late in the third period of #7 at the fabled Montreal Forum on a Thursday night in May 1979.

Yes, Montreal got a break when Boston was penalized for having too many men on the ice but as is often the case the media dwells on the negative and not the fact, it was a perfect shot by Lafleur that got by Gilles Gilbert, who played one of the greatest games ever for a goaltender, albeit in defeat when Yvon Lambert won it for Montreal in overtime, to tie the game in the last minute or so.

I know Guy was nearly killed in a car accident, what over 40 years ago, but his death took a man that was too young, and too soon.

Somehow, the three other Canadiens honored with statues outside the Bell Centre (let’s not sugarcoat, Montreal has not “titled” since moving from The Forum, the Celtics have but one post Boston Garden crown and even the Yankees have just one World Series win, that in their only pennant winning season since moving Yankee Stadium’s location another stop north on the 4 train), Howie Morenz, who died tragically young at age 37, Maurice “Rocket” Richard and the classy Jean Beliveau, the only one of the four I met, will greet Guy Lafleur welcoming him to their “place,” a different concept of one Guy shared with them on earth and in Montreal Canadiens annals, as the greatest player on an era’s greatest team.






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