So it was only fitting that thousands of people flocked to the Bell Center on Sunday to pay their respects to the NHL legend who died on April 22 at the age of 70 after a nearly three-year battle with cancer.
“I came to see Guy, to thank him for everything we experienced through him,” said Jocelyn Godard, 51, of Montreal. “The dreams of little boys when we played hockey, the Saturday nights we spent watching him, every cut and check he endured, the advice he had for kids in hockey schools.
“He was a source of inspiration for thousands and thousands of young Quebecers like me, so the least I could do was come [and] I spent 10 hours waiting in line to pay my respects to No. 10.”
Godard and Stephane Malenfant, 61, from the Montreal suburb of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, arrived at 2 am ET to take their places at the front of the line.
Richard Langlois, 50, drove two hours from Sherbrooke. He fondly remembers playing Lafleur at Mont-Laurier in 1998 and will never forget having dinner with him afterwards.
“Like everybody says, he’s a simple guy and when you’re with him, you’re the most important person when you talk to him. And that’s what’s amazing about this guy, a big star and he doesn’t look like it.” when you talk to him,” Langlois said. “He would greet you and make you feel like you were the most special person in the world.
That’s Guy Lafleur.
Lafleur’s body lay Sunday at the Canadiens’ current home. Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988, Montreal selected him first overall in the 1971 NHL Draft and he played a pivotal role in the franchise’s five Stanley Cup championships (1973, 1976-79). . He spent the first 14 of his 17 NHL seasons with the Canadiens before playing for the New York Rangers in one and the Quebec Nordiques in the last two.
Canadiens alumni Yvon Lambert and Rejean Houle were touched by the magnitude of the display of affection for their teammate.
“What’s happening outside is unbelievable,” Lambert said. “That is the life of Guy Lafleur. The generosity, the kindness that he showed, that was something else. You see that today and you will see it again tomorrow and Tuesday. The organization has done a great job. The presence at the Bell Center It’s amazing. It’s beautiful, it’s extraordinary.”
“It’s Guy Lafleur!” Houle intervened.
Former Toronto Maple Leafs forwards Wendel Clark and Rick Vaive, Doug Gilmour, who played for the Maple Leafs and Canadiens, and former NHL player and current Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan also paid their respects.
“I think they are two organizations (the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs) that are fierce rivals on the ice, have been since the NHL began, but there is a deep, deep level of respect, not just for the Canadiens but for the Canadiens themselves. Guy”. Shanahan said. “And all four of us had a chance to play against him and there’s a tremendous amount of rivalry, competition and history between the Leafs and Montreal, but behind it all is respect.”
Sitting behind Lafleur’s coffin, which was appropriately adorned with flowers, was his family, and watching over him was the Stanley Cup. Along with the Cup were several NHL trophies, including the Art Ross, which Lafleur won three times as the NHL’s leading scorer, and the Hart Trophy, which he won twice as the League’s most valuable player.
His retired banner No. 10, which normally resides in the rafters, was lowered and illuminated, flanked by banners displaying images of the native of Thurso, Quebec.
At one point, a member of the Lafleur family took photos of three people paying their respects in pee-wee yellow Thurso hockey jerseys with Lafleur and the number 4 on the back, evoking the hockey team of his childhood.
“The image I have of Guy Lafleur is when he came down the right flank, (made a) slap shot and (scored) a goal,” Quebec Premier Francois Legault said. “He said what was on his mind and that got him into trouble from time to time, that happens to me too. ‘What you see is what you get,’ that was Guy Lafleur, and I think authenticity is something that made him loved by all Quebecers”.
Legault and Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante were among several dignitaries in attendance. Plante thanked the Lafleur family for opening her heart to allow Montrealers and Quebeckers from across the province to pay tribute to the hockey legend. Lafleur will be in state again on Monday before a state funeral is held at Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral on Tuesday.
“It’s very beautiful, it’s moving and it shows how much they loved Guy Lafleur,” Plante said. “I spoke to many citizens in recent days and many people wrote about how proud we were of Guy Lafleur. He was a proud man, he was a very proud, very talented hockey player, and he brought a lot of that pride to Quebecers that we all need.” .
“Losing him is sad, but he definitely touched a lot of people with his generosity, his authenticity, his passion and of course his talent.”