Quebecers and hockey fans around the world gave Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur a final send-off, as the province held a national funeral in his honour.
Lafleur, who captured five Stanley Cup titles and was a hero in Quebec not only for his athletic prowess but also his kindness and generosity, died after a series of prolonged health issues, including lung cancer. He was 70.
The funeral for the man known affectionately as le Démon Blond took place at Mary Queen of the World Cathedral in downtown Montreal.
A choir performed as Lafleur’s casket — draped in the Montreal Canadiens flag — was carried to the front of the cathedral.
Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine presided over the funeral. Quebec icon Ginette Reno performed her 1991 hit song L’essentiel, modifying some of her lyrics to address the hockey legend.
Michel Lacroix, the Montreal Canadiens’ in-arena announcer, introduced several speakers throughout the ceremony. Many chose to wear a black and white pin with the number 10 on it, in honour of Lafleur’s jersey number.
Geoff Molson, the team’s owner, was the first to speak, followed by Lafleur’s longtime teammate and captain Yvan Cournoyer.
Cournoyer highlighted Lafleur’s love for hockey and how difficult it was for him to stay away from the game following his first retirement. He shared a story about how his friend, seemingly bored, had once cleaned his car three times in a single day.
Lafleur would eventually decide to end his retirement and resume his playing career.
“Guy left us too soon. But if he wants to make another comeback, you are more than welcome,” Cournoyer said, before beginning a chant of “Guy!” — a common cheer in Lafleur’s heyday — sparking a round of applause from the audience.
‘One of the boys’
Guy Carbonneau, another former Canadiens captain, shared stories about being a rookie on a team surrounded by Lafleur and other Habs greats who were already veterans at that point.
“When I got to my first training camp with the Canadiens, I had to pinch myself. From the first day, they put me [on a line] with Steve Shutt and Guy Lafleur,” Carbonneau said.
“From what I remember, I don’t believe I touched the puck a single time out of fear of disappointing them.”
Carbonneau described him as a superstar who was also “one of the boys.”
The funeral followed two days of public visitation at the Bell Centre, where thousands lined up for hours for a chance to pay their respects.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier François Legault were among the dignitaries who attended. They both addressed reporters prior to the ceremony.
“His contributions to the world around him were legendary and an inspiration to us all,” said Trudeau.
Legault said Lafleur was an “idol for the Quebec nation.”
“We were so proud that a guy coming from here was the best player in the world,” said the premier.
When the funeral procession arrived, a large crowd outside the cathedral began chanting Lafleur’s name. Many of them watched the ceremony on big screens setup outside.
Claude Benard, one of the fans outside the cathedral, recalled a short yet memorable interaction with the Habs great during the 1970s when he attended a Team Canada intrasquad game. He got to take a photo with Lafleur and also received his autograph.
“He signed so many autographs,” Benard said. “I think he has the world record of professional athletes.”
‘You’re a real one’
Lafleur’s hockey greatness, his charitable nature and his humility were common themes in Tuesday’s speeches.
Martin Lafleur, Guy’s son, said his father always remained humble despite his legendary status. His favourite memories with his father include going to practices at the old Montreal Forum, playing alongside his dad in games that featured other Habs legends and days spent barbecuing at home near the pool.
“Even if he would burn the hamburgers on the barbecue every time and blame, of course, the barbecue,” said Lafleur’s son.
Francine Barré, the Habs legend’s sister-in-law, began her speech by highlighting the “strength and courage” Lafleur’s widow, Lise, displayed during her husband’s battle with cancer.
She then lauded her brother-in-law for always being receptive to fans, no matter how many times he was approached for a picture or an autograph. In her eyes, Lafleur was a “diamond in the rough” that “no one succeeding in polishing.”
“And I tip my hat to him for that,” she said.
“Whether it was in his personal or professional life, Guy did things his way.”
Legendary Canadiens goaltender Patrick Roy likened his relationship with Lafleur to a hockey game featuring three periods: The first period being their brief time spent as teammates, the second being their time as opponents, and the third being their post-retirement friendship.
“In light of the huge void that your death has created, I admit that I would be up for an overtime [period],” Roy said. “Rest in peace, my friend. Everyone here knows you’re a real one.”