Montreal Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur, one of the greatest players of his generation, has died.
The team confirmed the Hall of Famer’s death Friday. Lafleur was 70 years old.
“The Flower” was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2019 when tumours were discovered by doctors performing emergency quadruple bypass heart surgery.
Two months later, the Hockey Hall of Fame winger went under the knife again to remove both the upper lobe of his lung and lymph nodes.
Lafleur, however, received bad news in October 2020 that the cancer was back, forcing him to resume his treatment.
“I get the immunotherapy the first three weeks, and then the fourth week I have the big chemo,” Lafleur said in an interview with The Canadian Press in November.
“It’s the chemotherapy that really hurts you badly.”
Quebec Premier François Legault paid tribute to Lafleur, a native of Thurso, Que., on Twitter.
“Quebec has lost a giant,” Legault said. “I want to offer my most sincere condolences to his family and his loved ones. All of Quebec is thinking of you. Guy Lafleur is one of our legends. He left a mark on an entire generation of Quebecers. He made us dream. He made us win.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a noted Canadiens fan, said Lafleur was “unlike anyone else on the ice.”
“His speed, skill, and scoring were hard to believe,” Trudeau posted on Twitter. “A record-setter and a five-time Stanley Cup champion, he inspired countless Quebecers, Canadians, and hockey fans around the world.
“We’ll miss you, Number 10.”
Lafleur’s family released a statement earlier this month thanking fans for their empathy and “the outpouring of love” shown the Canadiens’ great, adding that he was being monitored closely by doctors and had occasional hospital checkups, but was at home.
The No. 1 pick in the 1971 NHL draft, Lafleur registered 518 goals and 728 assists for 1,246 points in 14 seasons with Montreal.
Lafleur added 133 points (57 goals, 76 assists) in 124 playoff contests for the Canadiens, helping them win the Cup in 1973, and then again four more times from 1976 to 1979.
Lafleur, who retired from the NHL in 1985 after Montreal denied his request for a trade, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988. But he made a comeback later that year with the New York Rangers and then played two more seasons with the Quebec Nordiques before hanging up his skates for good in 1991.
Named one of the NHL’s 100 greatest players of all-time in 2017, Lafleur finished with a career total of 560 goals and 793 assists for 1,353 points in 1,126 games in his 17 seasons.
He holds the Canadiens’ all-time record for assists and points, tied Steve Shutt for the most goals in a single season with 60, and scored at least 50 times in six straight campaigns from 1974-75 to 1979-80.
Lafleur won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer three straight years from 1976 to 1978, the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 1977 and 1978, and the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1977.
A three-time winner (1976 to 1978) of the Ted Lindsay Award – known as the Lester B. Pearson Award at the time – as league MVP as voted on by members of the NHL Players’ Association, he was also part of the Canadian team that hoisted the 1976 Canada Cup.
Lafleur underwent his quadruple bypass surgery in September 2019 after it was discovered four of his coronary arteries were fully blocked, and a fifth was clogged close to 90 per cent, during a routine medical exam to have his helicopter pilot’s license renewed.
Once the cancer was discovered, he had one-third of his right lung removed by doctors two months later.
A chain smoker up until those health scares, Lafleur had been partnering with Merck Canada as part of its “Be The MVP” campaign to raise awareness about early lung cancer detection.
“There’s not too many people that have a chance to grab it from the beginning,” Lafleur said in his November interview with CP. “Most people when they find out, it’s Stage 4.
“It’s not too late, because there’s miracles out there, and there’s people that are surviving.”
Lafleur, who had his No. 10 sweater retired by the Canadiens in 1985, hadn’t been out in public much in recent years following his cancer diagnosis and the COVID-19 pandemic, but did get a thunderous ovation at the Bell Centre during Montreal’s improbable run to last season’s Cup final.
He also had his number retired by the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in October.
“I’ve been mostly stuck in the house since 2019,” Lafleur said in November. “Mentally, it’s tough. Hopefully I get through this and get out of it with a victory.
“It’s the hope for everybody that has cancer.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published April 22, 2022.
Banner image: Wayne Gretzky of the Edmonton Oilers (L) and Montreal Canadiens Guy Lafleur are seen here during a break in their light skate at the first day of training camp for Team Canada in Montreal, Aug. 10, 1981. (CP PHOTO/Ian MacAlpine)