MONTREAL — For 10 minutes and 10 seconds, fans roared relentlessly for number 10. They bellowed loudly, alternating between chants of “Guy! Guy! Guy!” and “Ole, Oh, Ole. They even refused to stop when Montreal Canadiens public services commentator Michel Lacroix called for a minute’s silence to honor the life of Guy Lafleur, who was taken away too soon by cancer at age 70, just 37 years after playing his last game for the franchise he lived for.
The Canadians, masters of ceremonies, delivered. They took the advertisements off the signs and dressed them up with Lafleur’s name, autograph, number, lifespan (1951-2022) and their logo – all in black and white – then they turned off the lights of home, put three striking images of Lafleur on the bulletin board and superimposed a holographic image of his number 10 over the big CH logo in the middle of the rink.
Images of her Hall of Fame career have swirled around while Ginette Reno is jaw-dropping The essential sounds from the speakers. Frank Sinatra’s My Way was a smooth transition to his highlights, the song reaching its crescendo just as the clip showed Lafleur skating in the most memorable one-timer of his career – the one he took in 1979, at the Montreal Forum, in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semi-final, to even things up at 4-4 and keep a dynasty alive against the visiting Boston Bruins, who were also coincidentally at the Bell Center this that evening, standing by their bench, watching this ceremony and preparing to face today’s Canadiens.
Just 10 feet away were Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield in awe, staring at the scoreboard and seeing their concept of what it means to be a redefined Montreal Canadiens with every thunderous roar from the crowd.
Symbolically, the torch has been passed to them. It’s a rite of passage through the tradition of Canadians, and one they couldn’t understand so well before that night.
“They will do it after,” predicted former Lafleur teammate Réjean Houle an hour before the game.
“They’re going to get it,” he said after watching a repeat of the video tribute earlier in the day and knowing full well what kind of reception Lafleur would receive once it aired.
“It’s going to be something special,” added Houle.
It was something more than that, especially for young Canadiens stars who never saw Lafleur build a legacy so huge that his number would be placed on the team’s iconic logo. It was an education.
“Guy never put himself above the Canadiens,” said former captain and current ambassador Yvan Cournoyer, who, along with Houle, was among many alumni sitting just behind the team’s bench, wiping tears away. as fans chanted Lafleur’s name.
“None of those guys put themselves above the team, and I hope the youngsters know that’s how it has to be to win,” Cournoyer said before taking a seat in the section of Canadiens owner Geoff Molson.
Bob Gainey was close by. Guy Lapointe, Pierres Bouchard and Mondou, and Yvon Lambert (who scored the winner in overtime against the Bruins in 1979 to send the Canadiens to face the New York Rangers for their fourth consecutive Cup) as well. And every time Suzuki, Caufield and their teammates returned from a shift in that 5-3 loss to Boston, they were surrounded by greatness and reminded of the bond they share with the greats.
“I think playing for the Montreal Canadiens should never be taken for granted,” Suzuki said after scoring his 21st of the season to bring his team within a goal of the Bruins in the third period. “The most historic franchise in the league, all the jerseys in the rafters, all the players who have come before us, and it’s truly an honor to play for these guys and carry the torch. So for me, it never takes a day for granted to play for this organization and how much the players mean to this city and how much we can inspire people in the city.
That’s what he and Caufield want to do for the coming seasons – and certainly beyond this one, which has seen the Canadiens go from Stanley Cup finalists in 2021 to lottery favorites in 2022.
Still, they played hard down the stretch and played hard in this all-important game, hoping to continue that sacred bond Lafleur established with the fans, both on and off the ice.
“I think that should be the goal of every player who plays here,” Caufield said after the game. “The fans are just emotional, they want you to win, they want you to do your best.
“I know Guy was a warrior. He gave his all every night. So, I think it’s something that we can look up to and try to do our best every night and, every chance we get to put on the jersey, put it all on the line and not regret it.
This is what Jean Béliveau did, and Maurice Richard before him.
They, along with Lafleur, were royalty here; Quebec-born superstars who have each scored 500 goals, won several cups with the Canadiens and left indelible marks in the community like no one else before them.
“There is a certain group of these people here with the Canadiens who stand head and shoulders above the rest of the great players who have played for the franchise for over 100 years,” Gainey said. “It turned out to be a huge benefit for me to have time with some of these people as a teammate, or just as Jean Beliveau – having to hang out with him in the hallway or in his upstairs office. or some other place where he could pass on some of his knowledge just in casual conversation. A personality like that, or Guy, makes you better, and then you try to pass that on to someone else. And that’s what has made this franchise so great and so successful over a long period of time.
That tradition continued last Tuesday, when Caufield had a meeting with Cournoyer, which was arranged by the Canadiens.
“I said to him the other day, ‘You know what? It takes guys like you to win the Stanley Cup,” Cournoyer said.
Can you imagine the impact of such a statement on this budding 21-year-old star?
“I mean, hearing that from him, it really goes a long way,” Caufield said. “To have someone like that, who has won so many Cups and done all the right things in this city, that’s definitely going to go a long way with me and that’s something I’ll be humbled by.
“But it means a lot to me deep down, and it’s something that I can infuse into my own career and hopefully give other guys the fire and motivation that I had.”
If you do it right, you may be building a legacy half as good as the one Lafleur left behind.
“I think if (the players) can take anything away from that, it’s: as good as a hockey player was, Guy was a better person,” said Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis. “And I think if they didn’t know that, I hope they understand that. I think that’s so valuable…I think that’s very important, and I think our players understand that.
Led by Brendan Gallagher, they gathered under Lafleur’s retired jersey and waved their sticks before leaving the ice.
Dude! Dude! Dude! echoed once more throughout the building.