Whether you grow up a fan of the Vancouver Canucks, Detroit Red Wings, or St. Louis Blues, we all have them. Star players that seem untouchable, mystical, other worldly. For me growing up watching the Montreal Canadiens on Hockey Night in Canada every weekend and seeing them win four Stanley Cups between 1976 and 1979, that player was Guy Lafleur.
Flying down the wing, the hair trailing, the slapper, the great moves, Lafleur was exotic. He was the rock star on hockey’s greatest team, the distant and dominant French-speaking Habs. They were as frustrating as they were endearing because they were so good. Your team wasn’t going to beat them.
By the time I met Guy LaFleur it had been thirty years since I covered my first National Hockey League game as a teenager. I had interviewed Gretzky a couple of times, neato, had my actual life hero Gordie Howe making cameos on my TV show about five times, unreal, and had even done an interview and some shtick, believe it or not, with legendary Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden.
Yet I had never met or interviewed “Flower”.
There was a difference.
Funny how that works. Having interviewed dozens of Hockey Hall of Famers in person, whether for TV or for writing purposes, I had never once been phased or nervous. They’re mostly just regular guys who happen to be really good at hockey.
Somehow this was different. It was Lafleur.
It definitely had something to do with childhood hockey fandom, and the pedestal-putting that we go through with certain athletes or movie stars. Gordie was ours, he was accessible, he was the greatest, but he was humble, anglo Gordie.
Lafleur was a king from what seemed like a faraway place with strange sounding names.
I was casually going about my pre-game business during the 2005-’06 season at the Bell Centre before a Boston Bruins, Canadiens game when we discovered Guy was in the building and would be doing a media chat.
Oh my god. Guy Lafleur.
I’m pretty sure my hand was shaking a little bit. I actually turned to our camera guy, I think it was the late, great John Martin, while holding a mic in front of Lafleur’s face, and mouthed/whispered “dude, it’s &%$# Guy Lafleur”.
I had made it somehow. Not from the business standpoint, just in some weird hockey, team sport kind of way.
Having played multiple sports on multiple teams, I guess for me the Habs had represented the ultimate team in the ultimate sport. And Guy Lafleur was the man.
Just four years ago, I was fortunate to be invited to the 75th anniversary of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. At it, I ran into Guy. Mr. Lafleur actually. We had a nice chat and took that photo. He was still on a different plane.
While all others in hockey just feel like peers, he still held a certain je ne sais pas.
I also recall then, reports of Lafleur already being a bit ill.
Now, he’s gone, and with him a part of my adolescence. An unforgettable hockey hero to millions. The rock star.