Montreal Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur was remembered at a national funeral Tuesday as a father, a teammate and a person of exceptional generosity who inspired generations of Quebecers both on and off the ice.
Chants of “Guy! Guy! Guy!” could be heard as the casket was taken from a black hearse ahead of the ceremony at Mary Queen of the World cathedral after a procession that began at the Canadiens’ home arena.
From the red, white and blue Canadiens flag draping the coffin to the jerseys in the pewsand the Stanley Cup-winning attendees, the ceremony was infused with nods to the world of hockey and the team that Lafleur led to some of its greatest triumphs.
Michel Lacroix, the Canadiens announcer, lent his familiar voice to the proceedings as he introduced speakers by Hall of Fame status, Stanley Cups won and jersey number.
Habs legends Yvan Cournoyer, Larry Robinson, Guy Carbonneau and Patrick Roy were among the first to pay tribute to Lafleur, who died April 22 at age 70 after battling lung cancer.
“Guy once said, ‘Play every game as if it is your last one,’” Robinson said. “Nobody embodied that philosophy better than Guy. Not only did he play each game to the fullest, he tried to live his life to the fullest off the ice as well.”
Carbonneau recounted showing up at his first Canadiens training camp and having to pinch himself when he was put on a line with his childhood idol. At that point, Lafleur had won four consecutive Stanley Cups as well as a host of individual awards.
“In spite of that, he did everything in his power to make me feel at home,” the former captain said. “That was Guy Lafleur, a superstar but also one of the boys. He was one of the most generous and accessible people I ever met.”
Roy, for his part, drew a laugh when he recalled Lafleur’s return to the Montreal Forum in 1989, after Lafleur came out of retirement to play for the New York Rangers. “It was so magical that when he scored two goals on me, I got an ovation,” he said.
Those attending included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Quebec Premier François Legault, and many current and former Montreal Canadiens hockey players. Quebec singer Ginette Reno also performed.
The Catholic ceremony was led by Archbishop Christian Lépine, who began by expressing his condolences to Lafleur’s wife Lise, his sons Mark and Martin, his mother Pierrette and his granddaughter and sisters.
Hymns played as the casket was carried by family members and former teammates to sit in front of the altar, which was decorated with white flowers.
Lafleur’s son Martin described his father as someone who always made time for his family and who wanted to take care of everyone, “even people he didn’t know.”
He told the crowd that his father wasn’t perfect but did everything he could to ensure his family was happy and lacked nothing. “Thank you for all the values you passed on to us, Dad,” he said. “We love you.”
Canadiens president Geoff Molson thanked Lafleur for inspiring three generations of fans and always making time for others. In later years, he said, Lafleur was ready to lend a hand, whether it came to attending team events, travelling overseas to support the military or fundraising for hospitals and children in need.
Hundreds of fans lined the barricades that blocked off the streets outside the church on Tuesday morning, many wearing Lafleur’s number 10 jersey in tribute to one of the game’s biggest stars. They watched the ceremony on giant screens and chanted their idol’s name at the end of the ceremony, which was marked by a flyby of Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18s.
Montrealer Sebastien Martin was among those who woke up early to secure a prime spot outside the service for a player he described as “perfection.” The lifelong Habs fan proudly lifted hisred jersey to show two tattoos honouring the Canadiens.
“Guy Lafleur is immortal,” Martin said. “His body may be gone today, but his spirit is immortal.”
Serge Savard, Lafleur’s friend and former teammate, said ahead of the ceremony that even though Lafleur was the league’s top scorer, he always put his team first.
“He was a team guy. He never felt bigger than the team,” Savard said outside the church. “He was a great, humble superstar.”
Savard said Lafleur “made a difference everywhere he went,” noting that he had raised funds for the hospital that treated him in the last months of his life.
Trudeau, who arrived with his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, said the funeral was an opportunity to thank Lafleur for both his on-ice accomplishments and his “deep humanity.”
“His contribution to the world around him was legendary and an inspiration to us all,” Trudeau said.
Nicknamed “The Flower” and “Le Démon Blond,” Lafleur was an NHL Hall of Famer and five-time Stanley Cup champion, having played most of his career for the Canadiens before making a comeback with the Rangers and later the Quebec Nordiques.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 3, 2022.
— With files from Virginie Ann
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press