New Brunswickers remember hockey legend Guy Lafleur

·3 min read
Guy Lafleur and Steve Walton at the birthplace of hockey, Windsor, N.S. (Submitted by Steve Walton - image credit)
Guy Lafleur and Steve Walton at the birthplace of hockey, Windsor, N.S. (Submitted by Steve Walton - image credit)

As a child on his backyard rink, Steve Walton used to love pretending he was Guy Lafleur.

Wearing Lafleur's No. 10 on a Montreal Canadiens jersey, Walton used to "try to skate like him, shoot like him, score like him."

"I never imagined that I could be working with him 30 years later," said Walton, a Saint John businessman who brought dozens of former NHLers to New Brunswick through Legends of Hockey.

Walton started the tour in 2005 and has worked with 120 former hockey stars over the years. But it's Lafleur, his childhood idol, he calls "the most iconic name I've worked with over the years."

His hero lived up to all his childhood expectations "in every way," Walton said.

"He was just an old-school gentleman."

Submitted by Steve Walton
Submitted by Steve Walton

The Montreal Canadien, Hall-of-Famer and hockey legend has died. He was 70.

Walton said Lafleur was scheduled to come to New Brunswick in 2019, when a series of health problems sidelined his visit.

He first underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery before doctors discovered he had lung cancer.

Walton will always cherish the times he spent with Lafleur. He said the hockey great was generous with his time at all public appearances, staying to ensure everyone who wanted an autograph or photo got one.

And Lafleur was always a crowd favourite. At one event, Walton said, Lafleur received the longest standing ovation he had ever experienced.

"I didn't think it was going to stop," said Walton.

Submitted by Steve Walton
Submitted by Steve Walton

Lafleur was drafted by Montreal in 1971, the same year former Saint John sportscaster Jim Hennessy was born into an already Canadiens-crazy family.

Hennessy picked up on his father's love of the Habs, and Lafleur became his favourite player.

He was elevated to hero status when Hennessy met Lafleur at an event at the Lord Beaverbrook Rink when he was 10 or 12 years old.

The place was packed and Lafleur stood at centre ice, signing autographs for 90 minutes. He spent another hour shaking hands and chatting in the alleyway by the dressing rooms.

Submitted by Jim Hennessy
Submitted by Jim Hennessy

Hennessy said he had "the great pleasure to meet him as an adult."

"So I quickly turned into that seven-year-old boy that used to wear the Montreal Canadiens pyjamas on Saturday night watching the game. And we had a great chat. And again, he took way more time with me than he absolutely had to."

Hennessy remains impressed at how generous Lafleur was with his time.

"An amazing hockey player, but truly an amazing gentleman as well."

Hennessy said he was saddened by the news of Lafleur's death but comforted by all the stories that people are telling about his hockey hero and how much he meant to so many people.

'No helmet, hair flying'

As a lifelong Boston Bruins fan, it was easy to curse Lafleur but impossible to deny his talent, said former Telegraph-Journal sports writer Brad Janes.

He said Lafleur was "a majestic player."

"It was a different era — no helmet, hair flying," said Janes.

And like a lot of Bruins fans of the day, Janes blames Lafleur for knocking the Bruins out of the playoffs in the 1978-79 season.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press
Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

In the dying minutes of the game, the Canadiens were down by one, when Lafleur, with his trademark blond locks flowing in the breeze, scored on a power play, sending the game into overtime.

"Who else was going to score in those last erratic moments but Guy Lafleur?" said Janes.

To this day, Janes said, he has to look away whenever footage of that monumental goal is broadcast.

The Candiens would go on to win in overtime and beat the New York Rangers in five games to win the Stanley Cup, the team's fourth in a row.

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