Montreal Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur is being remembered at a national funeral as a warm and generous person who inspired generations of Quebecers both on and off the ice.
Teammates Yvan Cournoyer and Larry Robinson were among the first to play tribute to the Habs legend, who died last month 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."
Canadiens president Geoff Molson thanked Lafleur for inspiring three generations of fans. He described Lafleur as a player who had time for everyone, especially his fans, as well as "the best player on the best team in the world."
The final farewell to Lafleur began at 11 a.m. inside Mary Queen of the World Cathedral in downtown Montreal.
Those attending include Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Quebec Premier François Legault, and many current and former Montreal Canadiens hockey players.
Fans lined the barricades that blocked off the streets outside the church, many wearing Lafleur's number 10 jersey in tribute to one of the game's biggest stars. They broke into chants of “Guy! Guy! Guy!” as the casket, which was draped in the Canadiens’ flag, was unloaded from a black hearse ahead of the ceremony after a procession that began at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens' home arena.
Serge Savard, Lafleur’s friend and former teammate, said ahead of the ceremony that even though Lafleur was the league's top scorer and best player, he always put the 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 everything he did.
"All the wins, all the inspiration, the incredible games, but also his humanity," Trudeau said. "His contribution to the world around him was legendary and an inspiration to us all."
Nicknamed "The Flower" and "Le Démon Blond," Lafleur was an NHL Hall of Famer and five-time Stanley Cup champion, having played for the Canadiens, New York Rangers and Quebec Nordiques.
The Canadiens hockey club said in a statement the Lafleur family accepted a national funeral as a way to share its grief with the community out of respect for the public who have supported Lafleur over the years.
Thousands of people have paid tribute to Lafleur over the past two days as he was lying in state at the Bell Centre.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 3, 2022.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press