NHL-Montreal Canadiens great Guy Lafleur dies at 70

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(Reuters) -Guy Lafleur, a Hockey Hall of Fame ice hockey player who won five Stanley Cups during a storied 17-year NHL career spent primarily with the Montreal Canadiens, has died at the age of 70, his former team said on Friday.

Lafleur, who began his NHL career with the Canadiens in 1971, was one of the most prodigious scorers and most exciting players of his generation, or any other.

A cause of death was not disclosed.

"We are deeply saddened to learn of the death of Guy Lafleur," Canadiens' President Geoff Molson said in a news release.

"Throughout his career, he allowed us to experience great moments of collective pride. He was one of the greatest players in our organization while becoming an extraordinary ambassador for our sport."

Lafleur, easily recognizable given his long, blond hair that flowed as he rushed up the ice, captured the imaginations of the hockey world with a trademark smooth skating style and scoring touch that made him a threat most every shift.

Known as one of the greatest right wingers ever to play the game and one of the most exciting offensive players of all time, Lafleur - nicknamed "The Flower" - was also the first to score at least 50 goals and 100 points in six consecutive seasons.

Lafleur spent the first 14 years of his NHL career with the Canadiens and remains the franchise's all-time leading scorer with 1,246 points.

After a three-year retirement, Lafleur played with the New York Rangers for one season and the Quebec Nordiques for two and his 1,353 career points rank 29th on the all-time list.

"You didn't need to see Guy Lafleur's name and number on his sweater when 'The Flower' had the puck on his stick," National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.

"As distinctively stylish as he was remarkably talented, Lafleur cut a dashing and unmistakable figure whenever he blazed down the ice of the Montreal Forum, his long blond locks flowing in his wake as he prepared to rifle another puck past a helpless goaltender – or set up a linemate for a goal."

COVETED PROSPECT

Born in Thurso, Quebec, Lafleur fell in love with the game at a young age and at times even slept in his hockey equipment to make his trip to the arena in the morning easier.

Lafleur went on to become the top junior player in Canada and was the most coveted prospect in hockey after recording a staggering 130 goals and 209 points in his final amateur season.

The Canadiens went to great lengths to ensure the premiere talent ended up on their roster and traded several skilled players to ensure Lafleur would enter the NHL wearing the bleu-blanc-rouge as the first-overall draft pick in 1971.

Lafleur did not disappoint as he scored 29 goals in his rookie year and blossomed in the 1974-75 campaign when he more than doubled the previous season's numbers with 53 goals and 66 assists.

In addition to his five Stanley Cup championships, Lafleur won the Art Ross Trophy three times as the NHL's top scorer, the Hart Memorial Trophy twice as the league's Most Valuable Player and on three occasions earned the Lester B. Pearson Award, given to the league's top performer as judged by his playing peers.

In 1977, Lafleur recorded 26 playoff points and earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason MVP as Montreal won the second of four consecutive Stanley Cups.

Last month, Lafleur was named to the Order of Hockey in Canada as a Distinguished Honouree for 2022 and was supposed to be recognized for his contributions to the sport during a June event.

Lafleur was also appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1980, had his No. 10 retired by the Canadiens in 1985 and was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players during the league's centennial celebration in 2017.

"I was saddened to hear of the passing of hockey legend, Guy Lafleur," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement. "He was unlike anyone else on the ice – his speed, skill, and scoring were hard to believe."

Lafleur underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery in 2019 followed shortly after by lung surgery. In 2020 he received news that the lung cancer had returned.

Lafleur is survived by his wife Lise and two sons.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, additional reporting by Tommy LundEditing by Christian Radnedge and Chris Reese)

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