MONTREAL - Montreal Canadiens fans rallied behind hockey legend Guy Lafleur on Thursday as the Hall of Famer turned himself over to police amid accusations he gave contradictory testimony at his son's bail hearing last year.
With news of his impending arrest splashed all over the front pages of the city's dailies, Habs fans pledged nothing but support for their embattled hockey hero.
"He's a father and every father will protect his children," Alexandre Beaulieu said as he walked past the Bell Centre.
"He might have stepped out of line a little bit, but they (the Crown) should have been aware of that, that a father could do that."
Lafleur's son, Mark Lafleur, faces more than 20 criminal charges, including sexually assaulting a minor, armed assault, uttering threats and forcible confinement. The alleged incidents took place between 2004 and 2007.
The elder Lafleur testified in October that his son was respecting a court-ordered curfew while in his parents' custody.
But Lafleur later admitted he drove his son to hotels to spend the night with his 16-year-old girlfriend.
Meanwhile, the city's hockey fans expressed disbelief over the accusations and the need for an arrest warrant, which was issued Wednesday.
Sarah Downer said the warrant was "overkill" because Lafleur would never try to skip town.
"He's not somebody who's about to flee the country," said Downer as she visited the Canadiens boutique at the Bell Centre.
"He's too high profile. I think he's been a good guy, a caring father and I think it's a shame."
Martin Ladouceur, an electrician working outside the arena, said Lafleur has always kept his nose clean.
"I didn't think it was fair," Ladouceur said of the warrant.
"Normally, you don't do that. He's not a nobody, he's Guy Lafleur. He's a well-known person. He's not going to hide."
The legendary winger was expected to hand himself over to authorities on Friday, but showed up at the Montreal police department a day early.
Family lawyer Jean-Pierre Rancourt said Lafleur wanted to put an end to the intense media coverage.
"Guy called me at noon and he said that he was a little bit fed up with all the publicity (of his warrant) around North America," Rancourt said Thursday.
"He wanted to settle this today."
Rancourt said he and Lafleur were shocked by the arrest warrant.
A summons to appear in court would have been sufficient, he said.
"He's feeling very bad about that," the lawyer said.
"First of all, he feels he didn't do anything wrong, and secondly, the most important thing is the arrest warrant. We feel it wasn't necessary in this case."
Lafleur was given an unconditional release on a promise to appear at the Montreal courthouse on Feb. 7, his lawyer said.
Rancourt said he will look into whether he can use the warrant as part of the defence. The lawyer is also confident about Lafleur's overall chances.
"I know that it's a very difficult case for the Crown," he said.
Meanwhile, assistant police director Jean-Guy Gagnon told all-news network LCN that Lafleur was ordered to turn himself in because it was quicker than a summons, which usually takes three months.
The younger Lafleur has been behind bars since his arrest in September for violating his original bail conditions. He trial is scheduled for March.
Mark Lafleur suffers from Tourette's syndrome, Rancourt said. Tourette's is a neurological disorder that causes physical and vocal tics and can also leave one prone to sudden, aggressive verbal tirades.
Guy Lafleur, 56, scored 560 goals and 793 assists in 1,126 games with the Canadiens, New York Rangers and Quebec Nordiques. He won five Stanley Cups with the Canadiens.
Downer, meanwhile, remembers what the speedy winger brought to the fabled Montreal Forum.
"He was fantastic," she recalled. "Whoosh, down the ice. He was an exciting player to watch."