Guy Lafleur (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
The Hall of Fame icon is at the Memorial Cup, celebrating the 1971 Remparts team that won it all. Here, Lafleur talks about who he likes to watch today and how teams tried to lure him from Quebec
QUEBEC CITY - Few players inspire as much awe in Quebec as Guy Lafleur, so it was no surprise that the Hall of Fame right winger was a popular man when his 1971 Remparts reunited for this year's Memorial Cup festivities. And since 'Le Demon Blonde' was one of the most electrifying players to ever lace up skates, it only made sense to ask him which current NHLers catch his eye.
“I like Crosby, I like Ovechkin," Lafleur said. "I like guys like Gallagher and Plekanec that put on a show every night and play to win.”
Since Lafleur had such an illustrious stay with the Montreal Canadiens, it's probably not that shocking that Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Plekanec made the list, but it's still cool to hear which Habs stick out for the legend.
Naturally, this Memorial Cup is special in Quebec City, since it's the last we'll see of Le Colisee, the building that Lafleur skated in as a member of the Remparts all those years ago. It's been an obvious theme to the festivities, but hearing the testimonial of a living legend puts the nostalgia in proper perspective.
“The atmosphere here was unbelievable," Lafleur said. "I don't think I saw that in the NHL or any place else. In the playoffs, people would sleep outside to get tickets and when we played outside of Quebec City, there would be six or seven buses following us. They were part of the team and the players were so proud.”
That 1971 Memorial Cup was a tense affair, since the Ontario League's (then the OHA) St. Catharines Black Hawks featured Quebec-born Marcel Dionne. The finish was controversial, but the Remparts emerged victorious. It was particularly satisfying for Lafleur, since he had been recruited by the Ottawa 67's and the Montreal Jr. Canadiens, who played in the OHA back then. Future NHL teammate Rejean Houle even gave his pitch for Montreal:
“He said there's only one league in junior hockey and it's the Ontario League," Lafleur said. "I said I'm happy in Quebec and I wanted to go back to Quebec City. But that was the mentality at the time."
The Remparts still had to prove themselves on the national stage, even with the talented Lafleur on their side.
“We were considered the black aces of junior hockey," he said. "They were saying that we couldn't compete with the Ontario teams or the teams from out West. But we proved that year that we could compete against anybody.”
And as Lafleur proved time and again in his career from that point on, not many players in the world could keep up with him.