Lafleur’s Funeral, Emotional Farewell to Canadiens Owner

Family, friends, former teammates and opponents and countless fans have struggled with the loss of the Canadiens icon, who died at age 70 on April 22, 31 months after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

Now, over the course of three days, thousands are preparing to bid an emotional farewell to one of the greatest players in NHL history, as they did in 2014 to the legendary Jean Beliveau and in 2000 for the immortal Maurice “Rocket” Richard.

“In my tenure as owner of the Canadiens (since 2009), some people have left us,” Molson told Wednesday. “But the two greats are Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur. The greatness, the meaning is very similar, but the feeling is very different.”

Guy Lafleur’s Bell Center flag is lit on April 24, two days after his death. At the top of this story: Geoff Molson, owner of Canadiens, with Lafleur in support of the Canadian Armed Forces circa 2015. Molson has this photo displayed in his Bell Center office.

The Bell Center will open its doors on Sunday and Monday for mourners to pay their last respects to Lafleur and his family. Tens of thousands of people are expected to make their way across the dimly lit floor of the arena to the coffin of the five-time Stanley Cup champion, a member of the Canadiens’ most recent dynasty in the late 1970s and arguably the most electrifying player of his generation.

There they can expect to meet Lafleur’s wife Lise, children Martin and Mark, and other members of his family.

There will be 12.5 hours of open house – 12:00pm to 8:00pm ET on Sunday, 10:30am to 3:00pm on Monday – before Lafleur’s national funeral on Tuesday, a short drive away at the Cathedral of Mary, Queen of the World.

Organized by the Government of Quebec and Canadiens, the 11 am ET service will be broadcast live in Canada in English and French and broadcast globally. Political and business leaders and sports figures will arrive at the church past a throng of fans gathered on the steps across the street from the Sun Life Building, the NHL’s first official headquarters, and near the former Windsor Hotel, where the League was born in 1917. .

Bell Center visit to the great Jean Beliveau of Montreal Canadiens on December 7, 2014.

In December 2014, a two-day visit to the Bell Center preceded the funeral of Beliveau, the illustrious Canadiens captain and 10-time Stanley Cup champion who, in some ways, remains the conscience of the only NHL team he played for. Beliveau’s funeral was also celebrated at Mary, Queen of the World, the 83-year-old man died after a long illness.

In May 2000, days after he died at age 78 of abdominal cancer, Richard was in state at the Bell Center for a two-day visit, the attacker’s dramatic funeral held at the historic Notre-Dame Basilica in Old Montreal.

Howie Morenz, the Canadiens’ first major star, was celebrated with a wake and funeral at the packed Montreal Forum on March 11, 1937; this came three days after the 34-year-old forward died of a coronary embolism, having broken his leg on the ice at the Montreal Forum five weeks earlier.

Morenz, Richard, Beliveau and Lafleur are the Canadiens cornerstone immortalized in a plaza outside the Bell Centre, their careers celebrated with four statues frozen in flight skating on massive granite bases.

Guy Lafleur’s Bell Center statue on April 24, two days after his death, with flowers left by fans.

Geoff Molson was born a year before Lafleur was selected No. 1 in the 1971 NHL Draft, picked by the Canadiens in a hotel ballroom a few blocks from where the Bell Center would open in 1996. He grew up to be a huge fan. do and, when buying the Canadiens in 2009 from George N. Gillett Jr., signed the idol of his youth to a 10-year contract, later extended, as a team ambassador, a role Lafleur embraced until his last days.

More than seven years ago, Molson oversaw Beliveau’s moving farewell. Today, he is preparing his emotions for another goodbye.

Five days after Lafleur’s death, the owner of Canadiens was speaking of the late legend partly in the present tense, as he had done in the days following Beliveau’s death.

“You can expect Guy’s visits to be very similar and just as impressive and important as Jean and Maurice’s, but with COVID safety present,” said Molson, whose family and business interests had full or partial ownership of the property. Canadiens for all but seven years since 1957.

Guy Lafleur receives a kiss from his mother, Pierrette, during his Canadiens Alumni Farewell Tour game in December 2010 in his hometown of Thurso, Quebec.

“Jean Beliveau was the supreme gentleman, someone who was respected in every community he crossed. But mostly he was known as the captain, the gentleman, whom everyone looked up to. Guy Lafleur was the eccentric and flamboyant man of the people who led his affairs as a true pro and was the best player on the best teams in the NHL and had a talent no one can replicate.

“That’s why Guy will be remembered – the talent, that extravagance. That was on ice. Off the ice was when I got to know him much, much better, like I did with Jean. You saw a person who like Jean was very approachable, but in a different way. Guy was someone who could walk into a room and strike up a conversation, tell jokes and feel like he was part of the party naturally. People really respected him for that. He was a real person.”

Richard had been the fire in the belly of eight champion teams, and Beliveau was the dashing leader who never had a hair or a foot out of place. Lafleur was seen by fans as the common man, a champion who spoke from the heart, regardless of reaction or consequences.

Guy Lafleur with the Canadiens ceremonial torch for the team’s 2013-14 debut at the Bell Centre.

His passion was such that he often strongly criticized the team that was paying him to be their ambassador.

“Guy is most respected for speaking exactly what’s on his mind,” Molson said. “He’s liked by people because all the time he’s speaking his truths. Usually he’s not far off. He just chooses to say it exactly as he is. That’s what Guy Lafleur was.

“While it can be frustrating for the organization to have to read about it or see it on TV, there’s no denying that Guy [was] speaking the truth. It’s something the Canadiens needed to appreciate. When I hired him for an extended contract as an ambassador, it was because of this appreciation for him and for being someone who would perfectly represent us as an organization.

“Compare your way of answering a question about the team’s performance, for example, with the way Jean Beliveau would answer. They would be completely different, but both important. For me, having Guy Lafleur inside our tent as an ambassador was a big deal. priority, but under no circumstances did I try to control what he said, that’s for sure.”

An emotional Geoff Molson begins his press conference on April 22, hours after Guy Lafleur’s death was announced.

Molson choked back tears at a press conference held hours after Lafleur’s death was announced. Four days before the start of the Bell Center visit, he was deeply introspective, considering what Lafleur meant to the team and to him.

In early April, less than two weeks before Lafleur was transferred to hospice care, Molson made a call to his suburban Montreal home with France Margaret Belanger, president of sports and entertainment at Groupe CH, its crown jewel being the Canadiens, and Rejean Houle, the former Canadiens alumni director who played with Lafleur on four championship teams.

“It was a very pleasant experience,” said Molson. “You never really know what you’re going to see or what it’s going to be like when you get there and look at Guy and talk to him. I hear he’s had high days and bad days. He’s on a good day, which was amazing.

“He was full of energy, still joking, telling stories, not complaining for a second. He was very positive. He was talking about having to change the flag on his pole this summer because it had been ripped by the wind during the winter. He said that his windows needed fixing, and that he was going to do that too.

“The guy was very upbeat, which led to us having a really nice conversation, some good laughs. He got up from the bed, which was in his living room at the end, and gave us a hug goodbye.”

Guy Lafleur, in his prime, races on Madison Square Garden ice against the New York Rangers.

Nearly four decades after his last game for the Canadiens in 1984, Lafleur remains the leader in points (1,246), assists (728), winning goals (94) and seasons of 40, 50 and 100 points. six each). His run across the Forum ice lifted fans from their seats, his sense of occasion and knack for scoring the most important goals a monument to his skill on the rink.

Molson has come to love all of that about Lafleur, but so much more.

“Guy’s numbers on the ice speak for themselves,” he said. “You can’t forget how much faster he was than anyone, how much more powerful his kick was than anyone and how much he worked on the ice all the time to win. He was a winner.

“One thing I hope people remember about Guy is that he was always dedicated to winning. And that he was dedicated to his community, whether it’s representing the Canadiens, his (CHUM) hospital where his cancer was treated, the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation and others… He was committed to supporting them in his own way, honestly and with a full commitment to doing the best.

“As an ambassador, Guy would empty the room with autographs, selfies, arguments and jokes. It wasn’t until the room was empty that he felt his job was done.”

Guy Lafleur before the 2017 Scotiabank NHL Classic between the Canadiens and Ottawa Senators with (from left) NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, singer Bryan Adams, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Trudeau’s son Xavier.

Lafleur often spoke of his love for his fans. Never will their love for him be stronger than in these three days.

“Like Jean’s, Guy’s is going to be a national funeral, so there will be certain protocols that we’re going to follow,” Molson said. “I think you can expect the structure of Guy’s funeral to be similar to Jean’s, but the content will be unique to him.”

Molson was heartbroken outside the Canadiens’ locker room as fans entered the Bell Center to pay their last respects to Beliveau. He said that his words that day, read back to him, apply perfectly to Lafleur now.

“It’s amazing how important Jean was to so many people,” Molson said in 2014. “Since he passed away, everywhere I look, people are still talking about it. Here we are five days later and people want remember Jean and talk about him and they’ll do that all day today and all day tomorrow. It’s going to be fantastic. And it’s going to be a fantastic funeral too. …

“I have no idea how many people will come. Whatever the number, it will be wonderful. And whoever comes here will see something special and remember it for a lifetime.”

Photos: Montreal Canadiens (courtesy of Geoff Molson; Noemie Provencher; Bob Fisher); Hockey Hall of Fame, Paul Bereswill; Getty Images; Dave Stubbs

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