MONTREAL — For 10 minutes and 10 seconds, the fans roared relentlessly for No. 10. They bellowed at the top of their lungs, alternating between chants of "Guy! Guy! Guy!" and "Olé, Olé, Olé." They even refused to pause when Montreal Canadiens public service announcer Michel Lacroix asked for a moment of silence to honour the life of Guy Lafleur, who was taken too soon by cancer at age 70, just 37 years after playing his final game for the franchise he lived for.
The Canadiens — masters of ceremony — delivered. They took the advertisements off the boards and dressed them with Lafleur’s name, his autograph, his number, his lifespan (1951-2022) and their logo — all in black and white — and then they turned the house lights down, put three striking images of Lafleur up on the scoreboard, and superimposed a holographic image of his No. 10 over the big CH logo at centre ice.
The images of his Hall of Fame career ran while Ginette Reno’s breathtaking L’Essentiel blared out of the speakers. Frank Sinatra’s My Way was a seamless transition to his highlights, with the song hitting its crescendo right as the clip ran of Lafleur skating into the most memorable one-timer of his career — the one he took in 1979, at the Montreal Forum, in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semifinal, to tie things up at 4-4 and keep a dynasty alive against the visiting Boston Bruins, who were also incidentally at the Bell Centre on this night, standing by their bench, watching this ceremony and preparing to play the modern-day Canadiens.
Just 10 feet away sat Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, awestruck, staring up at the scoreboard and having their concept of what it means to be a Montreal Canadien redefined with every thunderous roar from the crowd.
Symbolically, the torch has been passed to them. It is a rite of passage through Canadiens lore, and one they couldn’t possibly comprehend quite as well before this night.
“They will after, though,” Lafleur’s former teammate, Réjean Houle, predicted an hour before the game.
“They’re going to understand,” he said after watching a rehearsal of the video tribute earlier in the day and knowing full well what type of reception Lafleur would receive once it ran.
“It’s going to be something special,” Houle added.
It was something more than that — especially for the young stars of the Canadiens who never watched Lafleur build such an enormous legacy that his number would be placed over the team’s iconic logo. It was an education.
“Guy never put himself above the Canadiens,” affirmed former captain and current ambassador Yvan Cournoyer, who, along with Houle, was among the many alumni seated right behind the team’s bench, wiping tears away as the fans chanted Lafleur’s name.
“None of these guys put themselves above the team, and I hope the kids know that’s how it has to be to win,” Cournoyer said before taking his chair in Canadiens owner Geoff Molson’s section.
Bob Gainey was close by. Guy Lapointe, Pierres Bouchard and Mondou, and Yvon Lambert (who scored the overtime winner against the Bruins in ’79 to send the Canadiens to battle the New York Rangers for their fourth consecutive Cup), too. And every time Suzuki, Caufield, and their teammates returned from a shift in this 5-3 loss to Boston, they were surrounded by greatness and reminded of the link they share with greats.
“I think you never want to take playing for the Montreal Canadiens for granted,” Suzuki said after scoring his 21st of the season to get his team to within one goal of the Bruins in the third period. “The most historic franchise in the league, all the jerseys in the rafters, all the players that came before us, and it’s truly an honour to play for those guys and carry the torch. So, for me, it’s never take a day for granted playing for this organization and how much the players mean to this city and how much we can inspire people around the city.”
It’s what both he and Caufield want to do for seasons to come — and certainly beyond this one, which has seen the Canadiens go from Stanley Cup finalists in 2021 to draft-lottery favourites in 2022.
Still, they’ve played hard down the stretch and played hard in this game of greater significance, hoping to continue making that sacred connection that Lafleur made with fans, both on and off the ice.
“I think that should be the goal every player that plays here,” Caufield said after the game. “The fans are just emotional, they want you to win, they want you to do your best.
“I know Guy was a warrior. He gave it his all every night. So, I think that’s something we can look up to and try and put forth our best effort every night and, every chance we get to put on the jersey, lay it all on the line and have no regrets.”
It’s what Jean Béliveau did, and Maurice Richard before him.
They, along with Lafleur, were royalty here; Quebec-born superstars who each scored 500 goals, won multiple Cups with the Canadiens, and made indelible marks in the community like no one else before them.
“There’s a certain group of those people here with the Canadiens who stand out head and shoulders above the rest of the great players that have played for the franchise over 100-plus years,” said Gainey. “It turned out to be such an enormous advantage for me to have time with some of those people as a teammate, or simply like Jean Beliveau—having to spend time with him in the hallway or in his office upstairs or in some other place where he could impart a little bit of his knowledge just in casual conversation. A personality like that, or Guy, makes you better, and then you try to impart that onto somebody else. And that’s what has helped this franchise be so great and so successful over a long period of time.”
That tradition continued last Tuesday, when Caufield had an encounter with Cournoyer, which was arranged by the Canadiens.
“I told him the other day, ‘You know what? It takes guys like you to win the Stanley Cup,’” Cournoyer said.
Can you imagine the impact of such a statement on this 21-year-old budding star?
“I mean, to hear that from him, it really goes a long way,” said Caufield. “To have someone like that, that’s won so many Cups and done all the right things in this city, it’ll for sure go a long way with me and it’s something that I’ll be humbled about.
“But it means a lot deep down, and it’s something that I can instill in my own career and hopefully give other guys the fire and the drive that I had.”
If you do it right, maybe you’ll build a legacy half as good as the one Lafleur left behind.
“I think if (the players) can take anything from this it’s: as good as a hockey player Guy was, he was a better person,” said Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis. “And I think if they did not know that, I hope they understand that. I think that’s so valuable … I think that’s very important, and I think our players understand that.”
Led by Brendan Gallagher, they gathered below Lafleur’s retired jersey and saluted it with their sticks before leaving the ice.
Guy! Guy! Guy! echoed once again throughout the building.