Geoff Molson took a few moments to compose himself before making his opening statements eulogizing Guy Lafleur.
Few could blame the Canadiens president for doing so, either.
Lafleur, who tragically passed away on Friday morning at the age of 70, was more than a mere hockey player. He was a force of nature — one of the first true superstars of the modern NHL whose trademark flash, both on and off the ice, elevated him to the status of idol for an entire generation of fans. The records, accolades, and Stanley Cups were one thing. But Lafleur’s stature within the Canadiens fanbase was truly unique to behold, a larger-than-life figure who made hockey, for lack of a better term, cool.
“It’s tough,” Molson said, fighting back tears before the sea of reporters who, frankly, were very likely doing the same, too.
“He’s an integral part of our organization. And he’s not with us anymore.”
The significance that the Canadiens organization holds within its local community is unlike that of any other franchise on either side of the border. To Quebecers, the Canadiens are a religion. And for the first 14 years of his NHL career, Lafleur was a deity.
“No matter which part of the province you’re from, the feeling is that Quebecers own this team and it belongs to them” explained Molson.
“Guy Lafleur represented that perfectly. Because, no matter where he went, he represented people who love this team. And I think it was so appreciated that he was that way”
The Canadiens hold the vaunted legacy they do within the NHL’s history in large part due to the hand Lafleur played in building it. Lafleur helped lead the Canadiens to five Stanley Cups during his time in Montreal, along the way earning six consecutive first-team All-Star nods, two Hart Trophies, three Art Ross Trophies, three Lester Pearson Awards, and the Conne Smythe in 1976-77 as part of what many consider to be the best team in league history.
Lafleur’s impact on the most fruitful era in the Canadiens’ century-plus history will stand forever. And that impact is not lost amongst the team’s current players.
“He’s a special person who meant a lot to a lot of people,” said Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher on Friday.
“We’re really proud to wear this logo in large part due to individuals like Guy Lafleur. He was a special player who found a way to have such an impact on so many lives. It’s a tough day for the organization, for sure”
To Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis, a Quebec native whose adolescence overlapped with the heart of Lafleur’s time in Montreal, today’s loss hits even closer to home.
“For me, you lose my first hero,” explained a visibly emotional St. Louis.
“I got to befriend Guy a little bit. It’s not like we were close or anything, but I shook his hand a few times. And his presence at my mom’s funeral, you become to really understand the human and how nice of a guy he is.”
“There’s people who have an impact on you without doing much. Just by watching how they behave and how they go about their business. So, I learned a lot from Guy that day he was at my mom’s funeral. And he’s just a great example”
Unfortunately, the reality of Lafleur’s declining health had been apparent to those within the Canadiens’ organization for quite some time. That time, however, gave Molson and the rest of the Canadiens’ staff the luxury of preparing themselves for this tragic inevitability and to ensure that their hero is honored the way he deserves.
“We’re not prepared to share what we’ve planned,” explained Molson of the Canadiens’ plans to memorialize Lafleur in the near future.
“But I can assure, in the Montreal Canadiens’ way, it will be special.”
A special remembrance of a special man.