Yvan Cournoyer: "I'm going to start being alone a bit"

Yvan Cournoyer: “I’m going to start being alone a bit”

“Guy, he wanted to be part of the gang. That was what the world loved. »

Updated April 22

Guillaume Lefrancois

Guillaume Lefrancois
The Press

Thus Guy Carbonneau remembers Guy Lafleur. The blond Demon was part of the gang as long as his health allowed. On September 20, he felt fit enough to celebrate his 70th birthday at Vieux Four Manago, in Kirkland, a family restaurant near his home where he often went.

For two hours, there were a dozen of them talking around the table: former brothers in arms, his two sons, as well as Geoff Molson and France Margaret Bélanger, the organizers of the dinner.

“He still had a lot of hope, recalls Carbonneau, on the line. We live in a world where miracles happen sometimes and you hope it happens to you. He tried different treatments. He was like everyone else, he was resilient, he fought. But you could see it was difficult. »


Stéphane Richer, Mario Tremblay, Guy Lafleur and Guy Carbonneau, in 2010

Lafleur hung on much longer than you would have thought, before breathing his last on Friday, at the age of 70, from lung cancer.

Some emerge from anonymity overnight to become big stars. Lafleur was long awaited when he arrived at the Canadiens in 1971 as the first pick in the draft. He had just had a 130-goal season with the Quebec Remparts.

“I still remember his first training session with us in Verdun. I told myself that we had a good hockey player and that we would win several Stanley Cups with him. I wasn’t too wrong,” recalls Yvan Cournoyer.

With 50-goal seasons, he gradually established himself as a worthy successor to Jean Béliveau, who had just hung up his skates when Lafleur arrived.

“These guys came into the world with a natural talent, but they worked hard to improve it,” notes Serge Savard, Lafleur’s first-hour teammate in Montreal. Lafleur arrived at the arena at 2 p.m. for a game. We arrived at 5:30 a.m. and he was already soaking wet! »

Yvon Lambert describes Lafleur as “the best player in the world from 1975 to 1980”, a statement confirmed by the numbers. Between the 1975-76 and 1979-80 seasons, he ranked first in the NHL in goals (274), assists (373) and, of course, points (647).

Except that Lafleur also had the humility of a good teammate. “He always said, ‘It’s not just Lafleur that wins us, it’s 20 guys.’ Us, as teammates, it made us a velvet. When you are number 1 in the world, you are acclaimed everywhere, and we, as teammates, were proud of that. »

His achievements on the ice:

  • three Art-Ross trophies (best scorer)
  • two Hart Trophies (Most Valuable Player of the Season)
  • a Conn-Smythe trophy (most valuable player in the playoffs)
  • five Stanley Cups

His 1246 points are a team record since February 9, 1984 and we do not see, for the moment, the day when he will be beaten.

Despite his exploits, despite his status, Lafleur has always been close to the fans. “If there were 200 people at the reception, we signed 200 autographs, no question of missing one,” illustrates Yvon Lambert, Lafleur’s teammate within the dynasty of the 1970s.

“He didn’t take himself for another, he never said no to an autograph,” adds Savard.

Lafleur continued in this way despite the illness that overwhelmed him. Last March, he told us that he still answered all the mail he received.

“In the last year of his life, he left the Club des 10 to raise millions for the Fondation du CHUM. He made a difference all his life,” emphasizes Serge Savard.


Serge Savard, Guy Lafleur and Yvan Cournoyer in 1977, when number 10 won the Conn-Smythe trophy

“He was grateful to his fans,” adds Pierre Bouchard. He was a star, but not condescending. That’s why the Canadian kept him as an ambassador, even if Guy warmed his ears from time to time! He didn’t hesitate to say what he thought, a bit like Maurice Richard. »

Because yes, that was it too, Guy Lafleur. In politics, it is what is called, in a not very elegant way, a mother-in-law. Except that in Lafleur’s case, he was simply a man who was sorry to see his old team unable to reproduce the magic of yesteryear.

“He had no malice. But he had no filter, nuance Serge Savard. He was thinking of something and it was coming out like it was coming out. Sometimes it played tricks on him! Everyone knew that what he thought, he said. And he had the stature to say it. But he was a good person. That didn’t make him a bad person. »

Guy Carbonneau knows something about it. On November 26, 2007, he was the head coach of the Canadiens when an exasperated Lafleur triggered a storm. “In my book, there is no first line in Montreal. We have four fourth lines! “, he launches on the airwaves of RDS.

Carbonneau laughs when reminded of the incident. “Knowing the guy, you answer with a smirk. We all understood what he meant. Me, I have to dealer with the repercussions, but it’s the same for any instructor.

“When he believed in something, he wasn’t afraid to give his opinion,” continues Carbonneau. Did he always say the right thing? No. But he stood up, he said what and it stayed. »

It’s this Guy Lafleur, frank, humble, altruistic, who was treated to a beautiful celebratory dinner for his 70th birthday last fall.

He tried to continue his activities as best he could. In January, he appeared on the show The week of the 4 Julies, to greet Chantal Machabée. In the video recorded at his home, we see him emaciated, his head balding, but with his voice still assured.

His former teammate Steve Shutt saw him two weeks ago and thought he still looked good, so he didn’t expect him to go away so quickly. And last week, Lafleur took the call from our colleague from Montreal Journal Marc de Foy on the death of Mike Bossy. But his voice was weak.

Earlier this week, when the Canadiens hosted an alumni dinner at the Bell Centre, Lafleur wasn’t there. He no longer had the energy to be in the gang.

“Geoff Molson spoke with Réjean Houle, and we had a little while, we thought of Guy Lafleur, describes Lambert. Of course he would have liked to be with us. Unfortunately, he couldn’t because he was very unwell. At least we had a thought for him. »

“It’s like Mike Bossy, laments Guy Carbonneau. One day, we see him on TV, he smiles, and the next day, you hear the news and not long after, he is dead. Sometimes it goes fast. »

With his departure, the Canadian loses the third member of what many consider to be the Holy Trinity in the history of the team, along with Maurice Richard and Jean Béliveau. His loss comes on top of that of Henri Richard, the man with 11 Stanley Cups, two years ago.

There remains Yvan Cournoyer and his 10 Stanley Cups, still active, still available to answer the phone, who was just at the Bell Center this week to fraternize with Cole Caufield, in particular. And his former teammates.

“It’s like when Jean [Béliveau] left us… I had been to see Jean a few days before his death, Cournoyer said. There, I knew that Guy was leaving, but when that happens, it’s not funny.

“I’m going to start being alone a bit. »

With the collaboration of Simon-Olivier Lorange, The Press

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