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Guy Lafleur, five-time Stanley Cup champion with Montreal Canadiens, dies at 70

Montreal Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur has died, the team announced Friday. He was 70.

No cause of death was given, but Lafleur had announced his most recent right lung cancer diagnosis in October 2020. He had previously had a cancerous lobe removed from his left lung in 2019.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the death of Guy Lafleur,” Canadiens owner Geoff Molson said in a statement. “All members of the Canadiens organization are devastated by his passing. Guy Lafleur had an exceptional career and always remained simple, accessible, and close to the Habs and hockey fans in Quebec, Canada and around the world. Throughout his career, he allowed us to experience great moments of collective pride. He was one of the greatest players in our organization while becoming an extraordinary ambassador for our sport.”

The winger affectionately known as “The Flower” and “The Blond Demon” played 14 seasons with Montreal (1971-85) and was a cornerstone of five Stanley Cup-winning teams, including in 1977, when he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Lafleur was electric on the ice, becoming the first player in league history to produce six consecutive seasons with 50-plus goals and 100-plus points (1974-80).

During the height of his career in the 1970s, Lafleur was a three-time Art Ross Trophy winner as the NHL’s points leader, a two-time Hart Trophy winner as league MVP and a three-time winner of the Lester B. Pearson Award (now known as the Ted Lindsay) as most outstanding player according to the NHL Players’ Association.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman honored Lafleur’s unmistakable flair as a player.

“You didn’t need to see Guy Lafleur’s name and number on his sweater when ‘The Flower’ had the puck on his stick,” Bettman said in a statement. “As distinctively stylish as he was remarkably talented, Lafleur cut a dashing and unmistakable figure whenever he blazed down the ice of the Montreal Forum, his long blond locks flowing in his wake as he prepared to rifle another puck past a helpless goaltender — or set up a linemate for a goal.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a noted Canadiens fan, said Lafleur was “unlike anyone else on the ice.”

“His speed, skill, and scoring were hard to believe,” Trudeau said in a statement. “… My thoughts are with all who are mourning this tremendous loss — in Quebec, across Canada, and around the world. We’ll miss you, Number 10.”

Lafleur was hampered by injuries in the 1980s and butted heads with coach Jacques Lemaire when he took over during the 1983-84 season. The two had played together during some of the Canadiens’ best seasons of the 1970s but didn’t find the same common ground as coach and player. Lafleur asked Montreal general manager Serge Savard for a trade in 1985 and was denied. Lafleur ultimately decided to retire.

Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988, Lafleur that same year decided to unretire and return to the NHL for the New York Rangers. At the time, only Gordie Howe had ever gone back to the NHL after entering the Hall; Mario Lemieux did it years later.

After one season in New York, Lafleur moved on to spend two years with the Quebec Nordiques — where he mentored future star Joe Sakic — before finally hanging up his skates for good in 1991.

Born in Thurso, Quebec, Lafleur grew up idolizing Montreal legend Jean Beliveau. After a successful junior hockey career, Lafleur was drafted first overall by the Canadiens in 1971 and went on to become a franchise icon in his own right, with his No. 10 sweater retired by the team in 1985. He also had his number retired by the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in October.

LaFleur was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2019 when tumors were discovered by doctors performing emergency quadruple bypass heart surgery. Two months later, he went under the knife again to remove the upper lobe of his lung and some lymph nodes.

A chain smoker up until those health scares, Lafleur had been partnering with Merck Canada as part of its “Be The MVP” campaign to raise awareness about early lung cancer detection.

All told, Lafleur appeared in 1,126 NHL games with 560 goals and 1,353 points. In 2017, he was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players of All Time.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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