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Lafleur helps fellow cancer patients on Canadiens legend's day with Cup

Five-time champion making most of 'borrowed time'

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

Guy Lafleur has cradled the Stanley Cup in his arms more times than he can count. 

The Montreal Canadiens icon has spent time with the priceless trophy at black-tie events and at casual affairs, with captains of industry and captains of peewee teams, at gourmet banquets beneath cathedral ceilings and under the vinyl roofs of party tents with hot dogs and burgers on the menu.

On Sunday, under a cloudless sky, Lafleur welcomed the Stanley Cup to his home in the suburbs west of Montreal, and never had hockey's holy grail meant more to him. Never was the trophy more lustrous, never was its personal significance in sharper focus.

Every three weeks since January, the 69-year-old Canadiens legend has arrived at a Montreal hospital for a round of cancer treatment, 10 minutes of chemotherapy followed by 30 minutes of immunotherapy. A day earlier, he would have gone for a blood test to prepare for the session.


Guy Lafleur's time with the Stanley Cup on June 6 included an event to help promote his cancer-research fund.


For a time, he was getting radiation therapy, cancer having metastasized from his lungs to his ribs. He says that doctors are happy with how he's responding to that aggressive treatment.

Lafleur never knows how he'll react to the chemo and immunotherapy, which as part of his two-year program is scheduled to continue every three weeks for another 18 months, with scans performed every eight weeks.

Early on, he'd be flattened by it, needing to sleep 18 or 20 hours the following day. The last few treatments, he said with relief, have taken less of a toll.


Video: The hockey world sends its support to Guy Lafleur


It's been a tremendously challenging road since September 2019, when a routine checkup revealed that Lafleur had four almost fully blocked coronary arteries. Lung cancer was detected during his emergency bypass surgery, but it would be two months before he was strong enough for surgeons to remove one-third of his right lung.

Lafleur was on the road back a few months later, slowly returning to his public life, when his cancer reappeared last October. The radiation, chemo and immunotherapy have been a part of his days since January.

With a compromised immune system during the COVID-19 pandemic, Lafleur was very careful being out in public during the early days of his treatment. Gradually, he's been doing a little more of what he not only loves but considers his responsibility.

"I miss doing what I do best -- promotions, meeting fans, going to banquets, different charity events to raise money for others," he said of following in the enormous footsteps of his late friend and idol Jean Beliveau, the Canadiens' greatest captain. "That's what I've been doing all my life. That's what I'm missing. You don't want to be home looking at the four walls."


Guy Lafleur early in the 1970s at the Montreal Forum, and speaking at his Hockey Hall of Fame induction in 1988.


Lafleur was a few days past his eighth treatment when the Stanley Cup arrived at his home Sunday, the first time he'd had the trophy for himself, at least legally. 

In 1978, while the Canadiens celebrated their third of four consecutive championships (Lafleur's fourth of his five), Lafleur hatched an elaborate plan to kidnap the trophy from the trunk of the car of public relations director Claude Mouton, parked outside the downtown Montreal tavern of team legend Henri Richard. From there, he smuggled it to Thurso, Quebec, to the delight of his hometown, and to his own suburban Montreal backyard. 

That was 15 years before the tradition began to give a victorious player a day with the trophy.

About a decade ago, the Cup and individual trophies Lafleur won during his Hockey Hall of Fame career made a quiet appearance at a restaurant he then owned north of Montreal.


Guy Lafleur and his wife, Lise (third from left), at their home on June 6 with the Stanley Cup. With them are son Mark (far right) and his girlfriend, Natacha (far left); and son Martin with his wife, Angelica, and their 3-year-old daughter Sienna Rose. 


But the few hours he spent with the Stanley Cup on Sunday marked Lafleur's first chance to truly share hockey's grandest prize with his family members, whom he views as his cornerstones: his wife, Lise; son Martin and his wife, Angelica; son Mark and his girlfriend, Natacha; and Martin and Angelica's 3-year-old daughter, Sienna Rose, Lafleur's only grandchild.

"A player's family doesn't receive the credit they deserve," Lafleur said, reflecting on the Cup's visit and the cancer battle he's waging, suggesting that his time with the trophy was more about his family and others than it was about himself. "And now Sienna Rose will always have a photo of herself with the Stanley Cup."

Lafleur was offered a day with the Cup in the summer of 2005, when the 2004-05 NHL season was canceled because of a lockout. Many former players who never had the opportunity enjoyed the chance, but Lafleur turned it down, telling Philip Pritchard, the Hall of Fame curator and so-called Keeper of the Cup, that more senior players should have it first, that his turn would come.

Sixteen years later, it did. Longtime friend Donnie Cape got the puck rolling with NHL Alumni Association executive director Glenn Healy and Pritchard, the NHL also lending its support.


Video: Guy Lafleur won Cup five times in Montreal


Linked to the visit, after the Stanley Cup's time at Lafleur's home, would be two hours at a nearby automobile dealership. That was done to promote a fundraiser for the Guy Lafleur Fund, a cancer research initiative established in March at the Centre hospitalier de l'Universite de Montreal (CHUM), where his treatment is being done.

Dozens came to the private function to safely meet and be photographed with Lafleur, who is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and the Stanley Cup. Through Nov. 1, the Dilawri Group of Companies is aiming to donate between $50,000 and $100,000 to the fund, tied to the sale of new cars at its 10 dealerships in Quebec. 

What wasn't known when the Cup's visit was planned was that the Canadiens would be hosting the Winnipeg Jets that night in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Second Round. 

Well aware that superstitious teams can't bear to have the Cup in their city during the playoffs, Pritchard and Hall of Fame colleague Mario Della-Savia had the trophy in its case and across the border back in Ontario, bound for Toronto by car, 90 minutes before face-off. Lafleur joined fellow Canadiens ambassadors Yvan Cournoyer and Rejean Houle in a Bell Centre suite for Montreal's 5-1 victory.


Guy Lafleur and Yvan Cournoyer in 2016, arriving in Detroit for the funeral of Gordie Howe, and masked at Bell Centre on June 6 for Game 3 of the Canadiens-Jets series.


Lafleur's appearance on the arena scoreboard raised the roof, 2,500 fans among the countless number who worship him 36 years after he played his final game for the Canadiens. He was one of the most electrifying players of his generation, and no one since Lafleur has lifted Canadiens fans out of their seats quite the same way on a rink-length rush.

An offensive marvel in major junior for the Quebec Remparts, Lafleur was chosen No. 1 by the Canadiens in the 1971 NHL Draft, which was held in Montreal 50 years ago Thursday.

"I look at photos and film from that day, at the clothes I was wearing, and I'm just glad that everyone dressed the same," he said, laughing.

Lafleur scored 518 goals, behind only the 544 of Maurice "Rocket" Richard in Canadiens history, between 1971-72 and 1984-85, his 1,246 points ranked No. 1. He then scored 107 points (42 goals, 65 assists) for the New York Rangers and Quebec Nordiques from 1988-91, having returned to the NHL following a nearly four-year retirement and his 1988 Hall of Fame enshrinement.


Guy Lafleur came out of retirement following his 1988 Hall of Fame induction to play a season for the New York Rangers, then two for the Quebec Nordiques.


The forward won both the Art Ross Trophy as the leading scorer in the NHL and the Ted Lindsay Award, voted as the most outstanding player by the NHL Players' Association, in 1976, 1977 and 1978; the Hart Trophy, voted as NHL MVP, in 1977 and 1978; and the Conn Smythe Trophy, voted as playoff MVP, in 1977.

Lafleur remains justifiably proud of his playful 1978 "theft" of the Cup. He said his first championship, in 1973, is perhaps his most special, having heard from teammates that only by winning the trophy could a player truly understand its magic. 

He also laughed about the flight home from Chicago following that first Cup win, when he bumped teammate Claude Larose and his broken leg off a stretcher so that he could use it, refreshed to the point of being unable to walk.

Never, Lafleur said, no matter how often he's seen it, does he tire of being in its sterling company. Always he thinks of his teammates -- those still with him, too many who are gone.


Guy Lafleur in his hometown of Thurso, Quebec in late May 1978, having "stolen" the Stanley Cup. At right is his son, Martin, with a neighborhood child on the left.


"When you have a chance to be with the Cup, it brings back so many memories, the pain you had to go through to win it," he said. "And when you win it once, you want to win it again for your team, your fans and yourself. You think about all the players who were part of the team. That's what you miss the most when you end your career, the family of your teammates."

The Stanley Cup will be Lafleur's second shadow every step of his life. He grows deeply introspective when he thinks aloud about how his own situation has brought him into view of others, about how many, of all ages, he sees courageously staring down the disease. It's not uncommon for him to drive to the home of a fellow cancer patient he's never met and walk in unannounced to offer a few moments of cheer.

"CHUM asked me about creating a fund and I was happy to do it," Lafleur said. "They need so much money to do research. When I go there every three weeks, there are so many people receiving treatment. It's unbelievable. … I'm always wondering, we go to the moon and to Mars, at some point will they find a cure for cancer? The research is so important. Success means helping to improve the lives of cancer patients.

"It's very small, very thin who we are and what we do on this Earth. As individuals, we don't mean much. There's a saying in French that I believe. It translates to: 'I'm running out of my borrowed time.'"


Guy Lafleur poses for a Montreal Forum portrait during his 1970s prime with the Canadiens.


With that, Lafleur stopped, emotion choking off his words. Finally: 

"That's what I realize," he said. "I try to help others now, but it's not the same. I want to do much, a lot more, but I can't. The disease is too common and it's not only the elderly. It's young kids. I remember doing work on behalf of leukemia research when I started with the Canadiens. Kids … I mean, why does a kid get cancer? 

"I hear from many, many people who have cancer. I've done video calls with people, made telephone calls -- not through the Canadiens, but with people who know me or find me. Someone will ask, 'Would you phone this person for me?' I'll encourage them the best I can. It's important to do this. 

"As players, we had the adulation of fans. I have to give back because these people were my bread and butter when I played, my energy. Do I take strength from them now? Yes, I do. Do I give them strength? I hope that maybe we break even."

Learn more about the Guy Lafleur Fund here.

Photos: HHoF Images; Connor McCollam; Getty Images; Guy Lafleur; Evelyn Cournoyer; Dave Stubbs

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