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Niagara Falls
Thursday, February 29, 2024
INTERVIEW: Guy Lafleur talks fame, retired life and hockey today

NHL legend and current Canadiens ambassador Guy Lafleur spoke over the phone with Niagara Now last week. Niagara Now journalist Corey LeBlanc took the opportunity to talk with Lafleur about life after hockey, the state of hockey today, as well as his role with the team now.

The hall-of-famer is scheduled to make an appearance at the Embassy Suites Fallsview in Niagara Falls on Nov. 30.

Interview with one of hockey's greatest, Guy Lafleur.

Q: My first question is, how are you? How’s the family, retired life. Everything.

A: Pretty good. I’m retired the game, but not from the all the events I’m doing with the Montreal Canadiens as an ambassador. So, they keep me pretty busy doing different things and promoting the team and I really enjoy doing that.

Q: I wanted to ask you, if you can just walk right into the home team’s dressing room at the Bell Centre, are you welcome with open arms?

A: Well, I work for the Montreal Canadiens but I’m far away from walking into the dressing room. I’m not sure we have anything to do there and I’m not sure they want us there. It’s completely different from the days when we played because a lot of guys like Jean Beliveau, who were close to us; “Dickie” (Richard) Moore and all the old guys who played for the Montreal Canadiens. It’s different today, it’s a new generation and a different mentality. I’m still following the team, but more like a fan instead of being close to the players.

Q: How does that differ? When you perceive the game as more of a fan and not as a player. Are you looking at it with more of a third-eye kind of thing?

A: Well, the critics come a lot easier. (laughs) — especially if you don’t win. No, I really enjoy watching the game and especially focusing on one player in particular. Let’s say one night I focus on Pacioretty or Galchenyuk and this year Drouin who is a new arrival on the team. It’s nice to watch the game, but to watch certain kind of players instead of the overall team.

Q: So, when you look at the game today, what’s changed the most for you compared to when you played?

A: The salary. (laughs)

I think today the big difference is the parity that you have in the league. There’s 31 teams league this year and the guys have to train almost 12 months a year and they have to be in shape when they come to training camp. Us, in our days, we had a training camp to get in shape and the camp would last close to a month. But, today they start, they have two to three days and bang, they start to play the exhibition games and traveling and it’s completely different. The game is fast without the red line, the players are in overall better shape — bigger, stronger, the equipment is better — so, overall the game is pretty good.

Q: I’ve read through many NHL-player autobiographies that the boys could get rowdy when they’re on the road. Do you remember a memory from being on the road that stuck with you of guys being nonsensical and going crazy?

A: For us, we didn’t travel a charter like they are today. It’s different because in our days, the players would spend more time together, they players would go out for lunch and I think today it’s not the same anymore. You’re going to have two to three guys who go together instead of the whole team and the team spirit is not the same. It’s like they're an individual enterprise, each player. So, it’s different today. I think they want to win, yes. But, do they play as a team? — it’s a different story.

Q: I guess I never saw it like that. You think about all these guys being together for so long that somebody’s bound to click.

A: We spent more time together than we spent with our wives. (laughs). If you want to win the cup, there’s a price for that. The players, they have to stick together as a team. They have to fight together.

Q: Moving on, you’re in the restaurant business now I understand?

A: No, not anymore. I got rid of that crazy business.

Q: So, what was crazy about it, why did you end up turning away?

A: It’s seven days a week and there’s no time off. I did that for my sons and it’s a tough business. There’s so many restaurants and you can’t really compete against the chain today. They’ll give their product away or they’ll make it cheaper. So for me to get a out of it, I was very happy.

Q: Could you explain, if there is any correlation, how the restaurant business relates to the hockey business?

A: Well, first of all, with the restaurant business, you’re in touch with the fans, the people. For me, it was a really nice transition because I was meeting people that followed my career or people that heard about my restaurant and they would come and visit me. It’s really very nice. On the other side, the employees are tough. Some the employees in the kitchen wouldn’t show up one weekend and wouldn’t call to say they’re sick. It’s a tough to manage employees today.

Q: With all the stress in that business then, it’s no wonder why you walked away for other stuff. So, what specifically for the Canadiens now?

A: As an ambassador, I do some golf tournaments. I don’t play golf. I stopped playing golf in 2010, so I just go for the dinner. They’re all raising money for different charities. Also, I do private boxes at the Bell Centre to host their customers. I do banquets. Like, we had a banquet here last night and a few players showed up for that. So, we do a lot of different things for to help out a lot of the organizations around Montreal and outside of Montreal.

Q: That sounds like that’s really great work, really gratifying and giving back.

A: It’s fun. You’re in contact with big fans that follow hockey today and our career and it gives a chance to the kids who didn’t see us play to meet us, take pictures with us. For us, it keeps us alive.

Q: As you said, it’s all about the giving back and just being close with the people that built you up so high. There were a lot of great moments in your career, so many reasons for people to be thankful. Like, when you’re asked to describe the moment you scored 50 goals for the first time, you’ve heard it a million times. But, it never gets old.

A: You’re right. People think we’re sick and tired of hearing about it, but it’s nice. We don’t live in the past, but it’s nice to go back to see that people really appreciated the way we played and won some Stanley Cups.

Q: You helped a whole generation of Habs fans reach where they are today. There’s so much pride in the team and there’s so much to be proud of –

A: Yes, there’s a lot of pride, but they have a lot of pressure too. We put the ladder very high. The organization has won 24 Stanley Cups and for these guys, their last cup was in 1993. So, the fans are very very demanding. We were spoiled in the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s and now the team is struggling, it’s different. The people here, they have one thing in mind and that’s to win the cup. You can’t buy the Stanley Cup up anyways.

Q: How was it for you holding the Stanley Cup? A childhood dream come true?

A: Yes, it was a childhood dream come true. It was very special. I remember when I first came up, I was asking Henri Richard, Yvan Cournoyer and Frank Mahovlich and I was asking them how it was to win a Stanley Cup. All their answers were “we can’t tell you, you’ll have to win it to really understand.” And they were right. If you never win the Stanley Cup you don’t know what it is and what it means to the fans, what it means to the organization and what it means to the players.

Q: I think it’s safe to say that throughout your career playing, you’ve impacted a lot of people lives. Does it still happen that you get stopped on the street for pictures, questions? Do people still stop you?

A: Everyday. (laughs) But, the people are nice. They’re not talking about my past right now, they’re talking about the training camp of the Montreal Canadiens. They played six games already, they didn’t win and they asked me what the hell is going on with the team. My answer to that is always “the good ‘ol days. Remember the good ‘ol days.” (laughs)

Q: And of course, they want to with the way the team is playing now. But, you yourself, you’re coming down to the Fallsview on Nov. 30 — give people a sneak peak of what that night is going to be like.

A: Well, it’s a banquet. I’m going to be there for autographs and taking picture with the fans and things like that. I’m looking forward to it.

Q: How often do you come down to Niagara?

A: I was there three years ago. I had a boat before and I went down to Niagara-on-the-Lake. My friend owns the Niagara Helicopter ride, so I went for a ride with a few friends and we went (flew) over the Niagara Falls. All the vineyards down there are really nice. It was my first time in Niagara-on-the-Lake and I couldn’t believe how nice it was. All the vineyards and the restaurants. But, if I go back I’m going to try to go back and visit my friend Marcel Dionne — he lives there.

An Evening with Guy Lafleur is a one-night only event in which fans of the game will have an intimate experience with the Habs alumnus, complete with a Q&A, photos and autograph-signing. The event comes to the Fallsview on Nov. 30.

Lafleur played 17 seasons in the NHL and scored 1,353 points – leading him to five Stanley Cups (all with the Habs), three Art Ross Trophies as the leagues top scorer, three Lester B. Pearson awards as the league’s most outstanding player, two Hart trophies as the league’s regular season MVP and a Conn Smythe award as the league’s playoff MVP.

An in-person follow-up interview with Lafleur will take place in November.

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