The Avalanche Friday released a statement from general manager Joe Sakic on the death of his former Quebec Nordiques teammate, Hall of Fame winger Guy Lafleur.
“Guy was a legend in every sense of the word and an icon to a generation of hockey fans not only in the Quebec province but across all of Canada,” Sakic said. “He was one of my favorite players growing up and watching on ‘Hockey Night In Canada.’ Later getting the chance to play with him and room with him during his final two NHL seasons with the Nordiques is something I will cherish forever.
“He was an outstanding person, teammate and mentor to me. I learned so many lessons from him as a young hockey player and am grateful for every moment we spent together during those two years. On behalf of the Avalanche organization, I would like to send our thoughts and condolences to the entire Lafleur family. Rest in peace, Guy.”
Lafleur, the long-time Canadiens great, came out of a three-season retirement to join the New York Rangers for 1988-89, then wound up his career with the lowly Nordiques for 1989-90 and 1990-91. When Lafleur joined Quebec, Sakic was going into his second season with the Nordiques and was only 20.
The Nordiques were 12-61-7 in 1989-90 and 16-50-14 in 1990-91. So the friendship wasn’t forged by on-ice success, but it was genuine and Lafleur was memorable.
DATER HERE: I talked with Sakic about what it was like to be a teammate of Lafleur’s in Quebec, and he always said it was just kind of surreal. Especially, when Sakic talked about actually being Lafleur’s roommate that season, in the hotels.
Lafleur was a pretty heavy smoker, and that meant inside the hotel room too. But Lafleur had too much respect for Sakic to smoke in the room together. Lafleur would smoke only in the bathroom. Sakic would laugh about it, because he didn’t care. If Guy Lafleur had wanted to smoke in the room, Joe Sakic wasn’t about to tell him not to do it.
“He could do whatever he wanted. It wouldn’t have bothered me,” Sakic said.
Sakic always said Lafleur was a great guy to learn from. He talked about being in the back of a bus after another loss in that horrible 1989-90 season and “complaining big-time” about things, and how Lafleur just kind of told him not to worry about it, that things would turn around soon enough. Sakic credited that advice for making him not worry about things out of his control anymore.
Personally, Guy Lafleur terrorized my youth, as a big Boston Bruins fan. His goal that tied Game 7 of the 1979 Eastern finals, the one where the Bruins had too many men on the ice (with Peter McNab serving it in the penalty box) still haunts all old B’s fans. But, hey, the man was a legend. And, it seems, one great guy. If you’re going to lose, lose to the best.