Lafleur and Canadiens are skating again
In the province of Quebec, the Montreal Canadiens are as much a symbol of French Canadian pride as the fleur-de-lis.So it is appropriate that Guy Lafleur has been their leading scorer for almost a decade. And after a subpar 1980-81 season he and the team are both looking sharp again this winter.Skip to next paragraph
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During the early '70s, Lafleur was touted as the No. 1 amateur player in Canada. Playing both center and right wing, he established himself as a prolific goal scorer, netting the puck over 300 times in four full seasons with the Quebec Ramparts. In 1970-71, his last season as an amateur, he notched 209 points in only 62 games, making him the most coveted prize in hockey, aside from the Stanley Cup.
That year, the Canadiens not only won their 16th Stanley Cup but thanks to their possession of the No. 1 draft choice via an earlier trade, they also got Lafleur. Montrealers regarded Guy as more than just a methodical goal scorer. The fans believed that the stylish skater would fit into the motif of such great former stars as Maurice Richard, Toe Blake and Jean Beliveau.
These players, many of whom were Trois-Rivieres products like Lafleur, had established the Canadiens as the winningest team in hockey. In their 70-year history ''Les Habitants,'' as Montrealers refer to their team, have won the Stanley Cup 21 times -- far more than any other team. Five of these championship banners have been raised during Lafleur's ten years with the team.
Yet for quite a while at the beginning it seemed as though the heralded ''flower'' had wilted. After playing for a short time at center, where Montreal was loaded with outstanding performers, he found a permanent niche at right wing , but was able to average only a meager 60 points per season in his first three years. Many speculated that the reserved Lafleur simply couldn't adjust to the pomp and circumstance that accompanied his arrival in the NHL.
However, in 1974-75, Lafleur silenced all of the doubt concerning his talents by exploding with 53 goals and a total of 119 points. For the next five seasons he scored over 50 goals and 100 points per season, making him the only player in history to do so in six consecutive seasons. During this period he also won the Art Ross scoring championship three times.
''Few players control a game like Lafleur,'' says former teammate Pierre Larouche. ''Most players are either scorers or checkers, but he does both well.''
The oppositon is forced to key its defense around Guy because of his versatility. He is capable of intiating a scoring threat from his own end with a crisp pass to an open man moving up ice -- or of taking matters into his own hands and changing the complexion of a close game with one end-to-end rush.
His speed, stick handling, and ability to anticipate a play before it actually develops make him extremely dangerous in the opposition's zone. These ingredients also make him a key on the Montreal power play. His quickness enables him to move the puck to a teammate while maneuvering for a better shot at the goal. His accurate slapshot has paid handsome dividends in this situation , as shown by the fact that 25 percent of his goals have been scored on the power play.
Lafleur has also established himself as a clutch player because so many of his goals have been game winners. Except for last year, when he was hindered by injuries, he has always excelled during the playoffs. In 93 playoff games he has scored 68 goals.