MONTREAL – Hockey legend Guy Lafleur has never been one to hide.
The high-scoring right-winger from the Montreal Canadiens’ dynasty of the 1970s went about his business as a restaurant owner and public relations “ambassador” for the NHL club even while dealing with his son’s legal troubles and then his own legal woes.
When the Canadiens unveiled statues of Lafleur and three other Canadiens greats outside the Bell Centre this season as part of the team’s 100th-anniversary celebrations, the 57-year-old Lafleur was there, nattily dressed as ever, giving interviews and posing for pictures with fans.
Lafleur may need a waiver to get into the United States for the few trips he makes there for the Canadiens now that he has a criminal record, but it likely won’t affect most of what he does – appearing at banquets and openings, and playing in old-timers’ games.
The Canadiens have said they will keep him as one of their five ambassadors, along with Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, Yvan Cournoyer and Rejean Houle.
And his conviction on Friday on a charge of giving contradictory evidence at his son Mark’s bail hearing in 2007 is unlikely to diminish his standing with his many fans.
They know he loved the team.
“When I was a kid, all we saw on TV was the Canadiens, and all I wanted to be was Beliveau,” he once said.
“We had one bleu, blanc et rouge Canadiens sweater and I fought the others for the right to wear it. I dreaded to be drafted by any other team but the Canadiens, and when they took me I was so happy.”
But Lafleur never strived to cultivate a squeaky clean image.
Any pretence in that direction ended in 1981 when, after a late night out, he fell asleep at the wheel of his car and crashed into a fence along a highway. A metal post went through the windshield but, fortunately, only took off a piece of Lafleur’s ear.
Instead, he is seen as a straight talker who was once a bit of a bon vivant. Even while employed by the Canadiens, he has been quick to use a weekly newspaper column and impromptu scrums with reporters to blast the team or its players and coaches when they underachieve.
Lafleur owns a Mikes restaurant in Berthierville, Que., and last year opened a new restaurant called Bleu, blanc rouge (red, white and blue) in Rosemere, just north of Montreal.
He was one of the greatest players in the team’s history. Nicknamed the Flower by his teammates, Lafleur is a five-time Stanley Cup winner and the Canadiens’ all-time scoring leader with 1,246 points.
He led the NHL in scoring three times and was named the league’s most valuable player in 1977 and 1978. He entered the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988.
But more than that was his presence as one of the dominant players of his era, and the successor in a line of French-Canadian superstars that went from Maurice (Rocket) Richard to Beliveau to Lafleur.
Even giving contradictory evidence on the stand, when he told the court his son was at home when in fact he had driven him to a hotel to see his girlfriend, looks to have been excused by many fans as just the act of a father doing what he could to help his son.