National funeral in Montreal for Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur

Montreal Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur was remembered at a national funeral Tuesday as a father, a teammate and a person of exceptional generosity who inspired generations of Quebecers both on and off the ice.

His son, Martin Lafleur, described his father as someone who always made time for his family and who wanted to take care of everyone, "even people he didn't know."

He told the crowd at Mary Queen of the World Cathedral in downtown Montreal that his father wasn't perfect but did everything he could to ensure he, his mother and brother were happy and lacked nothing. "Thank you for all the values you passed on to us Dad, we love you," he said.

Hockey hall of famers Yvon Cournoyer, Larry Robinson, Guy Carbonneau and Patrick Roy were among the first to pay tribute to the Habs legend, who died last month at age 70 after battling lung cancer.

"Guy once said, 'Play every game as if it is your last one,"' Robinson said. "Nobody embodied that philosophy better than Guy.

"Not only did he play each game to the fullest, he tried to live his life to the fullest off the ice as well."

Carbonneau recounted showing up at his first Canadiens training camp and having to pinch himself when he was put on a line with his childhood idol, Lafleur. At that point Lafleur had won four consecutive Stanley Cups as well as a host of individual awards.

"In spite of that, he did everything in his power to make me feel at home," the former captain said. "That was Guy Lafleur, a superstar but also one of the boys. He was one of the most generous and accessible people I ever met."

Canadiens president Geoff Molson thanked Lafleur for inspiring three generations of fans. He described Lafleur as a player who had time for everyone, especially his fans, as well as "the best player on the best team in the world."

Those attending include Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Quebec Premier Francois Legault, and many current and former Montreal Canadiens hockey players. Quebec singer Ginette Reno also performed.

Fans lined the barricades that blocked off the streets outside the church on Tuesday morning, many wearing Lafleur's number 10 jersey in tribute to one of the game's biggest stars. They broke into chants of "Guy! Guy! Guy!" as the casket, which was draped in the Canadiens' flag, was unloaded from a black hearse ahead of the ceremony after a procession that began at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens' home arena.

Music played as the casket was carried down the aisle to sit in front of the altar, which was decorated with bouquets of white flowers.

Inside the church, ahead of a traditional Catholic ceremony headed by Archbishop Christian Lepine, the tributes ranged from heartwarming to funny.

Roy drew a laugh when he recalled Lafleur's return to the Montreal Forum in 1989, after Lafleur came out of retirement to play for the New York Rangers. "It was so magical that when he scored two goals on me, I got an ovation," he said.

The four-time Stanley Cup winner described meeting Lafleur during one of his first practices in 1984, when the legendary player tapped him on the pads and said, "Hey kid. Welcome to the Canadiens." He said that was typical of Lafleur, who always had time for a kind word or a photo with teammates and fans alike.

"He took the time because he knew for you, those few words will make all the difference" Roy said.

Serge Savard, Lafleur's friend and former teammate, said ahead of the ceremony that even though Lafleur was the league's top scorer and best player, he always put the team first.

"He was a team guy. He never felt bigger than the team," Savard said outside the church. "He was a great, humble superstar."

Savard said Lafleur "made a difference everywhere he went," noting that he had raised funds for the hospital that treated him in the last months of his life.

Trudeau, who arrived with his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, said the funeral was an opportunity to thank Lafleur for everything he did.

"All the wins, all the inspiration, the incredible games, but also his humanity," Trudeau said. "His contribution to the world around him was legendary and an inspiration to us all."

Nicknamed "The Flower" and "Le Demon Blond," Lafleur was an NHL Hall of Famer and five-time Stanley Cup champion, having played for the Canadiens, New York Rangers and Quebec Nordiques.

The Canadiens hockey club said in a statement the Lafleur family accepted a national funeral as a way to share its grief with the community out of respect for the public who have supported Lafleur over the years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 3, 2022