February 7, 1977
It wouldn't exactly rate as news in French-speaking Canada that Guy Lafleur can fly. After all, with his moddish hair flowing behind him, Lafleur whooshed down the right wing for 14 seasons as a Montreal Canadien (and three more as a New York Ranger and Quebec Nordique), scoring a franchise-best 1,246 points, winning two MVP awards and helping Montreal win five Stanley Cups as the NHL's most dynamic performer.
These days the 48-year-old Lafleur handles the stick of a helicopter as deftly as he wielded a stick on the ice. Since earning his helicopter pilot's license last year, he has piloted flights as long as 1,800 miles, and he's thinking of starting a heli-transportation company near the suburban Montreal home where he lives with his wife, Lise, and sons Martin, 24, and Marc, 15. "When I was on the ice, I felt like a free man," Lafleur says. "With flying, it's the same thing. When I'm flying by myself on an afternoon, I feel free."
Lafleur took to the air in part to keep up with his busy travel schedule. He will play about 35 games in Canada and Alaska this year on the Oldtimers' Hockey Challenge tour, which benefits the Ontario Special Olympics. The Flower's game hasn't entirely wilted, as evidenced by his five assists in a mid-February match in front of nearly 13,000 nostalgic fans at Montreal's Molson Centre. "I'm a play-maker now," says Lafleur, the NHL's 14th-leading goal-scorer, with a laugh.
He also makes approximately 25 public appearances a year as one of the Canadiens' five special Ambassadors. Few figures are more popular in French Canada. "People say that I must get bothered when someone stops me for an autograph or a photo," Lafleur says. "I'll get bothered when no one asks me. Being asked means people haven't forgotten the time I played."
He finds today's NHL all too forgettable. With 28 teams (30 next season) spreading the talent pool ever thinner, Lafleur believes the game has changed for the worse. "Maybe four teams are outstanding. The rest you can put in a big bowl," he says of the sport that has gripped him since his father, R�jean, flooded the family's backyard in Thurso, Que., to make a rink. "I've been playing hockey since I was five years old. It's a part of my life. It's something that I'll always love to do, and that's why I still do it."