And so Guy Lafleur, like Georges Vezina and Howie Morenz and Toe Blake and Rocket Richard and Jean Beliveau before him, arrives in MONTREAL to heed the locker-room commandment long ago borrowed from the poet John McCrae's In Flanders Field. Oh, those Canadiens! One day last June, Beliveau the Great announced his retirement; the very next day the Canadiens proclaimed that Lafleur, easily the most accomplished amateur player since Bobby Orr, was theirs.
With the addition of Lafleur, the arrival of the respected Scotty Bowman as coach and the season-long availability of Goaltender Ken Dryden (page 45), the Canadiens should displace the Boston Bruins as the East's best team. J. C. Tremblay and Jacques Laperriere anchor a taut defense, while 6'5" Peter Mahovlich, who developed into something of a star last year, and Henri Richard provide depth and power at center, Lafleur's position. Frank Mahovlich, Yvan Cournoyer and Jacques Lemaire are tested goal scorers on the wings.
When the 20-year-old Lafleur reported to training camp at the Montreal Forum, the Canadiens assigned him the locker-room seat that Beliveau, his hero, had always occupied. Then they gave him as wings for his line not two rookies, as usually happens, but Frank Mahovlich and Cournoyer. "That's my No. 1 line," Bowman said. Later, after watching Lafleur's accurate passes and quick, deadly shots, Bowman made one more move: he installed Guy at right point on the power play.
" Lafleur has only one problem," Bowman says. "He is a little weak on face-offs." So Lafleur practiced face-offs 15 minutes a day and in his first game with the Canadiens he beat Boston's Phil Esposito on the opening draw, chased the puck into the corner and passed it out to Frank Mahovlich for an easy goal. Lafleur is by instinct a playmaker first and a goal scorer second. "He makes such perfect passes," says Mahovlich, "that I hope he doesn't forget to shoot the puck himself sometimes."
Bowman, meanwhile, will stabilize the coaching position. Although Claude Ruel and Al MacNeil both coached the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup in the last three years, they never were able to satisfy the players, the people of Quebec and the French and English press simultaneously. Bowman, who was well schooled by the Montreal organization before he turned the St. Louis Blues into the model for expansion franchises in all sports, recognizes the dilemma.
"My job," he says, "is to keep harmony. I always had harmony in St. Louis, but it was different there. In St. Louis you had to use a lot of coaching tactics to win. Here in Montreal you win because you have the players." The only thing that worries Bowman about the Canadiens is their tendency to play careless defensive hockey at times. "They know Dryden won the Stanley Cup for them last year," he says, "but they can't take it for granted that he will stop every puck shot at him. He might—but no goalie ever has."
Dryden's name still is a no-no in BOSTON, which has not yet recovered from the shock—or tragedy, if you are a Hub man—-of last spring when the Canadiens knocked the Bruins out of the Stanley Cup playoffs that they were supposed to win with ease. "Nobody remembers we were the best in the league during the season," Phil Esposito says. "Nobody remembers the 37 records we set. They just remember the Stanley Cup we didn't win."
The Boston management decided this summer that the Bruins better concentrate on defense and forget about adding new chapters to the record books. One could almost envision Esposito shadowing enemy forwards and Bobby Orr disdaining the rink-long rush. But then training camp started and, well, the Bruins were the same old Bruins.
"How can we change?" Esposito asked. "It's us." So Orr was rushing the puck as always, Esposito was firing away at goalies from everywhere but the balcony and the Bruins were either winning games 5-3 or losing them 7-4.
"We have to play that way," claims Derek Sanderson, who has added a beard to his mustache and mop and is sometimes called J.C. Superstar around Boston. "Let's face it. Without Orr and Esposito, we are just another hockey team. If they don't do it for us, we're in trouble. And they do it by scoring or creating goals."