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 playmaker 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, Rejean, 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."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN G. ZIMMERMAN (COVER)
COLOR PHOTO: DENIS BRODEUR
Lafleur, who's now a skilled helicopter pilot, still flies up
the ice in NHL legends' games.