Adieu Guy Lafleur

May 3, 2022 § Leave a comment

Guy Lafleur is being laid to rest today at Cathédrle Marie-Reine-du-Monde in downtown Montréal this afternoon. Le Démon Blonde has been granted a state funeral by Québec Premier François Legault (he had to get something right eventually), following in the footsteps of Jean Béliveau and Maurice ‘The Rocket’ Richard. Lafleur was a hockey player. He was the best player of his era. But he was so much more than that.

Québec is not like the rest of Canada or North America. Whether you like that or not, it’s a statement of fact. Québec’s culture has evolved through a separate history than the rest of this continent, in part due to the French colonial era, in part due to the Conquête in 1760, in part due to the continued historical fact of the French language and Catholic religion (despite Lord Durham opining in 1840 that French Canada was a place without a history or culture, or for that matter, future), in part due to the influx of English and Scots Protestants, in part due to the massive influx of Irish immigrants and refugees in the mid-19th century, and the continued influx of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, from Africa, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and East, South, and Southeast Asia, and everywhere else in the world, and also in part due to the continued presence of the indigenous and their insistence on their place in Québec culture and society be respected and accorded.

And for all of this, Guy Lafleur was not just a hockey player.

It is very hard to explain the significance of Guy Lafleur (or Bélieveau or Rocket Richard, for that matter) to non-Quebecers. Whatever language we speak, whatever our cultural heritage, for Quebecers, we know why Lafleur was more than just a hockey player. Lafleur was a manifestation of the nation (however we define it and who defines it, I continue to maintain that we are all of Québec, whatever our language, national origin, ethnicity, I am fully aware that many, including the current government of Québec disagrees with me).

Lafleur was the best player on the best team in hockey. And he was québécois. That means he mattered more than the other superstars he played with (Ken Dryden, Larry Robinson, including other québécois superstars (Jacques Lemaire, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe). Collectively, the Canadiens de Montréal carried the weight of Québec on their shoulders as they won the Stanley Cup seven times in the 1970s (1971, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1979). And Lafleur carried all of this on his shoulder as he flew down the right wing at the Forum, his blonde hair flying behind him, unleashing his vicious shot, making the goalie look like a fool.

Lafleur understood his role, he took it seriously. If it strained him, you wouldn’t know. He was a kind man, a humble man, and a gentleman. He always had time for his fans. But he knew he wasn’t just a hockey player.

He was the next in a long line of québécois superstars dating back to the 1910s: Georges Vézina, Rocket Richard, Béliveau. Lafleur eventually handed the baton to Patrick Roy. Each of these men were the best players in hockey during their era. And they were all gars de chez nous. It is also worth noting that the Habs have not won a Stanley Cup since 1993; Roy left in 1995, and we have not had a replacement in this lineage since.

Richard and Béliveau were men for a different era. They were superstars on the best team in hockey during the Révolution Tranquille, at the peak of their powers in the 1950s (Richard) and 60s (Béliveau). Lafleur was a new man for the 70s, post-révolution tranquille, when the promise of that movement began to bear fruit, as québécois took control of their province/nation, and as the next part of that revolutionary movement took hold: a separatist/sovereigntist movement. The Parti Québécois won the 1976 provincial election, the first time a sovereigntist party won, under the leadership of René Levésque. In 1980, the PQ held the first referendum on Québec sovereignty. And lost. Lafleur was the best player on the best team in the world throughout this period.

I have no idea what Lafleur’s politics were, if he was a nationalist, a sovereigntist, a federalist, a hybrid of the afore-mentioned, or if he was apolitical. In the end, it doesn’t matter. He was us.

Ken Dryden and Prosthetic Memory

December 2, 2013 § 8 Comments

Top-10-Hockey-Ken-DrydenOn Saturday night, I went to the Bruins’ game with a buddy.  Those who know me know that the only thing on God’s Green Earth I hate are the fucking Bruins.  My buddy, John, is a Bruins’ fan.  He has no love lost for my Canadiens de Montréal.  And everytime he goes on and on about the Big Bad Bruins of the early 70s, the teams of his childhood, I say two words to him: Ken Dryden.

For those of you who don’t know, the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 1970 and 1972.  They were a big, rugged team led by Phil Esposito, Wayne Cashman and, of course, Number 4, Bobby Orr.  They were far and away the best team in hockey in the early 70s.  But in 1971, something happened that disrupted their reign: the Montréal Canadiens.  The Habs weren’t that good in 1971.  They had won the Stanley Cup in 1969, but in 1970, they were the first Habs team to miss the playoffs since 1948.  And the Habs wouldn’t miss the playoffs again until 1995.  In 1970-71, they were an average team.

But then, in the spring, a call-up from the American Hockey League took over the Habs’ nets.  Ken Dryden was his name.  In the first round of the playoffs that year, the Habs took on the Big Bad Bruins.  The Bruins finished with 121 points in 78 games, 12 more than the 2nd place New York Rangers.  The Habs finished a full 24 points back.  But the Canadiens knocked off the defending champs in the first round in 7 games, finally eliminating the Bruins in the hostile confines of the old Boston Garden. The Habs, riding Dryden’s brilliance, went on to win the Stanley Cup over the Chicago Blackhawks.

I wasn’t born in 1971, it would be a full two years until I made my début.  My first hockey memories are from 1976 or so, I vaguely remember seeing a game between the Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks on our old black and white TV, and my dad took me to the Stanley Cup parade that spring in Montréal.  But.  Just as with Paul Henderson’s series-winning goal against the Soviets in 1972, Ken Dryden’s run in the spring of 1971 is burned into my memory.

How does this happen? Alison Landsberg’s 2004 book, Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture, attempts to explain.  Due to the onslaught of mass media in our lives, we are increasingly able to assimilate the memory of things we did not experience.  Thus, I can see, in my mind’s eye, the incredible artistry of Ken Dryden in the spring of 1971 before I was born, and long before I had any sentient thoughts.

From where we sit in 2013, almost 2014, nearly a decade since Landsberg published her book (and nearly two decades since her argument was made for the first time in an article in one of those 90s books about the “cyber-world” and “information super-highway”), the argument seems rather obvious.  But it wasn’t a decade ago.

And yet, whilst Landsberg focuses on the proliferation of mass media, it is also clear that the internet plays a very clear role in the formation of prosthetic memory for her.  In the case of Ken Dryden, my memories were made in the 1980s.  In 1984 and again in 1986, the Habs had young, hot goalies in net to start the playoffs. Steve Penney carried a pretty lousy team to the semi-finals in 1984 and two years later, Patrick Roy carried a mediocre team all the way to the Cup.  Both years, Hockey Night in Canada ran endless Dryden video, and talked about Dryden.  The newspapers I read, all the way out in Vancouver, talked about Dryden.  The Hockey News, of which I was a dedicated reader, talked about Dryden.  I went out and bought Dryden’s book, The Game, with my own money because of the 1986 playoffs and the myth-making.  And while, clearly, mass media was central to the formation of my prosthetic Dryden memories as a kid in the 80s, this is long before the internet.

The interesting thing is that, when I taught in Montréal, at both Concordia University and John Abbott College, my students, who were born in the late 80s and early 90s, long after Dryden retired, and at the height of Roy’s brilliance,  knew about the legends of Ken Dryden, as if they were born with fully formed prosthetic memories.

I read an article on the BBC’s website today about how memories can be transferred from generation to generation through biology.  A study of mice at Emory University in Atlanta has demonstrated how this works.  For the study, a generation of lab mice were trained to fear the smell of cherry blossoms.  This fear was passed on to their children and grandkids, even though the children and grandchildren had never experienced anything negative surrounding the scent of cherry blossoms.

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Maybe the legends of the Montréal Canadiens are passed on this way, from father to son and daughter.  Maybe this is why I can see in my mind’s eye Howie Morenz rushing up the ice in the late 1920s, when my grandfather was just a lad?

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