Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Today in Habs History: November 26th Edition

La Presse (November 27, 1984)
1984: After 961 regular season games, five Stanley Cup rings to his name, 514 goals and his franchise leading 728 assists and 1246 points, Guy Lafleur announced his retirement from the Canadiens.

Not happy with the ice time he was getting, nor finding his place in the defensive system of coach Jacques Lemaire, Le Demon Blond was struggling offensively, and had had enough. His last game in a Habs uniform was November 24, 1984 against the Detroit Red Wings. In 19 games that season, Lafleur only had two goals to show and he estimated that he had roughly six minutes of ice time in that 6-4 win. Lafleur later said that had already made up his mind, between the second and third period of the game, on his future with the club.

When the game was over, Lafleur said he cried privately and then told his coach, “I want the weekend off to think about my future.” The 33-year-old winger then tracked down GM Serge Savard and advised him of his of his his inevitable plans. Savard and a shocked teammate Larry Robinson, who he had confided in, both agreed that Lafleur needed the time off to make sure what he wanted to do was right. The Canadiens office covered Lafleur’s absence by reporting that the two-time Hart Trophy winner had a groin injury. Many, including the Montreal Gazette’s Red Fisher, didn't buy that.

Lafleur made his way home to Thurso on that Sunday afternoon and sat down with his parents to discuss his decision. He returned to Montreal around 10pm, with his mind made up.

Lafleur went to Savard's office early Monday morning and advised him that his decision hadn't changed. The club set up a press conference for 4pm at the Forum . As hard as it was for Lafleur, Savard even found it hard as well to make the announcement. "This is a sad day for all of us, because I must announce....," Savard begin but then needed to pause and swallow. "The retirement of Guy Lafleur." After another emotional pause, Savard continued, “His contribution to the Canadiens was unbelievable."

Fighting off the tears and fumbling through his notes on which he had scribbled down his retirement speech Lafleur said, “I have no more energy left for hockey. Nobody pushed me. I did it on my own and I am very happy about it.” Lafleur acknowledged that the team was headed in the right direction (they were 13-4-2 following Saturday’s game), which made his choice to retire easier.

“The public was always behind me,” Lafleur added "From my first game, right up until Saturday night’s game, they encouraged and supported me. I owe them a lot.”

Lafleur took a few weeks to himself before returning to the Canadiens in a front office position. It wouldn't be long until his passion to play was rekindled and he would come out of retirement for the 1988-89 season, playing three more NHL seasons.

For more a detailed look at Lafleur’s retirement, and a treasure trove of career highlights and video clips, I strongly recommend the work put together by Robert Lefebvre and Francis Bouchard in 2009.

Also on this day….

1917: The National Hockey League was founded. The original teams were the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Arenas, and Quebec Bulldogs (which announced that they would not operate during the inaugural season).

1921: The Canadiens acquire Sprague Cleghorn from the Hamilton Tigers, in exchange for Amos Arbour and Harry Mummery.

1944: Maurice Richard scored his 5th career hat trick as the Canadiens won 4-1 against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs.

1950: The Canadiens beat the Boston  Bruins 3-1 in a penalty-free game played in Montreal.

1959: Jacques Plante became the second goaltender in franchise history (and the 11th goalie in the NHL) to record 200 victories. The milestone came as the Canadiens won 4-2 over the Detroit Red Wings.

1969: Ralph Backstrom became the 11th player in franchise history to score 200 goals as a member of the Canadiens. The milestone goal came in a 3-1 win at Toronto.

1988: Mats Naslund scored his 4th career hat trick, including the 200th goal of his NHL career to lead the Canadiens to a 7-5 win over the Edmonton Oilers.

1995: Montreal sends Yves Sarault and Craig Ferguson to the Calgary Flames for an 8th round pick in 1997.

1999: The Canadiens trade Gordie Dwyer to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Mike McBain.

Habs Born on This Day: Mathieu Darche (1976)

The Montreal Gazette, November 26, 1984, “A frustrated Lafleur may have played his last game”
The Montreal Gazette, Novmeber 27, 1984, “A legend at 33, but unable to score goals, Lafleur quits”

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