MONTREAL – Members of the First Line, the Canadiens’ adult fan club, had a chance to grill Guy Lafleur and Marc Bergevin during the first official Q&A session of the season on Saturday morning.
One of the greatest Habs to ever wear a Canadiens jersey, Guy Lafleur spent nearly two decades tearing up the National Hockey League, setting multiple franchise records in Montreal that still stand today. One of the most colorful players in team history, “Le Demon Blond” happily answered First Liners’ questions about everything from his role with the team today and his stance on fighting in hockey to how NHLers’ off-ice pursuits differed back in his day.
You’re one of the few players who is known throughout the world. I have a question I’m sure you get asked all the time, but how does it feel to be a hockey icon?
GUY LAFLEUR: I don’t feel different than anyone else! (laughs) We’re well known personalities and we get recognized quite a bit when we travel around Canada and certain European countries where hockey is really big. You have two sides: one is the hockey player who has a reputation as a “star”, but when you leave the ice, you’re just a normal person. That’s how I feel. You can have a great career, but after you’re done, you have to have other things going on in your life.
If you were playing for the team today, which current player would you want to have on your line?
GL: Good question! It’s not easy putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, but the guy I think has a very, very good career ahead of him with the Montreal Canadiens is Alex Galchenyuk. His style is probably closest to mine.
Do you think a show like 24CH could have worked in your day?
GL: I think if we had one, some of us might be in jail today! (laughs) Let’s say that back in our day, we had a little more fun than they have today. I look at the way it is now and the way it was then and all I can say is I’m glad we didn’t have [a reality show] then!
Who were your idols growing up?
GL: My idols were Jean Beliveau, Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe. I remember when I was five or six years old, my dad bought me a book by Gordie Howe that had some drills to help strengthen your wrists. We had a hockey stick with a lace tied around it and a weight on the end and we would roll it and unroll it to build forearm strength. I didn’t do that very long, though! (laughs) Jean Beliveau and Bobby Orr were amazing players who really influenced me in my career. In 1976, Bobby Orr was actually my roommate at the Canada Cup. I got to know Bobby pretty well and he was the best player on the ice during that tournament and he was playing on one leg. He was such an incredible athlete.
Following his childhood hero in the First Line hot seat, Habs GM Marc Bergevin spent almost an hour fielding questions from fans, ranging from his approach to the free agent market and handling trade rumours to his status as one of the league’s leading pranksters and his Movember progress.
With the prevalence of social media now, has it ever happened that you’ve had a deal ruined because something was leaked? And how do you manage things now with social media to make sure the players aren’t affected by hearing things on Twitter and having that come into the dressing room?
MB: For your first question, the answer is no. Nothing comes out of our offices. We have a group of people who work together and it’s a tight group we trust. The things that get out aren’t true; I don’t pay attention to rumours. With the players, social media is a reality we live with today, but it’s not something I pay any attention to. I have all the confidence in the world in the people I work with and it’s very secure. Nothing gets out. If I started caring about all the rumours floating around, it would never stop. And I’ll say this: if you hear about [a trade], it’s probably not true.
As GM, I imagine you have a plan in place for the team, but how much do things like sports talk shows and newspapers and the things fans and journalists say add pressure or influence you in your job and how do you manage to stay the course and not be affected by it?
MB: It’s easy for me because I don’t have a TV at home; I don’t watch TV. I respect the media and I understand social media, but I don’t pay attention to it. I surround myself with good hockey people who know hockey and live and breathe hockey. And what you’re talking about isn’t exclusive to Montreal. People here only really see how it is here, but in every market, it’s the same. We have scouts and guys around the league who see how things are elsewhere. There’s pressure here, but there’s pressure everywhere. I have a plan in my head and that’s the plan I follow and I’m confident we’re going in the right direction.
You helped the Canadian National Team win a gold medal at the 1994 World Ice Hockey Championships in Italy, so you understand the honor and pride and what it means to represent your country on the international stage. With about 10 players who are Olympic candidates…who compete together and create special bonds and unity in the same dressing room for the Montreal Canadiens but at the same time, they’re competing for spots representing their countries in Sochi, do you expect that the strong personalities of these players [at the Olympics] may weaken their bonds in the second half of the season when some Habs players return with Olympic hardware at the expense of other Habs players, and if so, what message will you give them?
MB: Well, I lived it in Chicago with [Jonathan] Toews, [Brent] Seabrook, [Duncan] Keith and [Patrick] Kane who played against each other in the gold medal game. That was hard, but when it was all said and done, everybody came back, and we had [Marian] Hossa and [Tomas] Kopecky, too. It was a great experience for these guys and there were no hard feelings. I lived it in Chicago and there were no issues. As far as the guys you mentioned, I hope they all get picked and I hope they all play for their countries. It’s a great honor and it’s something I did on a much smaller scale at the World Championships. We won the gold medal and it had been 30-something years since Canada had won so it was a great experience to represent Canada on the international level.
You were in Pittsburgh and Chicago. What did you bring from those organizations when you arrived here?
MB: One thing that’s really important to me is transparency within the organization and communication. When you manage a team, it’s not just the team you have to worry about; it’s also scouting, drafting, and developing players. That’s something we had a lot of success with in Chicago. Guys like Kane, Toews, Keith, Seabrook, [Corey] Crawford; they’re players we drafted in Chicago and developed ourselves. It takes time, but it’s the best way to build a successful team. That’s something I brought with me when I came to Montreal.
Now that you’ve been here for a year-and-a-half, I’m wondering if there was a deal you made – or didn’t make – that you would say you probably shouldn’t have done or something you’d like to take back? Any mistakes you made that you’d like a chance to redo?
MB: No. (laughs)
The second official First Line Q&A session of the 2013-14 season will take place on March 1, featuring Chris Chelios and Geoff Molson. Head to firstline.canadiens.com to sign up for exclusive access to the session, ticket presale information, contests and more.
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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