Bill Clement and Guy Lafleur hailed from the same town in Quebec, Canada and played hockey alongside one another as teenagers.
The Burlington-Thorso area was known for its lumber mills, blue collar work ethic and devotion to the sport of skates and sticks.
It was here, back in the late ‘60s, when Clement, a future mainstay on the Flyers and later successful TV analyst on both the national and local levels, got his first look at Lafleur’s drive to be an aspiring five-time Stanley Cup champion with the Montreal Canadiens and Hall of Famer.
Sadly, both Lafleur and another hockey legend, New York Islanders Hall of Fame star Mike Bossy, have passed away in the past week.
Clement has fond memories of those early years playing alongside the man who became known as “The Flower.”
“I started playing hockey at age 12 and ended up playing two seasons with Guy,’’ Clement said in a call from North Carolina where he has made his home since recently retiring. “We were on the same line and he was unbelievable. He was humble, generous and giving as an athlete could be. He was 14 and I was 15.’’
The similarities between Lafleur and Bossy were uncanny. Both patroled right wing with speed and grace; each possessed lethal slap shots and quick-release wrist shots; plus they made players around them better. They made a habit of scoring 50 goals per season and hardly making a fuss about it.
“I think with great scorers there isn’t anything that lights the fire and gives that burning satisfaction for a scorer more than a feeling of putting the puck across the goal line,’’ Clement said. “Yes, there’s a great dedication to team but the great scorers, they seem to have a fire that burns inside them. I don’t care who it was, from Maurice “Rocket’’ Richard to Wayne Gretzky to Mario Lemieux – there was something inside them that burned so hot. . .that’s who Lafleur and Bossy were. It almost seemed as if their whole mission was to see the red light go on behind the goalie.’’
Any Flyers fan who’s been around long enough to remember the 1976 epic Stanley Cup Finals battle with Montreal or the 1980 Finals super clash with the dynasty-bound Islanders has memories of how much of a role Lafleur and Bossy played in their teams’ victories.
Unquestionably, the hockey community will sorely miss the presence of both these icons.
“I just scratch my head at the coincidence and the irony of two of the greatest right wings in the history of the game passing away within a week of one another,’’ Clement said. “Those were two players I can say I had the honor of playing against. You could say the same thing about Bobby Orr.’’
Clement said Lafleur and Bossy had slightly different hockey styles on the ice but had similar modest personalities off it.
“Guy was explosive and could bring a crowd to its feet,’’ Clement said. “Mike knew how to position himself, wait for pucks to come to him from Bryan Trottier. Other than their brilliance on the ice, they never requested attention or looked for it. The notoriety they got was their scoring genius and their championships. Guy won five championships, Mike won four. They never forgot where they came from. That’s the greatest compliment you can pay an athlete. . .that he never forget where he came from, meaning his values were always in place, their consideration for others. Guy and Mike were paragons of being made of the right stuff. In the game of life they were stars.’’
As talented as the duo happened to be from a physical skills standpoint, perhaps their greatest asset was their hockey IQ. Each scored more than 500 goals for a career and that doesn’t happen unless the player is constantly in the right place at the right time.
“If you don’t have a hockey IQ then you can’t compute what’s happening on the ice,’’ Clement said. “Hockey is a giant puzzle. The players that can figure out the puzzle the quickest, like micro-seconds, as things unfold have the opportunity to do incredible things. When you combine that hockey IQ at the snap of a finger with those skill sets of a shooter, you end up with a Mike Bossy or a Guy Lafleur.’’
One has to go all the way back to 1983 and the end of the Islanders’ dynasty to find a four-in-a-row Stanley Cup champion and to Montreal (1976-79) for the time before that.
Much of that has to do with salary caps, free-agent player movement and a dilution of talent over 32 teams.
Those days of multiple consecutive Cup champions are probably over but because of the exploits of Lafleur and Bossy, certainly not forgotten. Saying a heartfelt goodbye to a pair of memorable stars such as these two guarantees that.