‘The Flower’ wows sports celebrity breakfasters

MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur may be 56 years old and the long hair that once blew back in his own on-ice jet-stream may no longer be in evidence, but “Flower Power” was in full bloom at the Gelber Conference Centre recently.

The occasion was the fourth annual Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors (CJCS) Sports Celebrity Breakfast to raise funds for seniors in need.

And who else but Lafleur, the best scorer in Habs history – 518 goals and 718 assists over 14 seasons – could bring in more than 500 fans?

With children and grandchildren in tow, throngs came to Gelber to hear, meet and, most importantly, get pictures taken with and autographs signed by this legend-come-to-life.

And what better timing? The event came just four days before Les Glorieux, having just finished first in the NHL’s Eastern Conference, were about to lace up for the first round of the playoffs against their historic nemeses, the Boston Bruins.

Questioned by the Gazette’s Dave Stubbs, Lafleur expressed the hope that the Habs would bring the Stanley Cup back to where it so rightly belongs.

“It’s what all the veterans want and the fans want, too,” Lafleur said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

In his 14 years with the Canadiens,  from 1971 to 1985, the team made the playoffs every year and won the Stanley Cup five times. Stubbs said that Lafleur “bleeds the bleu, blanc, rouge.”

In reply to a couple of other questions, Lafleur noted that the key to “understanding the dynasty is understanding the demands of the fans.”

Lafleur said that of all the Stanley Cups he won as a Hab, the first one he was a part of in 1973 stood out.

“I really understood what it was all about [for] the players, the fans, and the organization,” he said.

Lafleur’s presence was the highlight of the breakfast, which raised an impressive $100,000 and included, for the first time, a slick program book filled with advertising.

A number of other sports celebrities also sat at the two head tables. Among them were current Canadien Tom Kostopolous (for whom the kids also vied for autographs and photos); Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo; Als alumni Tony Proudfoot; and Shaun Diner, the Als’ Jewish wide receiver.

Also enjoying the lox and bagels were a number of other local sports notables, past and present, including McGill Redmen hockey Jewish up-and-comer Sam Bloom; wrestler Martine Dugrenier; Olympic diver Marie-Eve Marleau and Als alumnus Glenn Keeble.

Also present was the Als’ head coach, Marc Trestman, the team’s first Jewish head coach since Marv Levy.

Apart from brief question-and-answer periods with a numbers of the sports figures, a few other moments resonated.

Proudfoot, a CJAD football broadcaster who helped save lives during the 2006 Dawson College shooting rampage and is battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), poignantly spoke of the need to “suck it up” in the face of adversity.

CJCS executive director Herb Finkelberg made the audience howl when he recounted how a diner in the CJCS cafeteria was asked, “Do you know who this man is?” as Lafleur walked around the cafeteria virtually unnoticed.

“No,” replied the senior, “but I’m sure if you take him to the front desk, they’ll tell him his name.”

Other notables heard from included  Liberal MNA Lawrence Bergman and Marguerite Blais, Quebec’s minster for seniors, who earned applause twice: the first time for assuring people that more government publications relevant to them would be made available in English, and the second for showing that she knew how to recite, in Hebrew, the Shema.

The crowd also laughed when Blais, 57, said she was a CJCS member.

“You don’t have to be Jewish,” she said. “You have to be old.”