Tuesday

Guy Lapointe

Guy Lapointe was a skilled puck handler and skater who was equally effective at both ends of the ice. He was also known as a solid body checker and a team leader. He was the Al MacInnis of his day.

It isn't just that Lapointe is defensively sound and a pretty good hitter. He's like an extra forward on offence," admired long time coach Scotty Bowman.

Guy Lapointe teamed with Larry Robinson and Serge Savard to form the greatest collection of defensemen ever assembled on one team. Lapointe was perhaps the best of the three offensively. He really quarterbacked the Hab's fearsome powerplay during the late 1970s. His hard and accurate slapshot from the point was the key to the power play's success. All together, Lapointe would score 171 goals and 622 points in 884 contests. He played in four NHL All-Star games during his career and was also named to Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series and to Team NHL at the 1979 Challenge Cup series against the Soviet Union. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993.

That's not bad for a player who in junior wasn't considered to be much of a prospect.

At age 18 Lapointe enlisted in the Quebec Provincial Police department. His brother had been a cop in Montreal and his dad was a long time fire captain in the Montreal Fire Department. But the Montreal Canadiens convinced Guy to give their junior team a shot. Lapointe, who played parts of the two previous seasons with the Verdun Jr. Maple Leafs, agreed to try out. He made the team and developed quickly into a late bloomer.

The Canadiens signed Lapointe in 1968 but they felt he would need time to develop his raw skills in the minor leagues.

"He's just so strong. Not just when he shoots, but in everything he does. He does everything strong," said Montreal legend Jean Beliveau.

That first season of pro hockey was the toughest for Guy, and at times he must have wondered if he should have stayed with the police department. He didn't know how to say much of anything in English, and the Habs had sent him to a farm team that was about as far away from Quebec as you could get on this continent - Houston, Texas!

"If it wasn't for Phil Myre, who was my roommate, I don't know what might have happened" said Guy admiringly of his friend and teammate. Myre played a huge role in Guy's development that season off the ice.

The following year Guy was promoted to the Habs top farm team - the Montreal Voyageurs. He played really well in 57 games, and even got a chance to play in 5 NHL games.

Lapointe took the NHL by storm starting in 1970-71. He exploded onto the scene with his 15 goals and 44 points. He was a strong player in the playoffs too as the Habs made an unexpected trip to the Finals, capturing Lord Stanley's Cup.

For a rookie like Guy, it was a turbulent experience.

"I really was scared of making a mistake" he allowed, even though he came across on the ice with poise beyond his inexperienced years. "Especially in the finals with Chicago. I was really terrible. I got sick before the game and between each period."

In Guy's second year he was have another fantastic season but that nearly was derailed in November 1971 when Detroit's Al Karlander's shot deflected off of Lapointe's stick and into his face. The puck fractured Lapointe's cheekbone and narrowly missed his precious eye.

Guy only missed 11 games because of the injury though. He came back wearing a protective mask, and played while it was still mending.

"I love hockey so much" he said at the time. "I'd play it for nothing."

Lapointe's enthusiasm for the game along with his obvious package of skills helped him be named to Team Canada 1972 for the Summit Series against the Russians. The idea was to play Canada's best against Russia's best. Even though he had been in the league just two seasons, Guy was selected as one of Canada's best.

Being invited to a team of Canada's best is perhaps the highest honor a player could get, but Guy almost turned to offer down. Lapointe's wife was expecting the birth of their child and if Guy made the team, he would likely miss the birth.

"It was a tough decision for me," Lapointe said, "but I had to go because it was a great chance."

Indeed it was a great chance, but Lapointe did miss the birth of his son as he was in Moscow.

"I did not go to Czechoslovakia [for an exhibition game that followed the series win over the Soviet Union]," Lapointe said. "I had to get home because my son was two days old by then."

Lapointe hurried home and was on fire by the time the NHL season started. Fresh off of his exhilarating experience in Moscow Guy blossomed with 19 goals and 54 points in 76 games, plus 6 goals and 13 points in 17 playoff games. He was a strong candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy that spring as the Habs won the Stanley Cup.

Lapointe duplicated his performance in 1973-74 (scoring 13 goals and 53 points) but took his game to a new level in 1974-75 when he hit personal best with 28 goals plus 47 assists for 75 points in 1976-77. Lapointe was runner-up to Bobby Orr for the Norris Trophy in 1973 and selected to the NHL's First All-Star Team. In fact, many considered Lapointe to be the best defenseman aside from Orr in the early 1970s, and certainly during that particular season.

Lapointe kept playing at that level for the next two years, scoring 2 goals and 68 points in 1975-76 and 25 goals and a career high 76 points in 1976-77. The Habs won the Cup each of those years.

In 1976 Guy was asked once again to represent Canada - this time at the inaugural Canada Cup tournament. Guy was a strong contributor on what many people consider the greatest team ever iced. His Montreal teammates Larry Robinson and Serge Savard also made the team. The trio were considered to be the best set of defensemen on one NHL team ever, yet on this team they were like defensemen number 4, 5 and 6 behind Bobby Orr, Brad Park and Denis Potvin! Canada of course went on to capture the inaugural Canada Cup over the defending world champions from Czechoslovakia.

Lapointe was on pace for another incredible season in 1977-78 but he nearly lost an eye again during the season. He missed 31 games because he had to have surgery to reattach the retina to his eye.

While Lapointe would play solidly in his return and the following season (both of which saw the Habs win the Cup yet again), many said Lapointe was not quite the same after the eye surgery. He had to develop a slightly different playing style. As he aged he would have to play a lesser role offensively.

Injuries again took their toll in 1979-80, and he never returned to a dominating offensive role in the remainder of his career. He would remain in Montreal until March 1982 when he was traded to St. Louis for a draft pick. In 1983-84 he signed as a free agent with the Boston Bruins for one final season in the National Hockey League.

Lapointe was in some ways unlucky to play for the great Montreal Canadiens in the 1970s. He never did get the recognition that many others did. He was deemed to be part of a great defense, but never established himself as the best of it. He was overshadowed to a degree by Larry Robinson and Serge Savard, as well as other players around the league, most notably Bobby Orr, Denis Potvin and Brad Park.

Guy was best known around the league as the ultimate practical jokester. In his view anyone was game, and somehow none of his victims ever saw him do it, even though much of the rest of the team was in on it. It was said that late in a game he'd deliberately get a penalty so he could be sent to the dressing room instead of the penalty box, so he could get a head start on his practical jokes. Players, coaches, media, even the local stickboy while on the Habs were on the road would get it!

But fans of the game remember him as a powerful skater with a hard low shot. He had this rare ability to instill the correct emotion into a game. If the game was flat or lifeless, somehow Lapointe knew how to instill enthusiasm. Yet if the game was too hectic for the Habs liking, Lapointe could slow things down and calm the storm.

4 comments:

Anonymous,  6:49 AM  

Very well written. I also think that Lapointe is and continues to be under-rated in Habs history. The numbers he put up in his career are very impressive.

Anonymous,  11:44 AM  

One of the best D-men ever and I agree with the above. It's a shame that "Pointu" mostly only gets mentioned alongside Robinson and Savard.

CLHabs 8:03 PM  

I trust the Habs management will wake up and bring his name up along side Boom boom`s....hopefully before Guy passes away.

ef1467b6-029e-11e1-ad4a-000bcdcb2996 7:34 PM  

I am related with Guy Lapointe. He is my great great cousin. He is my grandma cousin, which he is on my dad's side of my family.
if he remembers a Denise Lapointe, then that is good because that is my grandma.

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