Doug Risebrough broke his stick and threw it into the stands, from where it was retrieved by a youngster who had infiltrated the Montreal Canadiens' practice. The kid turned around and asked whose stick he now possessed.
"Guy Lafleur's," a writer replied, then whispered to his frowning companions. "Well, whose stick would you want, Doug Risebrough's or "Guy Lafleur's."
Lafleur, the Flower, No. 10, is headed for his second straight NHL scoring title with 131 points and two games to play. The 6-foot, 175-pound right wing entered tonight's game against the Washington Capitals here with an KHL record string of 25 games in which he had scored at least one point. So it was no wonder that Lafleur was smiling and joking during the spirited workout, which prompted an observer to say that "the best games of the year are here in these practices."
Indeed, they are more competitive than most games in the Forum, where the Canadiens have played 33 in a row without defeat. But, after welcoming a group of handicapped children to the team's dressing room, Lafleur revealed that all the winning does not afford opportunity for complacency.
"I sort of enjoy playing in practice," Lafleur said, "because it is run, a good way for us to relax. We've had all the pressure of winning this year. We lost only eight games and we always have to win. The people would not really like it if we lose two or three games in a row.
"I've been here six years now and it's always the same. You always have to give 200 per cent, always."
The Canadiens and Lefleur will close out the regular season for the Capitals at Capital Centre Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
Lafleur scored 130 goals his final junior season with the Quebec Remparts and was drafted first by Montreal in 1971 with a pick acquired from California. He was hailed as the new Jean Beliveau and understandably couldn't reach that level of performance right away.
He scored between 20 and 30 goals his first three seasons, his contract expired in 1974 and he was offered a fat contract to return to Quebec with the WHA Nordiques. Instead, he signed a 10-year, million-dollar contract with the Canadiens.
"I had something to prove, to myself, to my teammates and to the fans," Lafleur said. "It was the best move to stay here. Today things are going well and I am very happy about playing here."
In 1974-75, he collected 53 goals in 70 games, missing 10 games with an injured hand. Last season he led the NHL with 125 points, including 56 goals. This year he has 54 goals and 77 assists, and his playmaking has been a key to the 57-goal team record set by his linemate and office best buddy, Steve Shutt.
Although Lafleur, now 25, proved his greatness during his last two seasons, he was not the dominant force he has become this campaign.
Calude Ruel, who assists coach Scotty Bowman in directing the Montreal practices, said, "Before this season, once he got his tick on the puck, he'd pass it off to his center or to a defenseman. Now he leads the attack himself. He has the puck more often and when he skates, everyone knows what he can do."
Lafleur, a righthand shot, has the ability to fake both to the right and the left, cultivating moves that render defensemen helpless. There is a vivid memory of a midseason television game against Philadelphia in which he skated down the left side, faked to the inside and left Plyer defenseman Moose Dupont groping at air as he shifted outside, skated around Dupont and went in unopposed to score.
Besides his playmaking, shooting and skating talents, Lafleur is a competent checker and a remarkably conditioned athlete, seeming to move effortlessly around the ice.
There are no bonus clauses in his contract and one wonders how Lafleur, with all his accomplishments, can continue to motivate himself.
"The Stanley Cup always comes back, every year," he said. "It is so nice to win the Stanley Cup. Here in Montreal the fans are crazy, they are so happy when Canadiens win the cup. And all the guys are working together, the same guys in a team effort.
"With Tam Canada we were 28 guys, 28 stars. It was tough to be part of the team. It's nice to win and we had a good time, but the team spirit was not the same. The Stanley Cup is different. You know everybody on the team so well."
Although most experts already are awarding the Stanley Cup to Montreal, Lafleur does not expect the playoffs to be easy.
"We're getting prepared now and it will be very tough," he said. "All year they don't check us, and they will check tough in the playoffs. Last week Detroit put a man on me and a man on Steve and played Jacques (Lemaire) close and we could tell the difference. It was good to get that warning."
Lafleur has always been protective of his private life, but that reticence backfired a bit during a January television interview with Philadelphia's Gene Hart, who asked Lafleur about the life of a handsome bachelor in Montreal.
"It was funny that day," Lafleur recalled. "I didn't know what to say, whether to admit I had a wife and child or say nothing."
He confessed to being a family man and also says that despite his stature among Montrealers, he is able to have a private life.
"It is not that difficult," he said. "I go home and can be really private. And even when we go downtown to a restaurant, people will recognize me and talk to me, but no more. They do not bother me."
Lafleur has been criticized by the Montreal press for a reluctance to give interviews and one writer was quoted as saying that "if you ask Guy how he is, and he says, 'Fine,' that's an in-depth interview." The problem here is that newspaper competition leads writers to amphfy offhand comments and athletes must be wary of having their statements blown out of proportion.
Lafleur submitted to this interview at a moment's notice, patiently answered all questions and did not evade any. He speaks excellent English, too, which makes one wonder if there is anything he doesn't do well.
"I'm not much of a golfer," he laughed.