Robert Laflamme | From the Nordiques to the Avalanche, the circle is complete

There are very few hockey fans who will talk about the Nordiques of the early 1990s as a golden age. But for colleague Robert Laflamme, it was.

“I experienced the golden age when I arrived. We traveled with the team, we slept in the same hotels. We could have discussions with Stéphane Fiset, with Claude Lapointe on the tarmac at the airport, next to the bus leaving the hotel. I told this to my students at UQAM, I told them: it’s not like that anymore! »

Robert Laflamme, “Bob Feu” or “Bobby”, is a highly appreciated colleague within the journalistic brotherhood. At 58 years old, the man who has written for since 2015 ended a career of almost 40 years, during the visit of the Colorado Avalanche, Monday evening at the Bell Center. The former Nordiques, where he began his career in major media.

In the absence of Joe Sakic, Laflamme was essentially the link between the two eras of this franchise. He would also be the last still active written journalist to have made the “beat” of the Nordiques.

So ending it with the visit of the Avalanche, “it was wanted”, confirms our man. “I knew I was finishing in January. When I looked at the calendar and saw that the Avalanche were coming to play in Montreal, it was clear that I was finishing that day. »

From Moncton to Montreal

A native of the south shore of Quebec, a fan of the New York Islanders “before the four Stanley Cups”, Laflamme dreamed of covering hockey like the late Ghislain Luneau did.

“Asshole, I went to private college, and I read The Montreal Journal, the sports section was thick. When my fathers hit me, they took it away from me, because I had to read The duty ! But I wanted to be a sports journalist. »

Laflamme took the classic path to the profession. Studies at the info-comm program at the University of Moncton, followed by a few years in regional media in the suburbs of Quebec. At the same time, he replaced from time to time Mario Leclerc, his “mentor”, he says, who covered the Nordiques for The Canadian Press (PC).

The term “mentor” makes Leclerc smile on the other end of the phone. “He always put a little in!” I tried to give him a helping hand, but he was already good,” says Leclerc.

At the end of 1989, Leclerc left the coverage of the Nordiques at the PC to The Montreal Journal. “They held a competition to replace me. I told them: stop looking, the first line guy, we have him. He is ready. I convinced them and they never regretted it. »

Leclerc recalls that “under a shy, reserved exterior, he asked good questions in the scrumshe had to guts. In addition, he had a good pen. It wasn’t Lamartine, but it came out well. At Newspaper, we added commentary, but when you write for an agency like the PC, it’s the facts, the facts, the facts. It had to be straight. He understood it quite quickly.”

On the cover of the Nordiques, Laflamme sees all the colors, starting with his very first game, January 23, 1989. It is the famous “Toilet Bowl”, a 5-0 defeat against the Hartford Whalers during which fans at the Coliseum throw rolls of toilet paper at their favorite, referee Kerry Fraser.


The PressJanuary 24, 1989, sports notebook, page 5

“I was supporting Mario that evening, it wasn’t clear if I was going to write. When people started spinning the reels, Mario looked at me and said, “I think you’re going to write after all!” »

Those years of misery obviously required creativity, at a time when the team was essentially winning one game in four. One of his pearls, which we unfortunately were not able to find: “Records are made to be broken, and so are the Nordics. »

He was in Boston for Ron Tugnutt’s 70 saves. “I wrote that the shots at the Garden were rising as fast as Canada’s debt,” he remembers. The Boston journalists were holding their heads in both hands. We were experiencing something. »


The PressMarch 22, 1991, sports notebook, page 3

The 1991 draft, marked by the selection of Eric Lindros, is also part of his memories of this incredible era. “It was not a great experience. The day before the draft, he was really condescending towards Quebec…”

When he left the Nordiques in 1995, the PC transferred him to Montreal, where he covered a range of sports, from boxing to the Alouettes, including eight Olympic Games in a row, from Sydney in 2000 to Sochi in 2014. In 2002 , he resumed coverage of the NHL, this time on the Canadian.

Alongside these covers he wrote the fascinating The Stastnys: Gilles Léger’s stroke of genius, recounting the arrival of the three Czechoslovaks in Quebec. “It’s quite a lifetime’s work. I had good employers, good bosses. But if I want to be selfish, I would say that the book is at the top of my achievements. »


His most memorable moments on the cover? He doesn’t hesitate for long.

“My first big games were the Commonwealth in 1998, with Alexandre Despatie at 13 years old. I was the only Quebec journalist there, with Radio-Canada. I was in the stands and I was saying: what is the little tabarouette doing there? He’s as tall as three apples and he beats everyone! »

Sidney Crosby’s winning goal at the Vancouver Games also comes out pretty quickly. “We weren’t on the bridge, we were in the stands, with fans in front and to the side. There was a lot of shouting, but we are used to working in noise! But when he scored… I managed to block everything and say to myself: we have to come out with a text. »

The victory of Daniel Nestor and Sébastien Lareau against the “Woodies” at the Sydney Games also had an impact on him. “It’s like the Canadian arriving at the Spectrum in the 1970s. There were no checks or cross-checks in the face, but it’s intimidating for the Canadians! »


The PressSeptember 28, 2000, page B3

Despatie returns among his favorites. Joe Sakic too, whom he would have liked to greet one last time on Monday. However, before the match, he received a Nordiques jersey autographed by Sakic as a retirement gift. Not a bad consolation prize.

Another favorite: Crosby who, a few days before the 2017 final, told him of his intention to go to Rimouski. “I was the only one from Quebec who arrived in Pittsburgh,” he remembers. He asks me: “Mr. Tanguay (Mauritius), how is he?” Then, he told me: “If we win, I will go to Rimouski with the Cup”. The guy wasn’t afraid to jinx himself! It showed that the Tanguay were very important to him.

“I briefly knew Wayne Gretzky when I was first starting out. But when Crosby arrived, I said to myself that it was really a transfer of power, personality-wise. »

The real retirement

Laflamme taught for two years at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM), but does not intend to go back and is perfectly ready to put his notebook away. He is leaving an industry that worries him a bit.

“I traveled a lot. The job at the time was to go there. It’s when you move that you pick up the best stories. By having less and less money, traditional media cut staff, but also travel, and do a lot of coverage from the office.

” I keep hope. But I don’t like the tangent it’s taking, with all the related sites, the click sites. I make it a point not to click. Traditional media will always have their place and I hope they will manage to keep it. I don’t think jumping ship is the right solution, but I’m in a bad position to say that, because I finished my career writing for the National League! »

So awaiting him are trips in a caravan with his Sonia, and bike rides which will replace the race. This legendary athlete wanted to complete 50 marathons, but knee problems meant he was “stuck at 40”.

On behalf of all your colleagues, happy retirement, Bob!


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