Wednesday

Theoren Fleury

Despite the fact that he was one of the NHL's all time greatest super pests, annoying opponents and opponent's fans endlessly, you could not help but admire Theoren Fleury if for nothing more than his success in overcoming the many obstacles thrown his way in life.

The topic of his size always comes to the forefront when discussing the Oxbow, Saskatchewan born Fleury. Fleury was always the smallest player on any team he ever played on. He grew to be just 5'6" and played around 180lbs. Despite this he played with ferocious physicality. Grit and determination were his calling cards, even though he had the speed and skill to twice break the 100 point barrier.

Even though he dominated the Western Hockey League as a junior star with the Moose Jaw Warriors, even the Flames did not expect much from Fleury. GM Cliff Fletcher used his 166th overall draft choice in 1987 on Fleury, hoping that he would turn into a minor league drawing card. He turned into not only perhaps the best player in that draft class, but the best player in Calgary Flames history.

It did not take him long to play his way into the NHL as he played in 36 games with Calgary in the 1988-89 season and averaged almost a point per game posting 34 points (14 goals and 20 assists) in 36 games. He played in 22 playoff games that year scoring five goals and 11 points and was a member of the 1989 Stanley Cup Champion Calgary Flames. The Flames won the deciding game of the Stanley Cup Finals at the Forum in Montreal becoming the only visiting team in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup on the Montreal Canadiens home ice.

Fleury played 10+ seasons for the Calgary Flames from 1988-89 to the 1998-99 season. During that time as a member of the Flames, he reached the 20-goal plateau ten times, the 30-goal plateau seven times, the 40-goal plateau three times, and had a career-high 51 goals and 104 points in the 1990-91 season. He was the Flames leading scorer six times between the 1990-91 and 1998-99 seasons.

Though there was a messy divorce, Calgary fans loved Fleury. Oilers fans did not so much, if only because he was such a needle in their side. Fleury may have scored his most famous - if not most important - goal against the Oilers in the 1991 playoffs. His heroics and ensuing celebration will live on highlight films forever.

Fleury was traded to the Colorado Avalanche in a six-player deal on February 28, 1999. In 15 games with the Avalanche during that regular season, he scored 10 goals and added 14 assists for 24 points. He went on to play 18 playoff games for the Avalanche that year and posted 17 points with five goals and 12 assists.

Fleury signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers on July 8, 1999. He played three seasons with the Rangers including last year when he scored 24 goals and added 39 assists for 63 points (2nd on the team) with 216 penalty minutes while playing in all 82 games. Fleury led the Rangers in game winning goals with five.

Fleury reached four career milestones as a member of the Rangers. He scored his 400th career goal on November 4, 2000, at Montreal. He reached the 1,000 point plateau with two assists versus Dallas on October 29, 2001. He played in his 1,000th career game and registered his 600th career assist on January 23, 2002, versus the Boston Bruins.

Fleury was a pesky, sometimes dirty physical player. He started more than a few fires in the NHL, particularly in the legendary wars with the Edmonton Oilers in the Battle of Alberta. But his most famous on-ice incident would have to be his involvement in the 1986 "Punch Up in Piestany" at the World Junior Championships. He and Soviet player Evgeny Davydov started what turned into a bench clearing brawl, kicking both teams out of the tournament and costing Canada a gold medal.

Fleury embraced the international game. He returned to the WJC in 1987, winning gold. He participated in two world championships, 2 Canada Cups/World Cups, and 2 Olympics. His play at the 2002 Olympic games in Salt Lake where Canada won gold, Fleury impressed many with his fine play despite his crumbling NHL career.

Wayne Gretzky insisted upon the aging Fleury being a part of that team. #99 was one of Fleury's biggest fans.

"When you use the word `little' to describe Theo Fleury, you're not talking about his heart," says Wayne Gretzky, who selected Fleury for the gold medal-winning team. "This is a 50-goal scorer who could play for any team in the NHL. He's a small man who has the ability to make the big play at any time. He's living proof that size is not an insurmountable hurdle in making it to the NHL. I thoroughly enjoyed playing with Theo in the Canada Cup [in 1991]. His quickness in going to the net often catches defensemen and goaltenders asleep. When his arms are raised after scoring a goal, then he doesn't look so small."

Putting an end to the "he's too small" school of thought proved to be one of the easiest battles Fleury would face in his lifetime. Depression and alcoholism chased the aging Fleury from the league, but Crohn's Disease, his father's battle with cancer and rumors of being victimized by infamous junior coach Graham James all haunted Fleury.

In the Spring of 2001, Fluery voluntarily checked himself into the National Hockey Leagues/National Hockey Leagues Players Association Substance Abuse and Behavior Health Program missing the Rangers final 20 games of the regular season. Upon his successful completion of the NHL/NHLPA Program, Fluery entered a mandatory aftercare program prescribed by the program doctors. Participating in an aftercare program is one of the key components to each individuals overall program. As part of the aftercare program, individuals are required to submit to mandatory testing as long as they continue their career in the NHL.

Fleury would find employment in Chicago, but a drinking incident in a strip club saw the league suspend him for 25 games. That would prove to be Fleury's sad exit from the NHL.

In 2005 Fleury would resurface with the Horse Lake Thunder, playing for the Allan Cup, Canada's amateur championship. Horse Lake also featured former NHLer Gino Odjick, but the Thunder would fall short in the championship game against the Thunder Bay Bombers.

Fleury would also cross the Atlantic in hopes of extending his hockey career. Playing with the Belfast Giants, he was named as the best player in the British Elite League. Still, no NHL offers would come in.

Fleury returned to Calgary and started a concrete sealing business. He has hopes of turning his business into a reality television show.

2 comments:

Anonymous,  12:50 PM  

i saw theo in our school!!! in lac seul1 ohyesh! the best

Michael Blaha,  10:37 AM  

Just finished your book theo! Thank you. So happy you are finally happy. The world needed your story. So proud of you. You kept at the pain and won. You never buried it too deep. I like this quote if you are lucky enough to be in the mountains you are lucky enough! You were lucky enough for sure. And luck is by design.
I put a book together and would like to send you a copy so let me know where to send it.
Glad you are well and I am so happy to be well too!
Michael Blaha 720-635-5539
Michaelpblaha@gmail.com

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