18 April 2019
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Fleury come lately

 

 

Something stirs inside when I think about Theoren Fleury’s career and contributions in the hockey world. Recently enough, he has given us every opportunity to do just that.

 

An incredibly gifted and athletic winger in the National Hockey League, I believe his presence in the game drew me in because he was a long-shot, cocksure and diminutive forward. Sure, he has seen some dark days and had battles that have been waged on the inside as well. But he is a warrior and not just because Fleury’s #9 has been retired by the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors. No, Theo’s allure in the hockey community has to do with determination, untamed courage, and the outright urgency imparted on every shift.  

 

Born in the small town of Oxbow, Saskatchewan (south east of Regina) and raised in Russell, Manitoba, Fleury battled odds and larger players at every turn. A magical junior career with the Warriors witnessed him scare up 133 goals and 179 assists in the first three campaigns; critics and scouts maligned his name with assurances that his game would have trouble adapting to the NHL. 

Most probably just sighed and considered it a waste of talent. The Calgary Flames took the chance, drafting the sparkplug 166th overall in 1987; the very same round as dependable third powerplay unit specialist Jim Dowd and between non-NHLers Markku Kyllonen and Jarmo Myllys. Theoren ultimately displayed an answer for his critics. The final year in Moose Jaw (1987-88) saw him set club records in points for a career and season with an astonishing 160 points. It earned Theo the only tie for scoring in WHL history-to-date with 'Burnaby' Joe Sakic. Sakic won the crown on the goals scored tie-breaker.    

 

Fleury’s professional career began in the International Hockey League immediately after the WHL regular season with the Salt Lake Golden Eagles. His impact was immense. He stacked up seven points in just two games and pushed the Eagles right through the playoffs with 16 points (including 11 goals) in eight games. Fleury was the youngest team member at 19, and was an integral part of the championship alongside NHL players such as Marc Bureau and Stu Grimson.

 

Many of us are aware of the great deal of success that Theo experienced with the Calgary Flames. In his very first season, he was called up on New Year’s Day to provide a spark to a veteran-laden and physically dominating club. Perhaps it was the ideal situation for any slick, size-small forward to commence their career.  Fleury fit beautifully into the aggressive, hard-nose brand the Flames threw at teams. 

 

Fleury scored his first NHL goal against the Oilers on Hockey Night in Canada and later finished the year with 34 points in 36 contests. Calgary survived a fantastic challenge from the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, made shorter work of first the L.A. Kings and then the Chicago Blackhawks, and eventually bested the Canadiens to win the Cup on the Montreal Forum ice. 

 

Fleury played a smaller part in the victory, though the depth of the team was incredible and Cliff Fletcher must be given credit to assembling the squad. Lanny McDonald, Al MacInnis, Joe Nieuwendyk, Joel Otto, Doug Gilmour, and Mike Vernon were just a few of the absolutely pivotal members.

 

Shorter spans with the Colorado Avalanche, New York Rangers, and finally with the Chicago Blackhawks were productive on the ice for Fleury, but demons circled and eventually the curtain closed on his NHL tenure. To say the least, the numbers express themselves. He played in 1,084 games and tallied 1,088 points. That is augmented by 1840 penalty-minutes and 79 points in 77 playoff tests. Theo played in 7 All-Star games, leads the Flames all-time points record book, and had eight 30+ goal seasons.

 

At this point, Fleury had already teamed up in 1994 with the infamous Graham James, Joe Sakic, Bret Hart and others to form the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen. It has become a very successful part of the league and served as a precursor to the fact that Fleury would never stray far from the game he loves.

 

An attempt in 2005 with the Horse Lake Thunder and cousin Todd Holt (and former-Canuck Gino Odjick) of the North Peace Hockey League, fell just short in winning the Allan Cup. It only served to whet his appetite, as then he trounced the British Elite Ice Hockey League; he was named the Player of the Season and to the First All-Star Team with the Belfast Giants.

 

In keeping a different iron in the fire, Fleury was awarded a contract to play for the Calgary Vipers Baseball Club in the Golden Baseball League, which was nothing more than a couple at-bats and major publicity. All the while, he has been busy keeping his concrete sealing business hopping in the boom economy of Calgary. 

 

Recently, Theo has come forward to announce that he is making another stab at the Allan Cup Championship.  Last year’s Finalist, the Bentley Generals has secured the services of his former coach Brian Sutter. Sutter was the coach of the Blackhawks during Fleury’s final NHL paycheques. It seems that Fleury has a mind for business, pleasure, and results.

 

“I wanted to prove wrong every person who said that I was too small. The scouts have a ‘big man’ mentality. A big guy has to prove he can’t play, and a little guy has to prove he can.”- Theoren Fleury, “For the Love of Hockey” compiled by Chris McDonell

 

 

Robin Keith Thompson

10 September 2008

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