November is an exciting time in the NHL, as various legends are officially inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Each year, various new inductees proudly wear their new Hockey Hall of Fame blazers as they pose for pictures with their shiny hall of fame plaque before delivering what is usually a humorous or highly emotional acceptance speech. As a result of so many iconic players deserving of a spot, various superstar players such as Saskatchewan born, Metis forward Theo Fleury have been overlooked.
Selected 166th in the 1987 NHL draft by the Calgary Flames, Fleury refused to pay attention to the doubters who believed that due to his diminutive size and weight he wouldn’t be tall or strong enough to survive the vigour of a full NHL season.
Fleury, who is only 5’6” and 180 pounds showed to have a heart of a lion as he proved all his doubters wrong by putting together a hall of fame 16- year NHL career. Starting his career with the Flames, Fleury also had a spell playing with the Colorado Avalanche, New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks where in a total of 1,084 NHL games he totalled an impressive 455 goals along with 1,088 points and 1,840 penalty minutes.
Making an early splash, Fleury broke into the NHL in 1988/89 where he played a big role in helping Calgary win the Stanley Cup. Following the regular season where in 36 NHL games played, he scored 14 goals and 36 points, he came alive in the playoffs by scoring five goals and 11 points in 22 games before eventually lifting the Stanley Cup.
Naturally Hockey Hall of Famers have during their legendary careers shown that ability to have magical playoff runs. They have that gift to come through when the playoff pressure is on, which is something that Fleury has accomplished throughout his career. In post-season, Fleury ended up racking up 34 goals, 45 assists for 79 points in 77 playoff games.
Arguably, Fleury is best remembered for his exuberant goal celebration in 1991, when during the Flames first round series against their arch- rivals Edmonton Oilers, he scored the Game 6 overtime winner before enthusiastically sliding the length of the ice on his knees while waving his arms in excitement. This was a series that Edmonton would eventually win in seven games.
Representing Canada at the World Junior Championships, Fleury was part of the 1987 team which playing in Czechoslovakia was best remembered for the infamous bench clearing brawl which occurred on January 4, 1987 between Canada and the Soviet Union. This brawl, which began with Canada holding a 4-2 second period lead, led to both teams being disqualified from the tournament.
The following year, Fleury was back wearing the Canada colors at the ‘88 World Junior Championships which that year was being played in Moscow. Fleury, who captained the team, scored eight points in seven playoff games, in being named Tournament All-Star as Canada celebrated a World Juniors Championship gold medal win. Fleury never hesitated in representing his country on the international stage.
On the international circuit, Fleury had an impressive resume which included helping Canada win silver at the 1991 World Championships in Finland and five years later playing a big role in helping Canada win another silver only this time at the ‘96 World Cup which was the successor of the Canada Cup.
Meanwhile, Fleury would once again accomplish gold, as he was part of Team Canada who won gold at the 1991 Canada Cup. 11 years later he experienced the thrill of winning 2002 Olympic gold at the Salt Lake City Olympic games. Interestingly enough, Fleury, who is now 52 years-old, is just one of 15 players in NHL history to average more than a point per game in regular season and playoffs. The other 14 have already been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Overall, Fleury reached the 50-goal plateau only once in his career and hit the lofty 100- point mark twice. In his career, Fleury was twice a top five selection in Hart Trophy balloting. Currently, Fleury ranks 58th all-time among NHL goal scorers with 455, 77th in assist with 633 and 64th in points with 1,088. What made these numbers and overall career so incredible is that Fleury accomplished all this while battling an assortment of personal demons.
In his 2009 autobiography Playing with Fire, Fleury shocked the hockey world when he went into detail about the sexual abuse he was victim to from his junior coach, Graham James. As a result, he began abusing alcohol and drugs.
“The direct result of my being abused was that I became a f—ing raging, alcoholic lunatic,” Fleury wrote in the book. “(James) destroyed my belief system. The most influential adult in my life at the time was telling me that what I thought was wrong was right. I no longer had faith in myself or my own judgement. And when you come down to it, that’s all a person has. Once it’s gone, how do you get it back?”
Growing up, Fleury had little family support system as his mom was addicted to prescription sedatives and his dad was an alcoholic. In 1999, when Fleury was playing for the Rangers, his alcohol and drug use were out of control. As a result, he fooled NHL drug testers by pouring Gatorade into his urine samples. He would also admit at that time to hanging out and partying with freaks, strippers and other shady people. He also dropped a lot of money gambling in casinos and strip clubs. Taking action, the NHL forced him into treatment during the summer of 2001.
Fleury, who was a seven- time NHL all star, eventually retired in 2003 and today has completely turned his life around. Presently, Fleury has dedicated himself to being a motivational speaker and assists those around the world who are battling mental illness.
Meanwhile Fleury, who has been sober since 2005, showed tremendous character and strength when in 2010, he summoned up the courage to go ahead and file a criminal complaint against his tormentor which ultimately resulted in James going to prison for two years.
Along with his hockey achievements, Fleury also received the Canadian Humanitarian Award, and Queen’s Jubilee Medallion. The hockey numbers and international achievements speak for themselves and Fleury’s complete life turnaround which includes that desire to help people, are reasons why Theo Fleury deserves to be enshrined into the hockey hall of fame.
Photo Cutline—In overcoming the odds, Saskatchewan born Metis forward Theo Fleury carved out an impressive 16- year NHL career which saw him score 455 career goals along with 1,088 total points in 1,084 games, which are hall of fame worthy numbers. What is so amazing about his feat is that Fleury accomplished all this while battling for years personal demons which drove him to alcohol and drugs. Today, he is sober and gives motivational talks.
Photo Credit- grandstandecentral.com