By Zane Miller
Theoren Fleury is a former pro ice hockey forward, playing with the Calgary Flames of the NHL from the 1988-89 through 1998-99 seasons, as well as spending a significant amount of playing time with the New York Rangers from 1999-2000 to 2001-02.
Fleury claimed his first and only Stanley Cup championship in 1989 with the Flames, along with a Turner Cup championship in 1988 with the International Hockey League’s Salt Lake Golden Eagles. Fleury also claimed three championships while representing Canada at the World Junior Championships in 1988, the Canada Cup in 1991 and the Winter Olympics in 2002.
Fleury was born on June 29th, 1968 in Oxbow, Saskatchewan. As far as the earliest hockey games he participated in with recorded statistics goes, the story starts off with impressive numbers in the 1983-84 season as Fleury was a member of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s St. James Canadians. At forward for the Canadians, he scored 33 goals and 31 assists for a total of 64 points in only 22 games played. However, outside of Fleury’s contributions the team was a disaster, finishing with an 11-37 record, the worst record in the team’s history until a 6-58 record in what would be their final season in 2002-03.
Fleury quickly moved up to a more competitive junior league in the Western Hockey League for the 1984-85 season, joining the Moose Jaw Warriors as he looked to help the team to their first championship. His debut season in the WHL produced 29 goals and 75 points, however, the Warriors finished at the bottom of the standings with a 21-50-1 record, missing the playoffs.
In 1985-86, Fleury led the team in points with 108 to break the 100-point mark for the first time, along with adding 43 goals. While the Warriors still had a lackluster regular season, finishing at 25-44-3, it would be just enough to clinch a playoff spot. Moose Jaw were able to advance in the first round of the 1986 WHL playoffs, however, they would be swept in the second round in three games by the Medicine Hat Tigers.
Fleury led the Warriors with 61 goals in the 1986-87 season, pushing the team to a 38-31-3 record and again they were able to take advantage by making the playoffs for the second year in a row. The Warriors picked up the win in the first round of the 1987 playoffs, sweeping the Regina Pats three games to none. However, Medicine Hat would be a thorn in the side of Moose Jaw once again in the second round, as the Tigers won the series four games to two.
At this point, it was obvious that Fleury had considerable talent, but the problem was that many NHL scouts felt he was too short to make it at the NHL level. Due to this thought process, Fleury dropped all the way to the eighth round in the 1987 NHL Draft, where he was eventually taken by the Calgary Flames with the 166th overall pick.
Fleury’s final year in the WHL in 1987-88 would also be his best statistically, getting a career high of 68 goals to once again lead the team, however, his biggest improvement was probably in the assists department. Fleury had 68 assists in the 1986-87 season, but 1987-88 saw him add a whopping 92 assists, which added to the 68 goals gave him a total of 160 points on the season. Despite this outstanding production, the Warriors were unable to make the playoffs with an 18-52-2 record, finishing dead last in the WHL standings.
Since Moose Jaw’s season ended slightly before the pro hockey season concluded, Fleury was able to join the Flames minor league system in the 1987-88 season, as he joined the International Hockey League with the Salt Lake Golden Eagles. Fleury played two regular season games with three goals and four assists, as the Golden Eagles took a 40-42 record to advance to the 1988 IHL playoffs. In the first round, Salt Lake staved off the Peoria Rivermen four games to three, before taking down the Colorado Rangers four games to two to reach the Turner Cup Finals.
In the Turner Cup Finals, the Golden Eagles faced the Flint Spirits. With the series tied at two games to two, the Golden Eagles scored a crucial overtime victory in game five followed by a game six victory to take home the 1988 championship, the first pro championship in Fleury’s career, as well as back-to-back championships for the Golden Eagles as they had previously won the Turner Cup in 1987.
Fleury began the 1988-89 season with the Golden Eagles, playing 40 games with the team while scoring 37 goals and 37 assists for 74 points, before being called up by the Calgary Flames to make his NHL debut on January 3rd, 1989. While not with the Golden Eagles by the playoffs, the team went on to finish at 56-26 and made it to the 1989 Turner Cup Finals, but were unable to pull off the three-peat as Salt Lake was defeated by the Muskegon Lumberjacks.
Meanwhile, Fleury scored his first goal with the Flames on January 7th, 1989, as the team faced the Edmonton Oilers. Fleury scored the goal against future Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr, as the Flames went on to take a 7-2 victory. The rest of the regular season saw Fleury score a total of 14 goals to match the jersey number that he would wear throughout his entire NHL career, while Calgary claimed a 54-17-9 record to advance to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Calgary began the 1989 playoffs by defeating the Vancouver Canucks in the first round four games to two, followed by a four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Kings in the second round. The Flames disposed of the Chicago Blackhawks four games to one in the Conference Finals to make the second Stanley Cup Final appearance in the team’s history.
The Flames played the Montreal Canadiens for the 1989 Stanley Cup Finals, as Calgary started out the Finals strong with a 3-2 victory in game one. However, the Canadiens fought back with a 4-2 win in game two and a 4-3 double overtime victory in game three. The Flames were able to recapture the momentum in game four, winning 4-2, before eking out a 3-2 game five victory and finishing the series off in game six on May 25th, 1989, with the Flames defeating the Canadiens 4-2 to claim the 1989 Stanley Cup championship roughly a month short of Fleury’s 21st birthday. Fleury netted a goal and an assist in the series, closing out the playoffs with five goals and six assists in 22 games played.
The 1989-90 season saw Fleury play the full regular season for the first time in his NHL career, scoring 31 goals and 35 assists as the Flames finished at 42-23-15 to make it into the 1990 playoffs. However, the team was eliminated in the first round in six games by the Kings.
In the 1990-91 season, Fleury’s regular season numbers skyrocketed as he earned 51 goals and 53 assists to not only break the 50-goal barrier in what would be the highest goal total in his pro career, but also break the 100-point mark with 104, which would also be a career high for Fleury. The Flames were rewarded with a 46-26-8 record to make it into the 1991 playoffs, but again fell out in the first round, losing to Edmonton four games to three.
The 1991-92 season saw Fleury face a slump of sorts, getting 33 goals and 40 assists for 73 points. While those are still good numbers, they were a significant drop from his stats in the season prior. The Flames themselves also had a slip in performance, finishing with a 31-37-12 record for their first losing season since 1982-83. As a result, the team missed the playoffs for the first time in Fleury’s tenure in Calgary.
However, both Fleury and the team rebounded in 1992-93. While Fleury didn’t improve much in his goal totals as he scored 34 goals, he set a career high in assists with 66 on the season, getting his second 100-point season in the process. The Flames took a 43-30-11 record to qualify for the 1993 playoffs, but again took an early exit with the Kings defeating them four games to two.
Fleury nabbed 40 goals in the 1993-94 season to help the Flames to a 42-29-13 record, but the familiar story of the team losing in the first round of the playoffs continued in 1994, as they were eliminated by the Canucks in seven games, with the Canucks going on to play in that season’s Stanley Cup Finals, as the Kings did the year prior.
1994-95 was an unusual season for the NHL, as a lockout forced a shortened regular season of 48 games per team. During the truncated season, Fleury added 29 goals with the Flames claiming a 24-17-7 record, but the first round playoff loss bug bit them again in 1995, this time losing to the San Jose Sharks in seven games.
The league was back to business as usual in 1995-96 with the normal slate of regular season games, and Fleury responded by getting to 50 assists for the third time in his career. Along with the 50 assists, Fleury also scored 46 goals, just narrowly missing out on getting to 100 points for a third time. Despite the impressive showing from Fleury, the Flames finished with a losing record of 34-37-11, but were able to make it into the 1996 playoffs nonetheless. In the first round, the Flames faced the Chicago Blackhawks, who promptly swept them in four games as Calgary was bumped in the first round for the fourth straight year, what would be Fleury’s final postseason appearance with the Flames.
The 1996-97 season would see a decline in performance from both Fleury and the Flames, with Fleury getting 29 goals in the Flames’ 32-41-9 season, causing Calgary to miss the playoffs.
In 1997-98, Fleury scored 27 goals, but made it to the 50-assist mark for the fourth time in his NHL career with 51 assists. The Flames disappointed in the regular season, missing the playoffs with a 26-41-15 record in Fleury’s final full season of playing for the Flames.
In 1998-99, Fleury was in the middle of another solid season in Calgary, but, on February 28th, 1999, he was traded to the Colorado Avalanche as the Avalanche were looking to make a push for the 1999 playoffs. The Flames again missed the playoffs with a record of 30-40-12, but Colorado grabbed a 44-28-10 showing to qualify for the 1999 playoffs. Fleury completed the season with 40 goals, 30 scored with Calgary and 10 with Colorado, with 53 total assists for his fifth 50-assist season, the final time he would accomplish this feat.
The Avalanche beat the Sharks in the first round four games to two, then took down the Detroit Red Wings in six games as well to make it to the Conference Finals against the Dallas Stars. Despite going up three games to two in the series, the Stars responded by winning the next two games to beat the Avalanche in seven games, keeping them one series short of another Stanley Cup appearance.
As Fleury’s contract expired at the end of the 1998-99 season, he became a free agent and joined the New York Rangers for 1999-2000. However, Fleury struggled in goal scoring, getting his career low in a full-time season with 15. On the other hand, he still produced a lot of assists for the Rangers, earning 49 assists, as well as claiming his 500th career assist on December 17th, 1999 with a primary helper on a power play goal for Rangers forward Adam Graves against the Washington Capitals, a game which the Rangers lost 3-2 in overtime. The Rangers missed the playoffs with a 29-41-12 record.
Fleury returned with the Rangers for the 2000-01 season and put up much better overall statistics, doubling his goal total for 30 goals on the season, but played only 62 games due to requiring treatment for substance abuse issues. The Rangers went 33-44-5, missing the playoffs again.
In 2001-02, Fleury played the full NHL regular season for the final time in his career, scoring 24 goals, as well as grabbing his 1,000th career point on October 29th, 2001 with an assist on a goal by Rangers forward Mike York in a game against the Dallas Stars, which the Rangers went on to win 4-2. The Rangers were again saddled with a losing season, going 36-42-4 and missing the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season.
Fleury became a free agent for the 2002-03 season and signed with the Chicago Blackhawks. However, Fleury only played 54 games due to his suspension at the beginning of the season by the NHL for violating the terms of their substance abuse program. Fleury added 12 goals and 21 assists for a total of 33 points, the lowest single-season point total in his NHL career. The Blackhawks finished the season at 30-39-13 and did not qualify for the playoffs.
While Fleury still had a year remaining on his contract with the Blackhawks, he never played a game in the 2003-04 season after being suspended for a second time due to violating the terms of the league’s substance abuse program. This effectively brought an end to Fleury’s NHL career, as he scored 455 goals, 633 assists and 1,088 points over the course of 1,084 games played, with a Stanley Cup championship with the Calgary Flames in 1989 to boot.
Fleury sat out from playing professional hockey in 2004-05, before re-emerging in the 2005-06 season in the Elite Ice Hockey League with the Belfast Giants. This wasn’t the first time Fleury had played outside of North America, as he had a brief stint with Tappara Tampere of the Finnish Elite League in the 1994-95 season during the NHL lockout, where he scored 17 points in 10 games played, while the team went on to go 16-30-4 and miss the playoffs. In his season with the Giants, Fleury netted 22 goals and 52 assists, helping the team to the best record in the EIHL at 28-5-9. In the playoffs, the Giants made it past the first round, but fell in the second round in a 4-2 loss to the Newcastle Vipers.
Fleury attempted a comeback to the NHL as he rejoined the Calgary Flames in the 2009 preseason, but was unable to make the cut for the final roster and announced his retirement shortly afterwards.
Fleury also represented Canada in several international tournaments. On January 4th, 1988, Canada claimed the 1988 World Juniors championship by just one point over the Soviet Union, as Canada finished the tournament with a 6-0-1 record, while the Soviet Union went 6-1, as Fleury scored six goals and two assists during the tournament. On September 16th, 1991, Fleury won the 1991 Canada Cup Finals as Canada swept the United States in two games, getting a goal and four assists in the tournament. On February 24th, 2002, Canada won the gold medal game against the United States 5-2 in the 2002 Winter Olympics, snapping a 50-year gold medal drought for the Canadian men’s team. Fleury added two goals and six assists in the tournament.
In 2008, Fleury played two games of independent league baseball, signing with the Calgary Vipers of the now-defunct Golden Baseball League. Playing as left fielder, he got one hit in his three plate appearances during a doubleheader on August 9th, 2008 against the Yuma Scorpions. The Vipers went on to finish the season with a record of 45-42 to qualify for the 2008 GBL playoffs. The team swept the Edmonton Cracker-Cats in three games in the first round, before losing in the finals to the Orange County Flyers three games to two.
Following his retirement, Fleury started his own concrete sealing company and clothing brand and has become an advocate for several different causes after overcoming the substance abuse that he suffered during his playing career. Despite scoring over 1,000 points in the NHL, along with a Stanley Cup and an Olympic gold medal, Fleury has not yet been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Special thanks to @shaungerow for suggesting this article!
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