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This article was published 22/6/2020 (743 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Theoren Fleury won't clutch his phone and pace around his Calgary home this week, even if a call welcoming him into the Hockey Hall of Fame might finally come.
His days of waiting with bated breath have long passed.
The Manitoban has a resumé stacked with the kind of statistics and international acclaim that should illuminate him as highly deserving candidate, even though the hall's selection committee has overlooked him for the last 11 years.
The names of the 2020 HOF inductees will be revealed Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. on TSN.
"Throw away all the stats. Stats are for losers. Stats are whatever. When the greatest hockey minds in Canada want you on their team when it really counts, what does that tell you?" – former hockey superstar Theoren Fleury
"Ah... (laughs)... I've been waiting around for a long time, so if the phone rings, great. If it doesn't, I'll be at the golf course," Fleury, who turns 52 next week, said Monday. "Obviously, I think it's the highest honour you can receive as a hockey player. Obviously, when this time of the year comes around you're aware of it. But more importantly, all of my friends and my family are the ones talking about it, not me.
"I think the work that I'm doing today is way more important than anything else I've done in my life. Saving people's lives and helping them deal with trauma, mental health and addiction is probably the real reason why I was put on the earth and not to be a famous hockey player."
The talented, gritty 5-foot-6 forward from Russell was a bona fide superstar for more than a decade (1988-99) with the Calgary Flames. During 15 NHL campaigns (1,084 games), he fired at least 30 goals eight times, hit 40 goals four times and fired 50 once ('90-91).
Overall, he scored 455 goals, tallied 1,088 points and was a pest of historic proportions, finishing with more than 1,300 penalty minutes. He also helped Calgary capture the Stanley Cup championship in 1989) and was on Canada's gold-medal squad at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Yet, the manner in which Fleury has lived his life since his very public battles with cocaine and alcohol addictions ended his NHL career in 2003 might well be his greatest accomplishment of all.
In his 2009 autobiography, Playing With Fire, he revealed the sexual abuse he endured from junior coach Graham James, and later pushed for his own name to be made public as one of the predator's victims.
Fleury continues to be an advocate for sexual-assault victims and people suffering from mental health and addictions issues. He speaks to groups across Canada and the U.S., and does one-on-one mentoring, although the coronavirus has altered his method of reaching out. He’s speaking virtually and on podcasts, for now.
"It's just evolved that way. I had no idea that telling my own story would help so many people. I guess by me putting a voice to my pain and suffering has helped other people find the courage to do the same," he said. "It keeps me alive. Sixteen years ago I had a gun in my mouth. And from that came all of this."
Fleury has been clean and sober since Sept. 18, 2005, although he's not looking ahead to any kind of a celebration to mark 15 years this fall. He still takes things day to day.
"I basically live my life 24 hours at a time because that's all I got. I have it on my phone. It's 5,390 days of continuous sobriety," he said. "My dad (Wally) who has 35 years (of sobriety) once told me, 'I'm gonna drink tomorrow.' I'm like, 'What the hell you talking about?" And then he says, 'But today I'm not. And then tomorrow I'm gonna get up, rinse and repeat and do the exact same thing.' That's how it goes."
There is a sentiment in some quarters that his candidacy should be viewed through a new lens given the increased attention now in the NHL on social justice issues, addiction and mental health.
The dark years, particularly when he spiralled out of control with the New York Rangers toward the end, might explain why the HOF has seemed reluctant to induct him. He said that's the Hall's deal, not his.
"I feel obligated and I feel mandated by the universe to continue to do my work, especially now. I've been very blessed and very fortunate to be able to be surrounded by a lot of healers, a lot of therapists, intuitive healers, you name it," Fleury said. "They say whatever you get, you gotta give it away and so obviously I feel blessed and fortunate to still be on this planet and functioning at a pretty good level compared to the one I was functioning at after the gun incident.
"I'm getting myself prepared for when we get back to some sort of normalcy, when we're going to be dealing with a lot of mental health issues (post COVID-19)."
Fleury's 74-year-old mother, Donna, was stricken with the virus in the spring but has since recovered.
"You don't know my mom. She's probably one of the toughest ladies I've ever met, so I wasn't worried for her," he said. The rest of his family, wife, Elle, and his four kids, Josh, Beaux, Tatym and Skylah, have all stayed healthy during the pandemic.
Fleury admitted he's eager to see NHL hockey return this summer.
"I'm sick and tired of watching Netflix, so I wouldn't mind sitting down and watching three games a day for a few months. That would be kind of interesting," he said.
The HOF voters can elect four male players and two female players, plus two builders or one builder and a referee. One of Fleury's former Calgary teammates, Jarome Iginla, is a slam dunk to get the call Wednesday. After extolling the virtues of Iginla — "he's a lock, for sure. I think he's the epitome of a power forward... could score, makes plays, fight" — Fleury was asked to make his own case for inclusion.
"There were four best-on-best tournaments, the '91 Canada Cup, the '96 World Cup of Hockey, '98 Olympics and 2002 Olympics and I was on all four of those teams, so what does that say? I was considered one of the best 23 players in all of Canada for a decade," he said.
"Throw away all the stats. Stats are for losers. Stats are whatever. When the greatest hockey minds in Canada want you on their team when it really counts, what does that tell you?"
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