Normally, when someone experiences the type of trauma that has come to punctuate the career of Theoren Fleury, it is not typical that they go on to become a Stanley Cup champion, an Olympic gold medalist and, in a number of respects, a role model. If you ask the former NHL all-star, it was perhaps this last title that was the hardest to earn in full.
Speaking in front of nearly a thousand eager students and fans alike, Fleury opened up, telling stories not only from his book Playing with Fire, but also from his life after professional hockey.
Fleury spoke about his time growing up in Russell, Man., the gruesome injury that threatened his young playing career, and the dark, painful effect living with junior coach Graham James had on the rest of his adult life.
“I remember that day when my parents dropped me off at Graham’s place and that was it. For the next three years of my life it was the absolute nightmare of all nightmares. I was basically molested by this guy like 150 times; it basically changed the course of my life forever.”
Not one to shy away from the mistakes of his youth, Fleury readily admits that he made more than his fair share of poor decisions during his professional career, many stemming from the fact that he was still hiding a deep psychological wound while playing in the NHL. Although at times the former hockey pro leaps from colloquial to educational in tone, Fleury is undoubtedly at his best when he is being open and, ultimately, vulnerable. Fleury’s words have the most resonance when he plays the humble, brutally honest former addict, rather than the peppy motivational speaker.
Anecdotes from his book were told sprinkled between advice and stories from Fleury’s current life as an author, speaker and founding partner of his own concrete business in Calgary. At one point the former pro even mentioned that his talk was being filmed as part of a larger documentary that would comprise the film version of his best selling book.
Speaking of cultivating his desire to win, Fleury joked: “I absolutely have to win in everything that I do. It doesn’t matter if it’s writing a book, the book has to be a best seller, right? Because that means I win. And if I’m producing a documentary, guess what? I want to get an Oscar.”
Fleury came to the U of M as part of UMSU’s Celebration Week — an event that also included appearances from the likes of Sue Johanson and To Write Love on Her Arms founder Jamie Tworkowski.
Intentional or not, UMSU organized a series of talks this year that, all together, really centred around a theme of guidance; helping and encouraging students who may be questioning various aspects of their social, professional or sexual life.
Fleury’s closing remarks took the imperative rather than the confessional, urging students to strive to be better people, help others and keep family close. The former Flame also vocalized that he hoped others would find inspiration in his story and speak out against sexual molestation and child abuse. The 75-minute talk was followed by a brief Q&A segment and a book signing.
Standing a mere five foot, six inches tall, Fleury was drafted in 1987 by the Calgary Flames. His time in Calgary was likely the most fruitful of his hockey career, winning a Stanley Cup in 1989 before later being named team captain. In 1,984 NHL games played Fleury accumulated 1,088 total career points.