17th of November 1994, I remember watching the daily sports news cast as I had come accustomed to. It was exciting time to watch Finnish Ice Hockey due to the NHL lock out and many of the games brightest home grown stars were playing on home ice again. You had Kurri, Tikkanen, Selanne with the few ‘import’ players from Geoff Sanderson, Michael Nylander and Theo Fleury.
I remember when Fleury scored the game winning goal for Tappara, he skated down the ice throwing his kit on the ice and sliding down it. I remember thinking to myself ‘who is this guy? He’s insane.’ The guy was immense, despite his small stature. A true example of little guy big.
Despite his awesome NHL career being plagued by personal problems, Fleury had something about him. His passion was something that was admired, his fearlessness was unbelievable. In a game where everyone was almost twice his size, he did not give in. To him even if you were Zdeno Chara size player, to him you were fair game.
Now as I’ve been following Fleury’s stellar come-back attempt I’ve never been as motivated by any success story than this. It is truly inspirational as it is not only a great hockey story, but an awesome life story. Theo turned his life around and at 41, six years away from the game he was able to come back and put up respectable numbers in the exhibition games.
I’ve been truly impressed with Fleury, not for only turning his life around but for the dedication and the heart he has shown to the game. He is a true example of an athlete who has gained redemption and has proved to himself that, given the chance, he can play. I’d tell the NHL to stop looking for a recipient for the Bill Masterton trophy this season as the winner has been found already, before the first regular season game has been played. Surely Theo’s achievement is a true testament to what the trophy stands for and what exemplifies the true hockey spirit.
I recently read an article about Fleury’s time in the Finnish leagues in 1994. His approach to the game was truly humble. This was during the time when Finnish ‘professional’ players still had day jobs to go to and were paid miniscule amounts for playing. Theo got accustomed to his team quickly and was immediately respected by his teammates for his approach to the game and his off ice personality. What’s more and I think more importantly, Theo was loved by the fans and the fans loved him. It has been one of the outstanding qualities of his career, no matter where he has played or whatever his personal problems were, the fans always loved him.
Additionally the article mentioned an occasion where Theo took leadership in the changing room from the word go, by telling the team that the logo on their chest was what they played for and they represented their town and were to make their fans proud. Profound words from a newcomer, but a man with years of experience under his belt Lord Stanley’s ring on his finger.
So what does that Theo’s story has to do with me and why am I jumping on the praise Theo bandwagon? Theo has inspired me to the point that I now have the motivation to go back to the gym and start going through the pains of training and push myself and realize my dreams and write my own ‘come-back’ story. This is one of those stories that truly shows people that if you have a dream and you work for it, good things can happen.
Theo has now retired a Calgary Flame after showing the grit and heart he had when he first exploded to the league. Theo I thank you for the dedication you have shown and the inspiration you have instilled to thousands like me wishing to chase their dreams. I wish you all the best for the future.