Fleury Effect: Calgary Flames A Destination for Good People


Former Calgary Flames forward Theoren Fleury‘s war with abuse and addiction has been long and well publicized. Perhaps the most interesting battle in that war was his invitation to the Flames 2009 training camp. During that time, wearing the Flaming C, he showed the world that addiction need not be barrier to achievement. In so doing, I believe he changed Flames culture for years to come.

It was rough, for a preseason game. In September, 2009, the Calgary Flames and the New York Islanders battled to a 4-4 tie in a game loaded with hits (one of which ended with an Islanders player wheeled off the ice in a stretcher) and fights.  By the end of regulation, the score was 4-4. Overtime settled nothing.

Enter Theoren Fleury. The Flames former captain, and at that time all-time leading scorer, stepped onto the ice and absolutely undressed Islanders goaltender Kevin Poulin. It gave the Flames the win that night. But it did so much more.

LOS ANGELES, CA – JULY 11: Mark Giordano attends the 3rd Annual Sports Humanitarian Of The Year Awards at The Novo by Microsoft on July 11, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA – JULY 11: Mark Giordano attends the 3rd Annual Sports Humanitarian Of The Year Awards at The Novo by Microsoft on July 11, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/WireImage) /

After he scored, Fleury took a few moments before skating to the bench to thank the Calgary faithful. But, more than that, he made a statement in those moments. He said to the crowd, to the league, and to the sport-watching world that a past clouded by abuse and addiction doesn’t need to stand in the way of one’s goals. Fleury stood as an example of the power of strength, focus, and conviction.

Related Story: Flames Alum Theoren Fleury Left Off Hockey Hall of Fame Again

And he did it wearing the ‘Flaming C’.  So, intentionally or otherwise, Fleury also said in those moments that the Calgary Flames is a destination for players with similar strength, focus and conviction.

Fleury didn’t make the team that year. He was eventually cut, and announced his retirement as a Calgary Flame days later.  Since then, strength of character have been hallmarks of Flames players.

For instance, like Fleury, Flames forwards Brian McGrattan, Micheal Ferland and Emile Poirer have all come forward with their own issues with addiction. McGrattan has acted as a mentor to both Ferland and Poirer as they manage their sobriety.

As someone who has lost a friend and a family member to alcoholism, I appreciate the courage required to self-identify as an addict. Not only that, maintaining a sober life as a professional hockey player, to whom temptations must be far more available, takes admirable focus and determination.

The strength of character of Flames players comes out in other ways.

At the end of the 2016-17 season, Flames captain Mark Giordano was both nominated for the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award and awarded the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award.  Gio’s work for Calgary’s students in need is well documented.  His Team Giordano initiative is helping 2000 Calgary kids with supplies, education and physical fitness.

Related Story: Flames Captain Mark Giordano Wins Muhammad Ali Award

Similarly, newly acquired defenceman Travis Hamonic also makes time for young people.  His program recognizes kids who, like him, have lost a parent.  His story is below.

I have always believed that a professional athlete’s sole responsibility is to be prepared to play and win for his or her team. Anything beyond that is a player’s choice. So, when Hamonic and Gio dedicate time and energy to the communities they play in, they deserve recognition. These guys don’t have to do what they do. But because they are good people, they do it anyway.

Related Story: Travis Hamonic - Off-Ice Hero

Finally, there is arguably the team’s greatest example of personal strength: Matt Stajan. In March of 2014, Stajan lost his firstborn son shortly after childbirth. After taking an indefinite leave from the team, he came back later that month. A brave return, punctuated with an emotional goal. But more importantly, he and wife Katie hosted Calgary Health Trust’s event A Night Under the Stars in support of the NICU at the Foothills Hospital.

Losing a child is an impossible thought for every parent. But Stajan endured. Of course, he had help. But, in the face of unimaginable tragedy, he remains a valuable member of the team.

If there is a better example of strength of character…

I’m not saying Theo Fleury brought all these people to the Flames. Nor am I suggesting that great people don’t play for other teams. What I am saying is that Fleury put the Flames on the map as a place for good people to play.

And I, for one, am happy he did.

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Strength of character by itself won’t win the Calgary Flames a Cup.  But as I raise my 3-year-old son to become a Flames fan, it makes me proud that we are cheering on great human beings.