When he entered the National Hockey League, Theoren Fleury was the shortest player in the league.
© Times-Herald photo by Matthew Gourlie
Theoren Fleury, right, shakes hand with Moose Jaw Warriors captain Brayden Point â€” wearing a Fleury throwback jersey â€” during a pre-game ceremony Saturday night at Mosaic Place.
One of the first people he looked up to when he got there was Tim Hunter.
Saturday the two members of the Calgary Flames 1989 Stanley Cup championship team reconnected when Fleury was honoured as a member of the Moose Jaw Warriors' 30th anniversary all-time team.
"He's an incredibly caring guy. He's the ultimate team guy," Fleury said of Hunter. "When I first came to Calgary, I was the youngest guy on the team and Tim and Jim Peplinski sort of took me under their wing."
Fleury was 20 when he was called up from the minors. Hunter was 28 and an established veteran.
After a great training camp, Hunter said the Flames players were disappointed that Fleury didn't stay up with the team. When he got recalled from the minors in January, he was a breath of fresh air.
"I think they did it the right way to get him to mature a little bit and to grow," said Hunter, who is in his first season as Warriors head coach. "It was one of those funky times of the year when you don't have a lot of enthusiasm and he just injected a huge amount of enthusiasm in the lineup. It was great. He got us all going."
Hunter took an active role in mentoring his new linemate. He drove him to the rink for practices and games and roomed with him on the road in his first couple of seasons.
"I was just a pal to him and made sure he felt comfortable," said Hunter. "You get to know a person talking to them every day.
"The same thing happened to me. Paul Baxter was my roommate. He was an older guy and my first three years as a pro he roomed with me and taught me everything about being an adult on the road and being an adult around professional people and it was great."
Hunter also tried to make sure Fleury was comfortable on the ice. A message he delivered in no uncertain terms before Fleury made his NHL debut.
"Before his first gameâ€¦ I just said to him 'Theo, just go out and do what you do. Play your game. Do whatever you want and I'll take care of you. If anyone messes with you, I'll take care of it.' He looked at me and I said 'yeah, anything you want. Play your game and be comfortable because we have your back,'" said Hunter.
By his own admission, Fleury said he needed the guidance that he got from Hunter and Peplinski.
"They taught me what I needed to do to be a professional hockey player â€” how to do interviews, how to act away from the rink and to always give back to the community," said Fleury. "Those were the guys I learned from and those are probably the two guys I try to keep in touch with when I can."
Fleury had difficulties skirting trouble over the course of his NHL career, but Hunter said he was a great teammate during their four seasons together in Calgary.
"He was really good with Calgary. I think it was later in his career that some of those demons, or whatever, came to haunt him and affect his life," said Hunter. "In the early part he was loving the game, he had his girlfriend and his son with him and that really helped settle him down. He was a well-grounded guy. I never had problems with Theo when I played with him."
Fleury was living with Shannon Griffin-White and their son Josh when he arrived in Calgary. They both came to visit Hunter to catch up after a Warriors game earlier this season. Hunter said that bond between the players and their families was just part of the family atmosphere that existed with the Flames teams in the '80s.
Fleury's time in Moose Jaw is scarred by the abuse he suffered at the hands of former Warriors head coach Graham James. Despite everything, Fleury said the city will always be special to him and he was honoured to be part of the Warriors all-time team.
"This is where it all started and it's where I found the confidence to know that I could play in the NHL," he said. "This place is a special place. It has produced not only great hockey players, but also quality people. We learned a certain work ethic from these people."
Fleury said that he always felt a bond with the Warriors fans who took to him right away. While he quipped that the Warriors' 30th anniversary celebrations just meant that he's old, he was also quick to add that the team's survival is a great story of resilience and beating odds â€” much like his own.
"When you have a community-run team, we were doing lots school events and lots of fundraising activities so the team could actually stay here," said Fleury. "Not only did I play for the Moose Jaw Warriors, but I was also the marketing guy. When we were playing against Regina I would always say something stupid in the paper to sell the tickets out in both buildings. Then I would go and do something stupid on the ice so they would come back to the next game as well. I always kept it fun and exciting.
"When I walked into this (Mosaic Place) for the very first time a few years ago I said 'holy cow, it's come a long way.' It's hard to believe that this team has been here as long as it has and has become a real great franchise in the Western Hockey League."