Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why We Root For Theo Fleury and More. . .

Ever since the news of Theo's reinstatement to the NHL and subsequent invite to Flames training camp, I've been meaning to write a few words on the former Ranger.

I was too young to see Theo Fleury in his prime, winning the Cup in Calgary and pouncing by surprise on the league, a little man with an energy unmatched by many.

But I wasn't too young to see Theo Fleury in New York, the roller coaster of ups and downs. The ups very, very high, and the lows, very, very low.

If we're being completely honest here - I was a big Fleury fan. Probably, in part, because I may have not seen the whole picture. All that really mattered to me was that this guy - apart from any demons he may be fighting - was really good for our team for a period of time. Really good.

The numbers will tell you that in 2000-2001, Theo had 74 points in 63 games, and ranked 37 in the league. The following year, he'd score 63 points in 82 games, and come in ranking at 42.

But what the numbers won't tell you is how Theo was part of something special in New York, something that I, as a fan, wanted to root for.

The fabled FLY Line - (yes, fabled! For what line besides Jagr, Nylander, and Straka, and they had no name for them, came even as close to grabbing our attention, I ask you? ) - had a crazy stretch of time where they were all ranked within the top 5 in the NHL in scoring. Yes, all three.

Sure, the fable faded. Theo had a few "incidents." Lindros has another "injury." And York ended up in Edmonton.

But I choose to remember what was. And remember it fondly. Much like I hate when people choose to throw stones at the Czech Mates - the other fabled line of the Rangers during the similar time long playoff-less periods in New York - I hate when people say that it's silly to look back at something so fondly that didn't end well. Or just because it was the only "bright" spot on an otherwise lackluster team.

Quite simply, I think that's unfortunate. Unfortunate to be unable to love and appreciate what was, even if it wasn't perfect. That line and those players gave us something to cheer for - anything to cheer for - in what was a very disappointing series of seasons in the Big Apple.

And Theo Fleury was a BIG part of that.

I remember the Olympics in 2002 with such intensity, as we approach almost 8 years later. I was rooting for the USA, trying to be a good American. But surely I was keeping an eye on Team Canada, and on 2/3rds of the Rangers top line that were representing their home team. (THe other 1/3rd was playing for the red, white, and blue.)

After the tears stopped that day - 2/22/02 - they started again when I looked up to see Theo, bathed in the flag of his native country, and I realized just how much that must have meant to him. A man with such talent but whose demons were cutting into the focus he had for the game he loved.

As much as I had wanted the Americans to win, I had no regrets that a guy like Theo Fleury (and Eric Lindros for that matter) got to win that day.

The other thing I loved about Theo Fleury was how well he played against the rival New Jersey Devils. I laugh because even if a player is not in New York long, if they play well against the team's most hated rivals, there is a good chance they'll always be remembered.

I have never forgotten.

So when word came round that Theo was going to Flames camp, I smiled. I remembered the guy that I loved rooting for on my team, and I started rooting for him again. I probably never stopped.

And when he scored the shootout winning goal in his first pre-season game, I had to smile. When he added a goal and an assist in his next game, I smiled again.

The talent was there. The heart and determination was there. It just was a sad reality that at times the demons were there as well.

Whether Fleury's return is successful or not, he should be applauded in the attempt. Not many people are able to fight their demons and fight for another chance at their dreams.

He's lucky. And I have no doubt in his mind that he knows that.

If hope he gets the chance to continue to write his story. And I think if there's any place he belongs, it may just be in Calgary, wearing that familiar sweater he donned so many years ago.

Even though I'll always remember him in blue...

**And More. . .**

Listened to the Coyotes/Lightning game on radio last night =) with some other Prucha fans, and today Beyond the Blueshirts (who does such a FANTASTIC job with coverage on her blog ) posted this post-game interview with the little Pepperpot who scored the Yotes only goal, and even tangled, although not on purpose, with the Tampa goalie Mike Smith.

Petr Prucha post game interview 9/22/09 - Enjoy!


Kerri said...

The Ranger Pundit linked to this article by Hockey Bird from when Theo left the Rangers. It's a GREAT read.

I was too young to pay attention to the background noise when Fleury played. But I was old enough for the FLY line to be the first real good memory of the Rangers that was actually hockey related. (Because, I do remember the Cup, and Gretzky playing for the Rangers, but as a true hockey fan, who loved and appreciated the sport... that was my first.) And I was a huge Fleury fan. I found him to be hilarious (and he was) and a real talent on this ice (which he was) and someone I truly identified as a Ranger. And like you, although I really don't remember his heyday with the Flames, I have nothing but love for the guy. And I really, really hope he makes something happen in Calgary.

kels said...

Thanks for sharing, Kerri. That was a trip down memory lane for sure. I didn't know his early career - you still have to wonder how much was Theo "being Theo" versus how much was his sobriety or lack of it.

My favorite line:

"He was a great character on a team that previously lacked any."

Sounds familiar no?