Tonight Theoren Fleury is in my city doing a talk. When I started getting interested in hockey Theo instantly became my favourite player. He was rugged, feisty, missing his front teeth – he was everything I expected a great Canadian hockey player to be.
Tonight he’s in Ottawa talking about mental health and his struggles after being a victim of abuse at the hands of his hockey coach. He hid the abuse and struggled with addiction while playing in the NHL. (I bought a ticket – with proceeds going to Do It For Daron, a great local cause – but came down with a sore throat this morning that has gotten worse as the day dragged on).
When I was 15 I knew none of what Theo was struggling with. What I knew was that he played hockey with passion and I loved to watch him.
On my sixteenth birthday I got a #14 Fleury jersey and my Dad got tickets for the Flames game against the Senators, right in the front row.
We were at the Flames end during the warm up and as they skated around Theo Fleury came and stood right in front of me, stickhandling, shooting.
To this day I believe he noticed me in the crowd, wearing his jersey, and thought to come by and see me and I have never forgotten. He made me feel less invisible. At that point in my life that was kind of important.
When I was 16 I was starting my downward trend. By 17 I was planning to kill myself, but first I wanted to see the Ottawa 67’s win a Memorial Cup. By the time that happened, I had gotten help.
Hockey saved my life. Now my first hockey hero is saving more.