GRANDE PRAIRIE -- Theoren Fleury may play for the Allan Cup. Or he might not. It will be up to Hockey Canada to decide.
That was the conclusion last night after a chaotic day in which Fleury was told by Hockey Alberta that he was ineligible to suit up for the Horse Lake Thunder senior team. He then got a glimmer of hope from Hockey Canada boss Bob Nicholson.
"We'll just have to wait and see until (today)," an exasperated Fleury said.
Fleury, 36, had signed earlier this week to play with the North Peace Hockey League club that's loading up for a run at the Allan Cup senior AAA national hockey championship.
The former Calgary Flames sniper was supposed to make his Thunder debut in Grande Prairie last night. But the rug was pulled out from under him about four hours before game time by Hockey Alberta when it ruled that, because he was under an NHL contract with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2003-04 and thus one of the NHL's locked-out players, he is ineligible to play hockey for any team registered by Hockey Alberta this season.
FIRING A FEW SHOTS AT THE NHL
At a press conference in Grande Prairie, Fleury didn't wait before firing a few shots at the NHL.
"A phone call apparently came from the NHL claiming I had a contract last year, which legitimately I did," said Fleury. "But I did not play a game in the NHL and I have not played a game in the NHL for 17 months. I did not receive one paycheque in that time. It's just another bad public relations move by the NHL. I'm really disappointed that it has once again come down to this.'
Fleury said he regretted the media circus that the day turned into.
"It's funny that every time I seem to do something or try to do something it's such a big huge deal in the media," said Fleury. "So I don't know if somebody has a personal vendetta against me in the NHL or what. It's really disappointing and it just goes to show you the players should be more strong and united and fight this thing right to the very end."
Fleury has been suspended since 2003 for violation of the NHL's substance-abuse policy. Because of that, Fleury says he's no longer an NHL player.
"Yeah, I might have had a contract, but a contract is something that both parties agree on and follow through on," he said. "At that point I just decided I needed to take some time away from the game, and I thought this would be kind of a neat little thing to do and give me something to do and play with some guys I know and have met along the way through hockey.
"It's just become a needless distraction."
Fleury plans to skate with the Thunder at practice today and, if Hockey Canada somehow overrules Hockey Alberta, he'll play in a home game at Horse Lake against the Spirit River Rangers.
INELIGIBLE TO REGISTER
Hockey Alberta Marketing Director Brad Robbins said Hockey Alberta's policy is that players under contract in 2003-04 and who are currently locked out based on the disagreement are ineligible to register with the Hockey Alberta teams.
"We contacted the (NHL) league office (Wednesday) in Toronto and they verbally informed us that Mr. Fleury was under contract in 2003-04, and I believe it expired sometime in the summertime," said Robbins from his office in Red Deer.
Thunder head coach Glen Watson said he was under the impression that Fleury had retired.
"I just figured when he was done with Chicago, he's done and he moved on. He's 36 years old, so he's not a young prospect," said Watson. "I asked Hockey Alberta if they have documentation saying this - they don't have that. They have a job to do and everyone is checking everything out."
Thunder forward and former Vancouver Canucks enforcer Gino Odjick - who joined the team back in October - chalked the decision up to a misunderstanding.
"Maybe somebody from Hockey Alberta thought he was still under contract or Chicago owned his rights. But his contract is done, so nobody owns his rights," said Odjick.
The situation has drawn parallels to the Ryan Smyth case when the Edmonton Oilers forward sought to join the Bentley Generals. But Smyth is currently under an NHL contract.