SUN Hockey Pool

Keane: Fleury has battled back

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:45 PM ET

So Theo Fleury finally wound up and took a swing at his most wretched demon.

Good for him.

And never mind that he has a book to sell. We’ve all got to make a living.

Fleury’s account of sexual abuse at the hands of junior coach Graham James is rocking the hockey world, even if it’s not a shocker to everyone. It’s been suspected for years Fleury was victimized.

It’s a story with Winnipeg roots, beginning when James recruited a 13-year-old Fleury from Russell, Man., to play junior hockey in the city.

And yesterday it hit uncomfortably close to home, again, here in the Manitoba Moose dressing room.

Moose captain Mike Keane was on the same Moose Jaw Warriors team as Fleury and Sheldon Kennedy in 1984-85.

It was Kennedy, from Elkhorn, Man., who first blew the lid off James’ abuse, nearly 13 years ago.

Looking back at it now, Keane admits to feeling just a touch of guilt that his coach was sexually abusing his teammates — and he didn’t know about it.

“I think about it every day,” Keane told the Sun. “I think about what could have happened, what should have happened and what would happen if you’d stepped in.

“My parents brought me up strong enough to do the right thing. I think I would have stepped in and taken the right steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

While James left the Warriors after one season, taking Kennedy with him, Keane and Fleury remained Moose Jaw teammates for two more years.

They’ve remained good friends, keeping in touch through Fleury’s recent comeback attempt with the Calgary Flames.

And while Keane didn’t want to discuss Fleury’s specific experiences until he’s heard or read them firsthand, he’s obviously glad to see his friend, tortured for so long, finally chase this skeleton out of his closet.

“He sounds happy,” Keane said. “He sounds like he’s in a good place, and that’s the most important thing. He’s had some dark years, and has battled back.”

Like Kennedy did before him.

As the years have passed, Keane, 42, often thinks about how he used to drop Kennedy off at James’ home for tutoring, unaware of what was going on.

“Sheldon wasn’t a strong student, and you have to pass to play. And Graham was a substitute teacher,” Keane said. “So it was a fit that people didn’t think anything was wrong with.

“He fooled a lot of people. Not only in Moose Jaw, but when he was coaching here, too.”

One of Fleury’s accounts, detailed in an excerpt from his upcoming book, Playing with Fire, and published on the web site for Maclean’s Magazine yesterday, deals with the time James took him and Kennedy on a trip to Disneyland in the summer of 1985.

Kennedy has talked about being molested in the front seat while another player slept in the back.

Fleury now confirms he was the other player.

But, like Kennedy, he kept it all quiet out of fear. Besides, James was his ticket to the NHL.

To this day, Keane says James was one of the best coaches he ever had, fundamentally.

But his diabolical side knew which young boys to go after: kids with troubled home lives and lacking a strong father figure.

Kennedy and Fleury fit the bill.

Keane didn’t.

“He never approached me,” Keane said, crediting his father, who worked as a prison warden, for warning him about potential predators. “He’s seen a lot and been around a lot, and is very aware of what goes on.”

If only Keane had been aware.

“As a captain of the team, or the veteran group, you want to make sure your players are taken care of, on and off the ice,” Keane said. “You wish you would have known.”


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