SUN Hockey Pool

Dad says Theo's life better

DAVE DORMER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

Even though the two haven't yet talked about the bombshell allegation that he was sexually abused by former coach Graham James, Theo Fleury's father Wallace said yesterday he's seen a marked change in his son since he went public last week.

"I talked to him (Sunday). His mother asked if he was doing OK and he said 'yeah,'" Wallace said yesterday from his home in Russell, Man.

"He's really changed quite a bit and I think (Fleury's wife) Jennifer has a lot to do with it.

"Finding Jennifer the way he did and marrying her and having the baby, I think it's changed his whole life completely, and that's why he decided (to come forward)."

In his yet-to-be-released autobiography Playing With Fire -- which comes out tomorrow -- former NHL player Theo Fleury alleges he was sexually abused by James over a period of two years while playing junior hockey for him in Winnipeg and then Moose Jaw, Sask.

James was convicted in 1997 of sexually abusing two former players -- including Elkhorn, Man., product Sheldon Kennedy -- and was sentenced to 31/2 years in prison.

Now sober, Fleury says in the book that the alleged abuse is what caused him to become an "alcoholic lunatic" through much of his playing days, which included winning a Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989 and an Olympic gold medal with Team Canada in 2002.

While he hasn't yet, Wallace said he plans to read the book when it is released tomorrow.

But already knowing some of the sordid details makes him somewhat nervous.

"If it was your son, wouldn't you be wondering and be afraid to see what you read?" he said. "But my son and I have always had a good understanding. Wherever he was, I backed him up.

"He would phone me and say 'Dad, I'm going to do this or do that', and I'd say, go ahead, it's your life, and if things go wrong we'll try and figure out a different way. And that's the way it was."

Residents in the small town of Russell, where Fleury grew up -- population 1,660 -- are also rallying behind their hometown hero.

"There's no way we wouldn't be supportive of him," said Mayor Merril Kiliwnik. "Absolutely, he'll always be Theoren Fleury from Russell. We have a plaque up for him in front of our civic centre.

"We're very proud of him, both as a hockey player and as an individual."

That he's able to move forward and love life, said Wallace, is the only thing he wants for his son.

"Like he said before, if there's 50 people who like him and 50 people who hate him, that's fine, he said he'll stick with the 50 who like him, and that's the truth right there," he said. "He's pretty well on track."

dave.dormer@sunmedia.ca


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