SUN Hockey Pool

'I'm happy for Iggy'

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:19 AM ET

Approached in the bowels of the Saddledome with a simple question, Theo Fleury scrunched up his face much like he did when arguing with referees.

With Jarome Iginla on the verge of eclipsing the Little Big Man's franchise record for goals, the questioner asked if he would be following the Flames around to ensure he's in attendance the night Iggy pops No. 365.

"What do I look like, Hank Aaron?" quipped Fleury.

"I'm too busy. I've got other fish to fry."

Don't be fooled: Fleury's apparent disdain for a momentous occasion in Flames history has much more to do with being turned off of the game that made him a local icon than it does with Iginla.

After all, Fleury insists he was one of the first and biggest fans Iginla had when the 19-year-old arrived in town a dozen years ago.

"The best part for me is that I'm happy for Iggy -- Calgary needed an athlete like Jarome here," said Fleury, 39, a recovering alcoholic whose career ended five years ago when he was suspended pending completion of an NHL substance abuse program he never entered.

"I used to sit on the end of a bar stool a lot of times talking to him about how good he could be. I was saying to Iggy 'I think you can give more and I think you're better than you think you are and you're going to be one of the best players in the game.' What I saw in him is coming to fruition. I knew I was going to leave the Flames at some point and knew he'd replace me. Before me there was Lanny (McDonald), and Nieuwy (Joe Nieuwendyk), and Robs (Gary Roberts)... it's just a cycle. Three hundred whatever is not a lot of goals in this league if you play for a team for a long time. This doesn't matter to me."

While many may see Fleury's reaction as cold, the proud owner and operator of Fleury's Concrete Coatings Ltd. says he simply doesn't have the time or desire to invest in a game he's distanced himself from. Disgusted by beer league goonery he'd often find himself caught up in, he now plays a pickup game just once a week and rarely attends Flames games. After all, he's putting in 16-hour days of hard labour building a rather successful family business.

None of this is to diminish the fact Iginla sits a hat-trick away from eclipsing Fleury's goal mark, which was largely accumulated in the high-scoring 90s. Fact is, over the last eight years no NHLer has scored more goals than the Flames current captain. And while Fleury may not have plans to be at one of the upcoming games to pass the torch as the Flames goal king, Fleury has long been more than happy to see a man of Iginla's ilk replace him.

"Who comes from junior hockey at 19 years old, puts on an NHL jersey and is an impact player in the game? He did it," said Fleury, Iginla's linemate for his first NHL game.

"Memorial Cups, World Juniors, anybody with that kind of track record you know they're going to be a good player. That's what makes Iggy great -- he's humble. You get a lot of kids from junior who get the big contract and you never see them again. Not Iggy. He's special. You could see it. He respects the game.

"Going forward here, the NHL is not doing very well. They need more guys like him. I just wish he was funnier."

Despite the fact the two men's lifestyles, upbringings and personalities couldn't have been more different, Iginla remembers the lengthy chats he had with Fleury over the years, several of which he took to heart as a youngster hoping and praying he'd one day be half the player the bombastic, hard-living Fleury was.

"He would talk to me about scoring and shooting and different things and I learned a lot from watching him -- everybody knows about his competitiveness," said Iginla, who sits at 362 goals.

"I looked up to him -- he was one of the most talented players I've ever played with."

Although Fleury may have a curious way of showing it, the feeling is mutual.


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