The wait ended for a select few former elite hockey players when the Hockey Hall of Fame (HHOF) announced their newest inductees on Monday afternoon.
For Eric Lindros, Sergei Makarov and Rogie Vachon, who had been passed over for years -- more than three decades in Vachon's case -- it was if a weight has been lifted from their shoulders.
Amongst the notable players who did not get a call from HHOF chairman Lanny McDonald -- hello, Dave Andreychuk, Mark Recchi and Paul Kariya -- wasTheoren Fleury, in his eighth year of eligibility.
Fleury’s story is that of turmoil and triumph. A diminutive forward, he literally punched above his weight during his volatile 15-season career.
Feisty and talented, Fleury won over fans during his rookie season in which the Calgary Flames captured the 1989 Stanley Cup. When his career ended in 2003, he had recorded 455 goals and 1,088 points, averaging over a point per game while amassing 1,840 penalty minutes.
Behind the scenes he was battling demons stemming from sexual abuse that occurred while playing junior hockey which led to addiction issues and increasingly toxic behaviour as his career wound down.
Here is an excerpt from an Oct. 2015 interview with Vice which relates to his induction chances:
“While 2016 might be the year it happens, he feels his past actions are haunting him. Aside from volatile on and off ice behavior toward the end of his career—including brawling at a Columbus, Ohio, strip club—Fleury walked out on the final year of his two-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks worth $8.5 million ($4.5 million for the last season). He was also critical of the NHL's substance-abuse program."
"I realize that my behaviour toward the end of my career is probably a factor in why I haven't been inducted as of yet," he told Vice. "I have tried to do everything in my power to redeem that part of my life. My whole existence is all about helping people now."
Since giving up drugs and alcohol in 2005 and going public for the first time with his story four years later, Fleury has turned his life around and dedicated himself as an advocate for abuse victims.
While entering the HHOF would be an honour, having to wait at least another year or longer seems insignificant to Fleury in the grand scheme of things when factoring in all he has been through and all he has heard from others that have experienced similar pain.
“I don’t have an opinion,” he told Yahoo Canada Sports via telephone on Monday. “The work has been done, there is a committee that votes, the people in power, if they so see it that I should be in, then great.”
Fleury was happy for those inducted and spoke highly of Lindros and Makarov, having played with them during his career
“Makarov is one of the great Russian hockey players of all-time, he was a great player for us in Calgary with his talent and strength," he said. “Lindros, if he didn’t get those concussions, would have been in on the first ballot.”
Fleury also praised the late Pat Quinn who was inducted as a builder. Fleury was a member of Team Canada at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics which was coached by Quinn. Canada won gold in an emotionally charged tournament.
“Pat Quinn definitely deserves to be there,” he said. “I thought he was an honest and fair guy and you always knew your role.”
The 2016 Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place on Nov. 14, 2016, in Toronto.
Follow Neil Acharya on Twitter: @Neil_Acharya
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