VANCOUVER, B.C. – Theoren Fleury has heard talk that the NHL may not return to the Olympics after the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and he thinks such a decision would be a huge mistake.
On the day he and his gold-medal winning teammates from the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City were named for induction to the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame, Fleury said the league should continue giving players a chance to have a similar experience.
“For me, it’s a no-brainer because of what I experienced and what I went through and in the end what the prize was,” Fleury said in an interview Thursday.
The former NHL winger represented the men’s hockey team at a news conference naming the 2009 Hall of Fame inductees.
With the 2014 Winter Olympics far from North America in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, the NHL has not committed to releasing players for the competition.
“That’s ridiculous,” said Fleury, who was also a member of Team Canada in 1998 when it finished out of the medals at the Nagano Olympics.
Commissioner Gary Bettman has said the league and the NHL Players’ Association will make a decision on 2014 following the Vancouver Games.
“I look at all the years I played hockey and the most memorable experiences I have are the world juniors I played in, the world championships, the Stanley Cup team that I was a part of and the two Olympic Games that I played in,” said Fleury. “And five or six of them are Hockey Canada stuff so I think that it’s extremely important that we continue this every four years.”
The Canadian Olympic Committee also announced the women’s hockey team that surprised the United States 3-2 in the Salt Lake Olympiad’s gold-medal game will join the men in the Hall.
Headlining individual inductees are Edmonton-based pairs figure skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier who overcame a judging scandal to eventually claim gold in Salt Lake City.
Improved judging methods are part of their legacy to the sport after a French judge voted for the Russian pair initially awarded gold as part of a vote-swapping scheme.
Innovative Howard Firby, who brought the study of kinetics and anatomy to Canada’s swim teams, will be inducted posthumously as a coach.
He was head coach of the 1964 Olympic swim team and developed Elaine Tanner of Vancouver, winner of two silvers and a bronze at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. He died in 1991.
Dr. Robert Hindmarch, general manager and assistant coach of Canada’s 1964 amateur Olympic hockey team based at the University of B.C., will be inducted as a builder. He was also the Canadian chef de mission for the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics.
Dr. Jean Grenier, of Quebec City who developed short-track speedskating in Canada over a 20-year period until it became a medal sport in 1992, will receive the Canadian Olympic Order.
The ceremonies will be held at a COC dinner here on March 26.
Fleury said he’s hoping for a big turnout by retired stars from 2002 team like Mario Lemieux, Joe Nieuwendyk, Eric Lindros and Steve Yzerman.
“We won, and then we left the next day so we never got to celebrate as a group,” said Fleury a five-foot-six dynamo who began his 15-year NHL career with the Stanley Cup champion Calgary Flames in 1988-89.
Fleury, 40, who struggled with substance abuse late in his career, now heads a company that develops building lots in the Calgary area where he lives, with his gold medal displayed by the fireplace.
He still plays part time, commuting on weekends to lace up for the Steinbach, Man., North Stars who will play host to the Allan Cup senior championship this spring.
But his Olympic experiences stand out, and he found them humbling for a highly paid pro hockey player.
“I got to sit down with quite a few of the athletes and cheered for them, laughed with them, cried with them,” said Fleury who retired as a Chicago Blackhawk in 2003 and played for the Belfast Giants of a British league in 2005. “It was fun to be a part of that.”
Danielle Goyette said her 2002 women’s team got its fair share of recognition even though the men won Olympic gold for the first time in half a century.
She said coach Pat Quinn made a promise to her before his men beat the U.S. 5-2: “I’ll tell my guys to play like the girls,” Goyette quoted him as saying.
She said Quinn was impressed by the Canadian women’s composure even though they were called for 13 minor penalties to four for the Americans.
“I think the guys learned a lot from that. You stay focused and do what you have to do and good things can happen.”