He also got deeply into gambling during that period. Between casinos and strip clubs—where he would drop thousands in a night on drinks and lap dances—he figures he burned through almost all of the US$50 million he was paid during his time in the NHL.
The details of this period reflect well on neither Fleury nor the NHL. By his own admission, he gave 13 dirty urine samples in a row to the NHL testers, yet was allowed to keep playing. The league finally forced him into treatment in the summer of 2001, which allowed him to compete in the 2002 Winter Games, where the Canadian men’s hockey team won a gold medal. But he soon relapsed, leaving the league for good the following year. His rock-bottom moment came in September 2005, while he played in the Allan Cup senior hockey tournament in Lloydminster, Alta. His parents had come to watch him, and after his team got knocked out of the playoff round, he got drunk and poured out his anger to his parents for leaving him with James. It was the first time, he tells Maclean’s, the family had confronted the issue directly, and his mother and father wept, telling him they were sorry. “It was important to hear that word from them,” he says in an interview. “From that day forward, I’ve been able to move on with that part of my life—the stuff with my parents.” Since then, he says, he has been clean and sober, supported by his wife Jennifer, who he was dating when he played in the Allan Cup.
It is a calmer, stabler Fleury who looks back on that period now, and after a walk-on tryout last month with his old team, the Calgary Flames, he’s made his peace with leaving the game. He has written the book, he says, in hopes of convincing any young person suffering sexual abuse to seek help. “One thing I’ve come to realize is that, without Graham James I still would have had the same career,” he tells Maclean’s. “I look back on the way I played the game, and to be honest, there were not a lot of guys as naturally talented as I was. Add in my fierce, competitive edge and all those little intangibles—that’s what made me great. It was all part of me before I met Graham James.”
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