At 5 feet 6 inches, Theo Fleury is one of the smallest players in hockey, and he had to disprove many doubters and skeptics to become a bona fide NHL star. Intense and fearless, Fleury made a name for himself for more than his stature he could score, play defensively and lead teams to championships in junior hockey, in the NHL and on the international stage.
In 1984, as a 16-year-old,Fleury joined the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL. In his second year he emerged as the team leader, and in his third and fourth years he became a star for his offensive achievements and for his entertaining, all-out style of play. In 1986 he was invited to the training camp for the team that would represent Canada at the World Junior Championships in Czechoslovakia. Scouts were already voicing the opinion that Fleury would be too small to play in the NHL, giving Fleury that much more to prove as a member of Team Canada.
Fleury brought his typical pesky game to the championships, but was involved in an infamous brawl that cost Canada a chance at the gold medal.
Fleury was selected in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft, but not until 165 players were chosen ahead of him. The Calgary Flames chose him with their ninth-round pick, projecting him as a potentially entertaining addition to their minor-league club in Salt Lake City. Fleury played a final season in Moose Jaw in 1987-88, and he tied Swift Current's Joe Sakic for the league scoring title. He also racked up 235 minutes in penalties as he stepped up his aggressive play to combat the criticism of his size. He once again played in the World Junior Championships, this time as team captain in an uneventful affair in which Canada won the gold medal. Fleury was named to the tournament's All-Star team.
Though Fleury was confident in his abilities, the Flames seemed less than sure. They signed him to a pro contract late in the 1987-88 season, just in time for him to join Salt Lake for the IHL playoffs. He seized the opportunity, scoring 11 goals in 8 games and leading the Golden Eagles to the Turner Cup championship. He began the next season in Salt Lake but an outburst of 37 goals and 74 points in only 40 games finally convinced the Flames that he deserved a chance to play in the NHL.
Used at center and at right wing, Fleury helped the Flames capture the Stanley Cup in 1989, and in his first full season he scored 31 goals. In 1990-91 he netted 51 goals and 104 points, and he made his first appearance at the NHL All-Star Game. Prior to the next season he played in the Canada Cup tournament, and he went on to score 30 goals in each of his next three seasons. He was also among the league leaders with 29 during the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season.
Though outspoken and often brash, aggravating opponents, Fleury matured in time, becoming team captain in 1995. He continued to pick up honors for his hard work, including a berth on the league's Second All-Star Team in 1995 and spots on Team Canada's roster at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, the 1998 Nagano Olympics and later down the road Canada's Gold Medal Olympic Team in Salt Lake City.
On November 29, 1997, Fleury scored his 315th career goal, passing Joe Nieuwendyk for first place on the Flames' all-time list. In February 1999 the Flames, who felt they wouldn't be able to re-sign Fleury when his contract expired that summer, traded him to the Colorado Avalanche. He ended up with a season total of 40 goals and signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers during the off-season.
The dimunitive forward went on to play three seasons on Broadway before joining the Chicago Blackhawks for one season in 2002-03.