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Ex-NHLer Theo Fleury says he was sexually abused by junior hockey coach

Theoren Fleury holds back his emotions as he announces his retirement from the sport in Calgary, on Sept. 28, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

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Theoren Fleury holds back his emotions as he announces his retirement from the sport in Calgary, on Sept. 28, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

EDMONTON - Former NHL star Theoren Fleury is coming clean on what he says was a long-held secret of chronic sex abuse that he believes transformed him from a confused kid into an angry, self-loathing boozer who blew millions of dollars on cards, drugs and lap dancers.

Fleury says in his coming autobiography that his abuser was Graham James, the junior hockey coach who pleaded guilty in 1997 to sexually assaulting two of his teenage players over and over again between 1984 and 1995.

James could not be reached for comment Friday.

" 1/8James 3/8 destroyed my belief system," writes Fleury, in his new book, "Playing With Fire," quotations from which appeared Friday on the website www.macleans.ca. "The most influential adult in my life at the time was telling me that what I thought was wrong was right.

"I no longer had faith in myself or my own judgment."

The book is due to hit shelves Wednesday. It comes after a decade of whispers and rumours that Fleury was one of the hockey players sexually abused by James while he played for him in junior hockey.

James was arrested after Sheldon Kennedy, then an NHL player, came forward with allegations of abuse while playing for him in junior.

James was eventually convicted in 1997 of abusing Kennedy and one other unnamed player and received three-and-a-half years jail.

Fleury, born in Oxbow, Sask., but raised in Russell, played over a thousand games in the NHL for the Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks before drugs and alcohol problems forced him out.

In the Macleans story that quotes the coming book, Fleury talks about being recruited at 13 to play for James-first in Winnipeg, then in Moose Jaw, Sask.

James, he said, would visit and abuse him on the road - masturbating him or performing oral sex - warning him that disclosure would destroy any hope of Fleury playing pro hockey.

He says James took him and future NHLer Sheldon Kennedy with him on a road trip to Disneyland, where he said James would take turns molesting them in motel rooms.

Fleury said he acquiesced: who would believe him, he wondered. And if they did, how did he know organized hockey wouldn't circle the wagons and protect James.

News that the book would include an account of sex abuse from Fleury has hit his father like a blindside hit.

"He told us he was going to write a book. I thought maybe just his hockey career and stuff, but I guess it's all coming out," Wally Fleury said Friday from his home in Russell, Man.

"I'll read the book and I'll probably be disappointed, but I know damn well I can't change a thing," he said.

Kennedy reached out to Fleury in an interview with CTV Calgary.

"I care about Theoren as a person," Kennedy said. "I have been through this and down this road before. I know how difficult it's going to be for him, disclosing your past is never easy, especially in a public manner."

Former pro wrestler Bret Hart, who co-owned the WHL's Calgary Hitmen with Fleury in the mid-1990s, praised him for coming forward with the truth.

"I think it takes a big man to be as honest as Theo has," Hart told CTV Calgary. "I'm proud of him and applaud him for coming forward. I just hope that with everything that's gone in the last couple of years that this is something that he can finally put it to rest and get it behind him."

When James was convicted, Fleury was under the microscope as rumours swirled that he was the second victim. He stayed mum. But while his hockey career continued, his home life - always teetering on the edge - fell into the sewer.

He was boozing it up, something he had done since 16. He took marijuana, snorted cocaine.

He loved and lost - a lot. He married twice and had four kids but found comfort only in strippers and lap dances, blowing thousands of dollars a night.

By 1999, then with the New York Rangers, he used his child's urine to fool drug testers and continued to party hard, the Macleans article says.

"I would go five, six, seven, eight levels below the streets of New York and party with freaks, transvestites, strippers and all kinds of shady people," he writes in the book.

He estimates he threw away $25 million of the $50 million he made playing hockey.

The NHL forced him into drug treatment in 2001, but he relapsed and soon after quit the game.

In the years after, he became the buffonish caricature of the washed-up hockey hero, playing senior hockey in Alberta and later in Ireland.

In 2005 after a crushing hockey loss, he shouted at his parents, blaming them for not protecting him. They wept, and apologized, and all managed to move on.

He says he has been sober for four years, with the help of new wife Jennifer.

"She's my winger," he writes on his website, www.theofleury14.com.

"She's been right beside me. The best person you could possibly know."

This fall, he made a comeback bid with the Flames at 41. He turned heads with his fitness and some on-ice goal scoring magic in training camp but was released.

The publicity hype for Fleury's autobiography is already in high gear. The release date had been Oct. 16, but the publisher, HarperCollins Canada moved it up due to heavy media interest.

Fleury is scheduled Wednesday to do a barrage of cross-Canada media interviews and will not speak publicly until then, said Angie Lamirande, vice-president of marketing and publicity for the theofleury14 website.

Those who log on to theofleury14 can click to pre-order the book, but Lamirande says the site is not just about sales.

"It's Theo's site," she said, "And what's going on in his life (right now) is the book.

"The site will have his appearances, everything that he's doing. It's a way for fans to stay connected with him."

Wally Fleury said he spoke to his son Friday and said Theo is doing well.

"Whenever he was in trouble he called us and we went to comfort him," he said.

"He's got four years of sobriety.

"He's back on track."

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