John Chidley A blog about reading, writing, pop culture and sports.


Book Review – Playing with Fire by Theo Fleury

Theo Fleury’s autobiography Playing with Fire is as direct and hard hitting as his play was on the ice.

That shouldn’t surprise anyone who followed the National Hockey League in the 1990s. Fleury was known as much for his energetic style and dynamic playing-making ability as his knack for pissing people off and getting in to trouble both in the arena and in real life.

Playing with Fire is Fleury’s memoir and confessional where he brings every imaginable skeleton out of his closet for all to see.

It’s a dark, often depressing look at his life on and off the ice. The turning point of the book comes early, when Fleury attends Andy Murray’s hockey camp and meets the scout and junior hockey coach Graham James, infamous for being convicted of the molestation of NHLer Sheldon Kennedy.

Of course, when the 13-year-old Fleury attended the camp, James’ dark second life wasn’t public knowledge and, according to the book, the vulnerable kid from Russel, Manitoba soon fell victim along with his friend Kennedy.

This revelation is what grabbed all the headlines when Playing with Fire was first published in 2009 and it is the central issue of the entire autobiography. All of Fleury’s behaviour afterwards is a reaction to the alleged abuse, either to distract himself from the guilt and pain of James’ assault or because he’s lashing out in anger.

Playing with Fire therefore serves as Fleury’s confessional, as he tries to explain his behaviour for most of his adult life and also tries to apologize to the many people he hurt or wronged, including teammates like Craig Conroy and Robyn Regher but especially his children Josh, Beaux and Tatym.

In many respects, reading Playing with Fire reminded me of professional wrestler Bret Hart’s autobiography Hitman. Both are athletes with deep connections to Alberta and Calgary, both are known for their incredible skills and both have a variety of personal problems stemming from abuses suffered while they were kids.

However, there are still differences. Hart is undoubtedly the better writer, but Fleury is the more genuine author. Hart is shockingly cavalier about the sex, drugs and violence in his professional and personal life, while Fleury is remorseful and regrets most of his behaviour.

Although this makes Playing with Fire less entertaining than Hitman, it’s also more emotionally fulfilling. The lows may be lower in Fleury’s narrative, but the highs are also higher.

Hart comes across as a bitter old man by the end of his book, while Fleury is clearly a happier, healthier person hoping to give back to society through his book, public speaking and charitable works.

Playing with Fire is definitely worth a read. Not just for hockey fans who want to read all about Theo Fleury’s wild stories, but for its value as a cautionary tale for any parents considering getting their child involved in amateur hockey.


Toronto Maple Leafs take a big step forward by adding Phaneuf and Giguere

As everyone in the hockey world has heard, Brian Burke completed two massive trades Sunday with the Calgary Flames and Anaheim Ducks. Dion Phaneuf and Jean-Sebastien Giguere are the biggest acquisitions made by a Leafs team that looks drastically different from the version that took the ice against the New Jersey Devils Saturday night.

Both trades are intriguing, re-arranging Toronto’s salary cap and improving the Maple Leafs on-ice product in three major ways.

1. Dion Phaneuf adds depth to the Leafs’ blue-line.
Phaneuf was the best player involved in the trade with Calgary. I know it’s a saying that’s been repeated a lot in the wake of these deals, but that doesn’t make it untrue. On paper, Toronto has a fantastic defensive corps with Tomas Kaberle, Francois Beauchemin, Mike Komisarek, Luke Schenn, Carl Gunnarson and now Phaneuf.

The 6’3, 214 pound native of Edmonton will be the kind of physical presence that the Leafs are trying to trademark. Phaneuf will also help Toronto flesh out its power play. Best of all, he’s just 24, meaning he’s got at least a decade left in his career. Definitely a win for Burke.

2. Getting rid of Jason Blake’s outrageously bad shot selection.
Most people have focused on dropping Blake’s 4.5 million per season, but coach Ron Wilson must be thrilled to have the phrases “Blake takes a wristshot from the faceoff circle” and “Blake with the wrap-around attempt” removed from Toronto’s television broadcasts.

The statistics are telling: in the past three years he’s taken 804 shots on goal, scoring 50 times. That’s a 6.2% success rate, folks. Put another way, in his time with the Leafs Blake averaged nearly 4 shots a game, but put the puck in the back of the net once every four games. Think of all the turnovers in that other 75% of games where he was off the mark. If that’s not addition by subtraction, I don't know what is.

3. Jean-Sebastien Giguere is a big improvement over Vesa Toskala.
Giguere has been to the Stanley Cup final twice and won the whole thing a couple of years ago. Although he’s struggled of late, reuniting with goalie coach Francois Allaire should put him on the right path again. In any event, Giggy can definitely be a starting goaltender and also mentor Jonas Gustavsson

And, you know, it’s best to move on from this beauty:

The one drawback of these deals is the departure of Niklas Hagman, who was Toronto’s best two-way forward. He was the team’s most consistent scorer and always showed a lot of grit on the ice.

However, the good far outweighs the bad for the Toronto Maple Leafs on these trades, and Burke has made some serious moves that will improve Toronto next season without giving up any draft picks, prospects or cap space. Sunday was definitely a banner day in Leafs nation.


Toronto Maple Leafs make huge changes

It's come out today that Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke has shaken up his team, making two big trades.

First, he sent Slovenian heart-throb Matt Stajan, Ian White, Jamal Mayers and Niklas Hagman to the Calgary Flames for Dion Phaneuf,  Fredrik Sjostrom and Keith Aulie.

Then, he sent Vesa Toskala and Jason "Johnny Wristshot" Blake to the Anaheim Ducks for J-S Giguere.

I've got to head off to work shortly, so extensive commentary will have to wait until tomorrow. Right now, it's hard to tell if the Leafs are better or worse, but they are certainly different.