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Martin Fennelly Columns

Bolts' playoff success is for Flemmer, the fighter

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Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 12:52 PM
TAMPA -

The Lightning have killed 49 of 51 penalties in these playoffs, a remarkable record of resolve. It's more remarkable considering they came into the postseason already a man down.

His name is Wayne Fleming and he's a Lightning assistant coach. He runs the penalty kill, and directed it on the ice until late March.

Tuesday, as the Bolts prepared for Game 3 with Washington, Fleming, 60, was on an operating table in Irvine, Calif. Surgeons fought a malignant brain tumor. Wayne Fleming battled some more. After hours of surgery, he came through it.

The Bolts prayed and then they played, and they beat the Capitals, again, for a stunning 3-0 series lead. Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman told coach Guy Boucher how the surgery went right after the game. Boucher told his players that Fleming was awake and talking. It was an emotional night.

"He's a fighter," Lightning center and penalty killer Nate Thompson said. "He's going through a lot bigger fight than we are."

His name is Wayne Fleming and he's a hockey man. He's also a husband, a father of four and a grandfather of five.

"A little piece of everyone is doing this for Flemmer because of the guy he is," Steven Stamkos said.

His name is Wayne Fleming and he tells the Bolts to keep working. And, being Flemmer, he has texted players during the playoffs and Bolts coaches as he watches on TV. Fleming messaged his team to stay with it as they came from 3-1 down to win their series with Pittsburgh, to keep grinding.

Keep grinding.

"He's living it. He's doing it," Thompson said. "He's an inspiration."

His name is Wayne Fleming and the Lightning have dedicated their playoffs to him.

"We're a resilient bunch, all the way through, and Wayne leads the way," Marty St. Louis said.

His name is Wayne Fleming and at first he tried to hide his illness. It wasn't until late March that he gave in.

"Even when I knew, he didn't want us to tell the players, because he didn't want to be a distraction," Boucher said.

He didn't want to be a distraction.

His name is Wayne Fleming and he has coached hockey for 35 years. He has been an assistant on five other NHL staffs. He has coached all over the world. He is known for inexhaustible smarts and dedication — and for his incessant needle, a guy who keeps things light.

"He busts everybody's chops," Stamkos said with a grin.

Stamkos added, "He's the most unselfish guy on this team. You think about what he's going through, what his family is going through, and he's texting us in the playoffs, encouraging, coaching."

It's this way during playoff games: Lightning video coach Nigel Kirwan will get a text from Fleming. Kirwan sometimes relays it to Boucher behind the bench. Fleming usually weighs in with a full report to Boucher after games.

"At the core if it, he doesn't want to quit what he's doing," Boucher said. "That's how he is. That's how he was every day, never wanting to leave something that wasn't finished."

His name is Wayne Fleming, he grew up in Winnipeg and played hockey for the University of Manitoba, where he later coached. Nigel Kirwan grew up in Winnipeg and was coached by some of Wayne Fleming's college teammates, including Ralph Waples. Waples played center, while Fleming played defense — and worked the penalty kill.

"Wayne was a grinder," Waples said. "He was a take-no-prisoners sort of player. He didn't drop the gloves, but he was a fighter just the same."

After the Lighting won Game 7 against the Penguins, Guy Boucher asked for a game puck. He stood in front of his team and held the puck aloft, along with the name tag that usually hangs above Wayne Fleming's locker.

"This puck is for Flemmer," Boucher said. "This one is for him, gentlemen."

The gentlemen roared.

Wayne Fleming's battle if far from done, but Tuesday he was alert and speaking after surgery.

"It's a big thing," Boucher said.

The Lightning won again. The fight goes on.

Flemmer leads the way.

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