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Longtime NHL assistant Fleming dies at 62

by Adam Kimelman
Longtime NHL assistant coach Wayne Fleming, 62, died Monday after battling brain cancer.

Fleming never was a head coach in the NHL, but was one of the most respected assistants in a career that spanned 14 seasons with the New York Islanders, Phoenix Coyotes, Philadelphia Flyers, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Fleming was working on former Lightning coach Guy Boucher's staff in 2011 when he first left the team to deal with the cancer.

“It is with a heavy heart that we acknowledge the passing of Wayne Fleming yesterday," general manager Steve Yzerman said in a statement. "Wayne was an extremely important part of the Lightning family on and off the ice during his time here. The thoughts and prayers of the entire Lightning organization go out to Wayne’s wife, Carolyn, and the entire Fleming family.”

The news of Fleming's death saddened the entire Tampa Bay organization.

"I certainly had a whole lot of respect for him, and he didn't disappoint me," Martin Raymond, also part of Boucher's staff until being shifted to a role with the club's American Hockey League affiliate on Monday, told the Tampa Bay Times. "He was unbelievable for us. He was a great person with really strong values. I feel gut-wrenched."

"Thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Fleming family," Lightning forward Steven Stamkos wrote on his official Twitter account. "Wayne was a great coach and even better man."

In addition to his NHL career, Fleming also had a long career coaching internationally, including stints as head coach of Leksand in Sweden, EV Landshut in Germany and Avangard Omsk in Russia.

He also was part of three Olympic coaching staffs for Canada, winning a silver medal in 1992 and a gold medal in 2002.

"Hockey Canada has lost a great friend, and the hockey world has lost not only a tremendous coach, but a wonderful man," Bob Nicholson, president and CEO of Hockey Canada, said in a statement released by the organization. "We send our condolences to Wayne's wife, Carolyn, their four children and the rest of the Fleming family."

Fleming had been fighting the cancer at his home in Calgary.

St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock worked with Fleming in Philadelphia and dedicated his 2012 Jack Adams Award to his former assistant.

"A lot of the coaches who come into Calgary go to see him, and all of it helps, according to Carolyn [Fleming's wife], which we appreciate," Hitchcock told the Calgary Sun in February. "But we all feel like it's never enough. We feel like we should or could do more. I try to send as many humorous texts as I can, and she reads them to Wayne. I think any of us who have been in the game for a while understand how much he means to us and that any of us could be in Wayne's position as well. So, for a lot of us, Wayne's illness is a very emotional situation."

Fleming started his coaching career as an assistant at the University of Manitoba in 1979-80, and the next season he was promoted to head coach. He spent nine seasons as coach of the Bison, winning back-to-back conference titles in 1983-84 and 1984-85.

From there he spent two seasons working with Team Canada, including a stint with an Olympic team led by Joe Juneau, Eric Lindros and Sean Burke.

After time coaching in Sweden and Germany, he spent two seasons each with the Islanders (1997-99) and Coyotes (1999-2001).

He coached Canada at the 2001 and 2002 IIHF World Championship, then joined Hitchcock and Jacques Martin as assistants to Pat Quinn at the Salt Lake City Games, where Canada won Olympic hockey gold for the first time in 50 years.

"He was just a great friend to hockey people in Canada," Nicholson told the Tampa Bay Times. "It's sad to see a guy like that go, but he's in a better place for him and his family right now."

Fleming joined Hitchcock's staff in Philadelphia in 2002, and after three seasons went to Calgary in 2006.

"The hockey community has lost a wonderful family member today with the passing of Wayne Fleming," Flames president and CEO Ken King said. "Wayne was a great coach, a tremendous family man and friend to us all. We are honored that he once applied his coaching talents, his character and principles as a member of the Calgary Flames and to the hockey world at large. Our condolences to his wife Carolyn and family."

Fleming coached in Russia in 2008-09, then returned to work on Quinn's staff in Edmonton in 2009-10.

In 2010 he was hired by the Lightning, and worked with them until leaving the team during the 2010-11 season.

"The biggest legacy Wayne left was how he touched people, to make people better," Nicholson said. "Whether he was coaching a 10-year-old hockey team or coaching with Pat Quinn or Ken Hitchcock at the Olympic Games, he was just there to make everyone better."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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