Jean Pierre Fleury didn’t expect to be playing with the Minnesota Freeze this season. Last season, Fleury made the Freeze’s parent club, the Anchorage Igloos, out of training camp and remained with the team all season. Fleury assumed he was with the Igloos to stay after nailing down a spot on the third line. But after putting up dismal numbers in the first half of the season – recording just 2 points – the Igloos ran out of patience and sent him back to the Freeze as a wake-up call.
“Even though I knew I was not playing well, this was shocking to me,” said Fleury. “I believed I would always be in the majors.”
Shocking though it may have been, Fleury definitely got the message. He has played like a man possessed since arriving back in Minnesota. In his 12 games with the Freeze, the winger scored 14 goals and notched 5 assists. That flurry of brilliance was highlighted by his performance on Thursday, when he became the first player in CHL history to score 5 goals in a game.
“When JP arrived, the first thing I told him was ‘I hope you play well enough that I never see you again,'” said Freeze coach Petr Kokrda. “He clearly didn’t need me to tell him twice.”
Fleury’s record-setting performance occurred in a 7-1 rout of the Idaho Spuds. Perhaps even more impressive than the five goals themselves was the fact that he took barely more than a period to score them.
Minnesota went on the power play in the game’s opening minute when Spuds D Jay Brewster was called for elbowing. Fleury got his first goal on that power play, redirected a shot from D Laszlo Cierny past Idaho goalie Kelvin White. About three minutes later, Freeze D Brian Coldivar picked off a pass in the neutral zone and fed Fleury, who beat White on the short side for his second tally. Just over a minu, who te after that, Minnesota C Tanner Everest won a faceoff in the offensive zone and flipped it to Fleury, who tucked it under the crossbar. The game was just five and a half minutes old and Fleury already had a hat trick, stunning the crowd at Idaho’s Treasure Valley Arena.
D Richard Huckenchuk broke Fleury’s string of goals around the halfway mark of the period, scoring from the top of the faceoff circle to make it 4-0. But the Minnesota winger struck again before the period was over, firing a shot from the slot that deflected off White’s left pad and trickled into the net.
The Spuds yanked White in favor of backup Xavier St. Pierre after the first period. A little more than a minute into the second period, Fleury greeted St. Pierre by finishing an odd-man rush with a shot that beat St. Pierre on the glove side for his record-setting fifth tally of the night.
As amazing as it was, Fleury probably could have scored even more goals had not Kokrda not severely limited the minutes of his top line for the rest of the game, in order to give them a rest and spare Idaho further embarrassment.
“If JP had been playing his usual minutes, I really think he could have scored seven or eight, as crazy as that sounds,” said Kokrda after the game. “He was that locked in, and playing at that high a level.”
For his part, Fleury reacted modestly to his record-breaking performance. “I could not expect this at all,” he told reporters. “I am as surprised as everyone else.”
At week’s end, Fleury earned the reward he sought: he was promoted back to the Igloos. “JP did everything we could have asked him to do and more,” said Anchorage GM Will Thorndike. “If he can bring that same energy with him that he showed in Minnesota, he’ll be a huge asset to us as we make our playoff push. We’re not going to expect 5 goals in a game, though.”