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Tampa Bay Lightning assistant coach Wayne Fleming thanks fans for support in cancer fight

TAMPA — Lightning assistant coach Wayne Fleming likely will not be with the team this season, GM Steve Yzerman said Saturday.

Fleming, 61, has brain cancer. Though those who have seen him and spoken to him say his mind is sharp — he sends text messages and e-mails to Yzerman and the coaching staff with suggestions and observations during games — he uses a wheelchair and is having another round of chemotherapy and radiation. In Calgary with wife Carolyn, Fleming has had one weeklong treatment every month since April's surgery.

"He's determined to beat this disease," Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson said. "He loves watching Tampa Bay games. He lives for his family and hockey and the Lightning."

Fleming, in an e-mail, said he appreciated the cheer from the St. Pete Times Forum crowd before Monday's home opener when his picture was on the scoreboard. "I'd like to thank the fans for their warm support," he wrote. "Carolyn and I both miss Tampa and the Lightning organization dearly, but we know being in Calgary is what's best for us right now as I work through this battle here."

Nicholson watched Tampa Bay's season-opening victory over the Hurricanes with Fleming. He said when Fleming, with notepad in hand, communicated with the coaches, "you could see the sparkle in his eyes."

"It gives him a jolt of something to worry about other than what he's worrying about," coach Guy Boucher said.

Yzerman said he won't add an assistant this season: "We'll sit down at the end of the year and assess everything. At the same time, if in eight weeks, 10 weeks, if (Fleming) comes to me and says, 'Hey, I feel good,' he can come back."

That seems a long shot.

"He's working hard on his rehab as far as improving his motor skills," Yzerman said. "He feels like he is making slow, gradual progress, and he is encouraged by that. All things considered, he's doing okay."

"I'll continue to help Guy, the coaches and players any way I can," Fleming wrote. "But I need to focus on my health first."

SIDELINED: For the second straight game, LW Ryan Shannon was scratched against the Sabres despite playing what Boucher called his best game Monday against Florida.

"It's circumstances," said Boucher, who is juggling 14 forwards. "There are players we need to see. There are experiments we're not done with."

Still, "If (Shannon) had been racking it up since the beginning of the year, then somebody else would have to sit," Boucher said. "He's doing better every day, but … some other players have been more consistent."

Shannon, 28, with three assists in five games and averaging 12:32 of ice time, said he is using the down time to better learn how to play in Tampa Bay's system: "If I think about it as being a victim, yeah, it (stinks), but that doesn't get you anywhere. … I'm going to work to get to the point I'm a tough guy to take out of the lineup. That's where my head is at."

LIGHTNING STRIKES: The Tesla coils at the Times Forum finally were operational and fired during introductions, prompting a big cheer from the crowd. The coils, which shoot "lightning" about 20 feet, ultimately will celebrate goals. "Any perceived delays were incurred because we wanted to be properly in compliance with all necessary city and building codes," team spokesman Bill Wickett said.

ODDS AND ENDS: Tampa Bay has eight goals from its defense. No other team entered Saturday with more than four. … D Marc-Andre Bergeron's five-game points streak ended. … Jim Craig, goalie for the U.S. 1980 gold medal team, was at the game. … LW Ryan Malone played his 500th game. … RW Mattias Ritola and D Bruno Gervais also were scratched.

Tampa Bay Lightning assistant coach Wayne Fleming thanks fans for support in cancer fight 10/22/11 [Last modified: Sunday, October 23, 2011 12:15am]

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