Old Flame rekindled

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:17 AM ET

Theoren Fleury's tryout with the Calgary Flames begins today.

Just another battle amid a lifetime of them for the diminutive former NHL star, who was expected to undergo his physical this morning for the same team he started his career with more than 20 years ago.

Despite it being one of the worst-kept secrets in the NHL, the organization declined to announce the invitation last night -- GM Darryl Sutter refusing comment and players claiming no knowledge of the situation.

But there's little doubt the 41-year-old will be poked, prodded, and pushed to perform in the conditioning tests taking place today when veterans report to the Saddledome for training camp.

The exam won't stop there.

Testing his hockey limits for the next couple of weeks will be one of Fleury's greatest challenges to date -- and there have been plenty of those for the recovering alcoholic.

"First off, you've got to admit he's never been short on guts his whole career. That's one thing you could never accuse him of," said former Flames coach Terry Crisp, who had Fleury as a rookie on the Stanley Cup-winning 1989 team.

"To attempt a comeback at that age in the NHL with that stretch of time he's been out, it doesn't surprise me. He overcame odds to make it (to the NHL). Throughout his career, they kept telling him he wasn't good enough.

"I've got to admit the odds are (against him) but, then again, with Theo, who knows?

"One thing he'll be is entertaining, you can bet on that."

Entertainment value isn't the determining factor for the Flames, a franchise that decided to give Fleury a chance to end his professional career on his own terms after his indefinite suspension over his substance abuse issues was lifted this week.

It's not the 5-foot-6 forward's intention, either.

"I don't think his objective is to be entertaining," said former Flames teammate Jim Peplinski. "He's serious about it.

"I still remember his first training camp. I didn't know who Theoren Fleury was. He was a little guy coming into the corner, and I hit him with a real quality elbow. He went down hard. The only thing that was faster than him going down was him getting back up. I took notice of that right away."

Telling Sun Media yesterday he's the only one who really believes he has a chance of making an NHL comeback, Fleury is aware of the challenges ahead.

So are Crisp and Peplinski -- but neither of them would bet against Fleury.

"It's gonna be very difficult," said Peplinski, who made a comeback of his own in 1994-95 after four seasons out of the league. "But having said that, if you look at what he accomplished as a 5-foot-nothing, 175-pound runt through the late-80s and early-90s ... I don't know how he did it."

The toughest part might be the mental aspect of going from a 20-minute-a-night player to a role player at best.

If he can deal with any situation that lies ahead, Fleury will finally get a chance to go out on his own terms.

"I was happy the league gave him a chance, reinstated him and took that black cloud from overtop of him," said Crisp. "If he does play a game or two and then retires, that's how it should be.

"I applaud the league, and I applaud the Flames for giving him a chance to do it this way."

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA

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FLEURY'S TIMELINE

June 13, 1987

The Flames select Fleury in the 8th round, 166th overall, of the NHL Entry Draft.

Jan. 1, 1989 -- After racking up 37 goals and 74 assists in just 40 outings with the Salt Lake Golden Eagles, Fleury is summoned from the minors to make his NHL debut.

May 25, 1989 -- The Flames win the Stanley Cup. Fleury registers five goals and six assists in 22 post-season tilts.

1995 -- Fleury is named captain of the Flames.

Feb. 28, 1998 -- The Flames ship soon-to-be free-agent Fleury to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Rene Corbet, Wade Belak and prospect Robyn Regehr. He leaves town as the all-time franchise leader in goals (364) and points (830).

July 8, 1999 -- Fleury signs a free-agent pact with the New York Rangers.

Feb. 28, 2001 -- Fleury voluntarily enters the NHL's substance abuse program.

Sept. 4, 2001 -- Fleury is cleared to return to the ice.

Feb. 24, 2002 -- Fleury helps Team Canada claim gold at the Winter Olympics.

Aug. 15, 2002 -- Fleury signs a free-agent deal with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Oct. 8, 2002 -- Just two days before the regular season, Fleury is suspended indefinitely for violating the terms of the substance abuse after-care program.

Dec. 5, 2002 -- Fleury is cleared to return to action. He suits up for 54 games before the season ends.

April 10, 2003 -- Fleury is suspended indefinitely for repeated violations of the substance abuse policy.

Oct. 15, 2005 -- Fleury makes his debut with the Belfast Giants of the British Elite League, netting a hat-trick and four assists.

April 19-24, 2005 -- Fleury suits up for the Horse Lake Thunder at the Allan Cup in Lloydminster, Sask.

Aug. 9, 2008 -- Fleury makes his pro baseball debut with the Calgary Vipers.

April 13-18, 2009 -- Fleury skates alongside his brother, Ted, with the host Steinbach North Stars at the Allan Cup.

August 2009 -- Rumours surface that Fleury plans to attempt an NHL comeback.

Sept. 10, 2009 -- Fleury meets with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in Phoenix. The league announces the 41-year-old has been reinstated.


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