SUN Hockey Pool

Fleury feeling fitter than ever

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:23 AM ET

Carrying a limp body into the hallway during a training exercise, the Calgary Flames medical staff sparked another round of jokes.

"Theoren Fleury failed his last test," offered one voice in the hallway at the Saddledome packed with media members waiting for the 41-year-old hopeful to emerge from his fitness marathon and talk for the first time about his tryout with the Flames.

Maybe it was the long day of waiting that had people chuckling at such a morbid thought, as the EMTs and trainers prepared to fake-paddle the fake-victim.

Maybe it's the generally sceptical thoughts shared by so many when it comes to the idea of Fleury making an NHL comeback after sitting out six years under suspension for failing to comply with the league and players' association's substance abuse policy.

Circumstances of his absence notwithstanding, not many in the world of contact sports are able to play professionally into their 40s.

Chris Chelios appears to be at the end of a long career at 47 -- and he was a fitness legend.

Even Fleury's former Flames linemate Gary Roberts, another workout guru, called it quits last spring after the Tampa Bay Lightning put him on waivers, and the 41-year-old went unclaimed.

His comeback can already be considered a success -- his suspension lifted and a tryout secured with the Flames -- but that's not where Fleury wants it to end.

It probably won't even make him happy to achieve what Claude Lemieux did a year ago with the Sharks, suiting up for 18 games for San Jose in a limited capacity that reportedly led him to become a dressing-room distraction.

That's why Fleury worked so hard to prepare for yesterday's gruelling physical assessment.

Turns out it was worth the effort.

And all the sceptics in the crowd began to lean the other way as the 5-foot-6 ball of energy talked for almost 15 minutes after saying hello to some familiar faces and hopping atop a podium after nearly three hours of pep-sapping exercise stations.

"Let's see ... I've done 14 fitness tests with the Calgary Flames. This is the best one I've ever done," Fleury said. "I'm pretty excited. I thought I was happy yesterday, but I'm real happy right now."

Most believe it would take a rookie-like version of Fleury to earn a spot with the Flames, or even with the AHL Abbotsford Heat.

"I'm in the ballpark. Body fat's great. VO2 was excellent. Power's real good -- I'm very pleased," Fleury said when asked if he was the same size as he was when he first broke out in the league.

"Kudos to the people I hired to get me here."

Working with a nutritionist, a pilates instructor and a strength coach three times a week and a conditioning guru for five, Fleury has accomplished one small goal by coming to camp in shape.

But showing off his talented hands in scrimmages at the Westside Recreation Centre and his fitness off the ice are only half the battle.

Now, he needs to put that all together in game situations against men as equally determined to protect their jobs as he is to claim one of them.

That won't be easy.

Nothing in Fleury's life seems to be.

Odds are still stacked firmly against him -- but fewer are betting on Fleury failing today as he continues to attempt to resuscitate his career.

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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