It's not so much a new beginning, as a chance to rewrite an ending.
While pulling on a Flames jersey and stepping onto the ice yesterday was a huge accomplishment for 41-year-old Theo Fleury, it isn't the most important victory he'll be celebrating this week.
"In a few days, it'll be four years," says Fleury.
Four years, that is, since the once-and-possibly-future Flame last touched a drink or drug. Forget fitness testing and training drills -- mastering the urge to imbibe was the real victory for Fleury.
"Playing hockey and being sober are different types of challenges. You're not born with the talent of being in recovery," he says.
"Getting to this point was the real goal and everything else is a bonus -- if they'd told me four years ago, I'd be reinstated by the NHL and be having a chance at playing with the Flames, I'd never have believed it."
It was booze which ended Fleury's NHL career in ignoble fashion six years ago, after a drunken brawl with bouncers at a strip club resulted in indefinite suspension under the league's substance abuse policy. For a kid whose life was an NHL fantasy come true, surrendering the final chapter to an addiction is a nagging regret.
Fleury succeeded in his dream of playing in the NHL, and not just as an average player either -- he was among the league's elite, with a Stanley Cup and Olympic Gold to show for his effort.
But the ending, not so stellar. So why the need to return? Does Fleury's incomplete NHL dream still include a retirement befitting an NHL star -- the standing ovation as his sweater is hoisted to the rafters, the way most greats are allowed to go?
"I think so, I think it does. What happened wasn't a good ending," says Fleury.
For the clean-and-sober Fleury, missing that final bow has been a constant ache: "You work through the 12 steps, and at the end, the one thing keeping me up at night was this," he said.
"I'd never quit anything before, never given up before. It goes to show what kind of disease this is."
He cares now, four clean years later. But the drunk Fleury, frankly, didn't give a damn.
"The last place I wanted to be was at the rink -- the game wasn't fun anymore, and I didn't want to pay the price to be an NHL player," says Fleury.
It took sustained sobriety to rekindle that desire. Fleury shares the credit with Rob Laird, a former RCMP officer known for his work with Calgary addicts, from every social niche.
"Rob's been one of my biggest supporters and we've developed this really cool friendship. It's good to have someone to talk to when you need it," says Fleury.
It was Laird who helped Fleury stick to the strict rules imposed by the NHL, while providing the evidence needed to get the former Flame reinstated by the league.
Laird said Fleury's story is already inspiring others.
"There are a lot of people struggling out there in the professional world, be it sports or business, who feel no one will understand and there's no way to get life back on track," says Laird.
"They see a guy like Theo Fleury, who's done exactly that. And he's the first to tell you, as will I, it's no slam dunk -- it's not an easy thing to get your life back."
Laird, formerly of the Calgary Dream Centre, is currently seeking backers and support for a new addictions recovery centre he'll open later this year on rural land south of Calgary.
Laird can already count on his biggest fan: Fleury says he'll help in any way he can.
"I'm really excited about the treatment centre. My life now is about service, because someone helped me -- I've spent many a day needing help and now I want to give back," says Fleury.
"I want people to know that no matter how far down the ladder you go, you can make it back and you can thrive."
Before his talents go toward helping others, Fleury will focus on the final chapter of his playing career.
Whether he makes the Flames or not, Fleury says he's happy to have the last word, rather than letting his addiction write the script.
"I still think about the way I went out and I have to try to change that -- I have to," says Fleury.
"I'll be OK with any result, as long as I try."