Theo in Flames lineup

Theo Fleury will be on the ice for the first time in the NHL since 2003. (Sun Media/Al Charest)

Theo Fleury will be on the ice for the first time in the NHL since 2003. (Sun Media/Al Charest)

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 3:46 PM ET

Theoren Fleury knows it'll be emotional.

Tonight, he'll skate onto Saddledome ice wearing a Calgary Flames jersey for a tilt against the Islanders (7 p.m., available to watch on flames.nhl.com).

The fans, in undoubtedly a full building, will be excited to see him don the Flaming C again.

It should be emotional. The question will be how Fleury handles it all.

He knows it, too.

"The hardest part for me is leading up to the game," he said yesterday. "Once the puck's dropped, I know what to do.

"Leading up to it, all the excitement, the memories flooding in, and all that stuff. I'll take it as it comes, but I'm really excited about the opportunity. I've worked really hard to get to this point, and I look at (tonight) as a big point in my process."

Big point? More like momentous point.

He was traded from the Flames back in 1999, leaving as the club's all-time point scorer.

He last skated in a NHL game six years ago.

It was just last week he was reinstated from the NHL's Substance Abuse & Behavioural Health Program. All those people who looked skeptically at his comeback attempt, as if some novelty, will have to reconsider their stance.

"It'll be a special evening," Fleury said. "When I started training in February, I had little goals in mind, and I always reverted back to them when the training sessions got tougher. One thing was standing in the tunnel, waiting to go on the ice for the game to start. To me, I always enjoyed that, whatever it was, 10 or 15 seconds before you actually go on the ice.

"I don't know how I'm going to react to that situation or the crowd. It's gonna be emotional. All my kids are going to be here and all the people that have supported me throughout these four years. They deserve to be here as much as I do, and they deserve a lot of the kudos, as well, to getting me here and making sure I continue to live the life I chose to live a long time ago.

"We're all excited, all emotional, but I think we all want to keep it on the even keel."

Fleury, 41, practised yesterday on a line with Daymond Langkow and Nigel Dawes.

We know how he'll be received by the fans, but what about the Islanders? On the ice, not many subjects are off limits for trash talk. In his heyday, Fleury was as good as anyone, but now his public battles will be fair game for fodder. For starters, he'd like somebody to hit him.

"Yeah. If the Islander guys are listening to this, go ahead," he said.

After that?

"I don't know. We'll see what happens. Hockey's a competitive sport and a physical game. I'll prepare like I have for the 2,000 other games I've played in my lifetime."

Calgary's lineup against the Isles will be strong. Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen, Dion Phaneuf, Robyn Regehr, Jay Bouwmeester and Miikka Kiprusoff all are slated to play. But the biggest story will be Fleury and how far his comeback will go.

That's a discussion he doesn't want to get into.

"You've got to remember, four years ago I was always thinking ahead and coming up with scenarios that weren't possible. At this point, I'm happy where I am today and will try to get better. That's all I can do," he said. "I can't come up with any crazy scenarios about what's going to happen. If something's supposed to happen, it's supposed to happen. I'm not in control any more, and when I gave up control of that, my life completely changed and I've become a different person."

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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