That's the Theo they know

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- Mathieu Schneider's interest in Theoren Fleury's comeback attempt goes beyond the fact he's a fellow hockey player.

Schneider is a former teammate and he wants to see just how far Fleury can go.

First and foremost, though, Schneider is ecstatic Fleury has turned his life around and found the right side of his addictions.

"Anyone that bounces back from that, it takes so much inner strength and determination," said Schneider, who now skates for the Vancouver Canucks.

"I can't imagine what it's like. He has that addictive personality. I don't have that, so I can't say what it's like, but you're so proud of a guy that can come back from the brink.

"He was on skid row, picking up the pieces of his life. To come back to the point he is today and be competing for a job in this league, it says a lot."

Schneider was part of the 1999-00 New York Rangers squad with Fleury. He wouldn't say what he knew of Fleury's troubles back then, but said the pressure on Fleury when he arrived in the Big Apple with a three-year, US$21-million contract was huge.

Fleury managed only 15 goals and 64 points.

"He played hard that year, played well for us. They expected the world from him in New York. It was a tough season for us all there," Scheider said. "But I loved playing with Theo. He was a great teammate."

Which is why he watched last night's pre-season clash between the Canucks and Flames a little closer.

"His first back-to-back games. Yeah, I'm definitely curious," said Schneider, who is recovering from off-season rotator cuff surgery.

"I was surprised, honestly, to see him come back, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him make the squad. When you're a competitor like that, it doesn't just go away. I saw he had a goal and an assist (Sunday) night, and that's probably a big step to a comeback.

"I'm anxious to watch him."

He wasn't the only person in the Canucks organization.

Stan Smyl butted heads with Fleury on many occasions, but said he always respected how the winger battled and flourished in a big man's game.

"Players our size have to go through things. He rose to that challenge every day," said Smyl, now a senior advisor to GM Mike Gillis.

"The way he would bark at you on the ice, you've got to back that up, and there wasn't one night he didn't back that as a player.

"I'm definitely curious to see how he does. I'm kinda cheering for him at the same time."

Smyl admits he didn't always have a lot of love for Fleury on the ice.

Asked whether he remembers any specific incidents with Fleury or times he wanted to poleaxe the talented pest, Smyl replied: "Every shift you wanted to do that to him. It's been a while, so I can't recall anything specific, but I know there was a lot of barking and chirping with him on the ice.

"But he always backed it and you respect players like that."

Roberto Luongo is another Canuck who faced Fleury -- he was a rookie with the Islanders in 1999-00 before being traded to Florida in the summer that followed -- but doesn't have any specific memories. Although, he admitted not liking Fleury much as a youngster.

"That goal he scored when he slid down the ice," Luongo said of the 1991 Game 6 overtime winner. "I was an Edmonton Oilers fan."

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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