SUN Hockey Pool

Fleury's inspiring comeback

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

Theo Fleury looks older than his 41 years would suggest.

The lines on his face tell the story of a man who has led a fast life and struggled to conquer his personal demons.

Yet there is a certain sincerity about Fleury and his comeback attempt with the Calgary Flames, which leads one to believe it's not all about the money or building publicity for his upcoming book.

"For him it's a process where he's taking it a day at a time," said Flames head coach Brent Sutter. "Today is no different than it was yesterday. He's had opportunities to play and he's done good things. But again, it's still a work in progress."

Fleury's comeback is about more that just hockey. He's the first to admit it.

Having at one time been at the pinnacle of the sport, the Oxbow, Sask., native was forced out of the NHL in 2003 due to a long battle with drug and alcohol addictions. Sober for the past four years, part of his recovery process was taking another shot at the NHL.

But whether or not he makes it, Fleury has already come a long way.

"There was a lot of desperation for sure, I never hid the fact that I had a problem," Fleury said. "I think at that time, I just wasn't ready to deal with it, nor did I have the tools to deal with it.

"But I've worked really hard at acquiring the tools that I need to live a life that is a 24-hour-at-a-time thing. I've approached training camp the same way. I only have 24 hours, I can't control what's going to happen tomorrow.

"I just have to come and work as hard as I can and try and fit in with this situation as best as I can, and so far it's worked out well going through that type of philosophy."

Fleury credits his wife with helping him rebuild his life.

Last night was his fourth game with the Flames this preseason. Prior to the contest, he had a goal, two assists and a shootout winner to show for his efforts so far.

"I'm real happy with how far I've come in such a short period of time here," Fleury said. "All I want to do is continue to get better and better and for the most part I've been able to do that. I'm really happy and really looking forward to being in the lineup."

Last night, Fleury was retuning to the rink where he had one of his finest moments with the Flames, scoring the overtime winner in Game 6 of the 1991 first-round playoff series against the Oilers.

That goal and the ensuing celebration, which saw him skate the length of the ice and slide into the boards, is one of the most memorable moments in Flames history.

Fleury was uncertain the type of reception he would get coming back to play in Edmonton.

"I think it'll be 50-50," he said. "I think people know how far I've come and how much hard work I've put in. They probably appreciate the fact that I'm here and am just battling every day to try and reach the end goal."

Whether or not he earns a contract with the Flames, Fleury expects his ordeal to hit home with others battling their own demons.

If he can inspire one person, all the work he put in will have been worth it to him.

"It's important for people to realize that no matter how far you've gone down, you can make it back. I'm living proof of that," he said. "I know there are a lot of people as we're talking right now that are struggling with whatever problems and issues they may have and I just want them to know that there is tons of help out there if you are willing to put in the work."

DEREK.VANDIEST@SUNMEDIA.CA


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