Feeling for No. 14

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

Players in the Calgary Flames locker-room are all sorry to see Theo Fleury to go.

They feel for him.

They're proud of him.

But the reality is Fleury couldn't snatch one of their jobs away from them.

"The legs just aren't where they need to be," head coach Brent Sutter said yesterday, after Fleury was released from his tryout contract.

"But I'm darn proud of Theo, I really am. This isn't just about hockey, it is about life and where he's at right now in his life."

Sober for four years and probably physically as healthy as he's ever been, the 41-year-old Fleury will take the weekend to think things over with family and decide his next move.

Dealing with the regularly scheduled dose of media is now in the hands of his former camp mates.

"He wasn't a distraction at all," said captain Jarome Iginla.

"Before camp, knowing it would be such a big story, he didn't know what to expect. But you guys talked to him every day, so it gave us a lot more time off.

"It's tough to see Theo go."

Tough for more reasons than just the microphone break the 5-foot-6 former face of the franchise provided.

"It was the buzz of the city," said Craig Conroy.

"It's disappointing because, you know what, the reality was coming in there's 14 guys on one-way contracts and it makes it tough for someone to come in and take a job."

Fleury did his best.

"I thought he had a good camp. Great pre-season," said occasional linemate Daymond Langkow. "It's a tough roster to crack."

Statistically, he made his case. Impressing his teammates more than the coaching staff, Fleury certainly surpassed the expectations of his many doubters.

"Four points in four games, a big shootout winner ... for not playing for six years, to come back, he did a great job," Conroy said of Fleury's pre-season resume.

"He did a great job. I don't know what's going to happen now.

"I wish him well."

Escaping the Saddledome before practice began yesterday and the media members flocked to the rink, Fleury didn't get a chance to bid his boys goodbye.

You can bet his telephone was buzzing by mid-afternoon with words of encouragement, congratulations and condolences.

"I definitely feel for him," said Iginla. "He had a great attitude, worked really hard. I'm absolutely proud of him."

Unsure what the future holds for their friend, to a man the players feel hockey could be a big part of it. Just not in Calgary, apparently.

"If he chooses to play, there are hockey teams that would love to have him," said Iginla.

Conroy echoed that idea: "If he really wants to do it, there's probably opportunities."

To avoid uprooting his family, Fleury may have to settle for retirement on his own terms.

And there's no shame in that.

"He's not 31. He's a 41-year-old player that hadn't played in six years. Yet he still thought the game very well and still had the heart for it and still had the knack with the puck when it came to him, and what to do with it," said Sutter. "But there's the pace of the game.

"I was serious when I said (Thursday) -- and I stick by it -- the regular season's completely different than exhibition. I meant it. It's gonna pick up 10-fold. It's the truth."

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA\


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