Fleury 'never better'

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

His fiancee on one arm and a virgin Caesar in hand, Theo Fleury is the picture of happiness.

While thoughts of an NHL return and dreams of Hall-of-Fame consideration still dance in the back of his mind, the 37-year-old relishes an afternoon far from the game that made him famous. Surrounded by friends, fans and his teenage son Josh at his annual golf tourney at Pinebrook, Fleury shakes hands, exchanges smiles and talks of how exciting his future looks.

"Life is good -- never better," says the little big man when approached by a familiar face.

"Things are great. Have you met my fiancee Jennifer ..."

And so it goes for the former Flames captain -- a man who became a Calgary icon as much for his scoring prowess as his resilience. Whether it be from a crushing check, league-imposed sanctions, a rehab stint or a late-night rhubarb outside a strip club, No. 14 always bounced back by putting on a brave, battle-scarred face.

Now, months after an embarrassing post-game meltdown following the Horse Lake Thunder's exit from the Allan Cup senior men's national championship, the feisty winger is back to tell the world he'll return to pro hockey this winter.

Not with the Blackhawks, Rangers, Flames or Thunder but with the Harp Lager Belfast Giants.

In the midst of securing a work permit and finalizing a deal with Calgary software developer and Giants owner Jim Yaworski, Fleury will join the seven-team Elite Ice Hockey League loop this fall as the league's most famous player.

"We're just going to go hang out and see a part of the world I've never seen before -- if I like it over there I might stay," said Fleury, whose modest salary will be augmented with the use of a car, house and 3% ownership of the team.

"We'll see how it all plays out. Who knows, maybe after that I'll play one more year in the NHL -- I'm only 45 goals away from 500."

Admittedly out of shape, the 2002 Olympic gold-medal winner is quick to point out the elimination of the NHL's red line, the promise to curb obstruction and the addition of shootouts all cater to his game. Yet, he knows he's still at least a year away from attempting an NHL comeback after two seasons off following a minimum six-month suspension for violating terms of the league's substance abuse program. (Truth is, he has yet to fulfill rehab duties and until he does is a longshot to be reinstated).

"The hands are still there -- it's 'can my body withstand an 82-game thing?' " said the Flames' career scoring leader.

"To be honest, I don't know if I want to pay that price."

He'd be willing to do it if it bolstered his chances of getting Hockey Hall of Fame consideration.

"I think about it every day," said the 5-ft. 6-in. pepperpot, whose credentials include 455 goals, 633 assists and a Stanley Cup ring from 1989. "I don't even know the criteria or anything but it's the greatest honour a hockey player could ever have."

Despite being one of the NHL's most recognizable and prolific scorers of the '90s, Fleury's rehab status and emotional outbursts would hinder serious consideration by the induction committee. Still, he'll always be admired in Calgary where he recently moved from Sante Fe.

Anxious to visit Northern Ireland, where up to 10,000 fans watch players "crash the dashers" at Odyssey Arena, Fleury admits he knows little about Belfast.

"I know the Titanic was built there," said Fleury with a grin.

"We don't have to take a boat over there so we'll be okay."


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