Happier, healthier

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

Theoren Fleury admits he got the bug Wednesday night. Sitting down to watch the return of the NHL at his Calgary home, how couldn't he?

"Of course," the former NHL star told The Sun yesterday. "You know, you've done something for 15 years, you had 15 opening nights, you always get the butterflies. The excitement of a new season -- it's always neat to be able to go through that."

Beginning next week, Fleury will be about as far away from the buzz of the new NHL season as you can get.

The product of Russell, Man., will be off to Northern Ireland, where he'll play for the Belfast Giants of the Elite Ice Hockey League. Not exactly the penthouse of pro hockey, no.

Unpredictable

And not a typical place to find someone who scored 455 goals, 633 assists in the NHL, won a Stanley Cup and helped Team Canada win an Olympic gold medal.

Of course, Fleury's life has been anything but typical lately.

From the on- and off-ice outbursts that led to his indefinite suspension for violating the NHL's substance abuse policy in '03, to a stormy stint with a senior hockey team in Alberta last winter, the only thing predictable about Fleury has been his unpredictability.

On the other end of the line yesterday, though, he sounded relatively content with his lot in life.

Engaged to a Winnipeg woman he met nine months ago -- they plan to get married Aug. 19 -- Fleury will be in town for his wedding social in St. James tomorrow.

The proceeds will help in the fight against multiple sclerosis.

"My fiancee Jennifer's grandmother died of MS a couple of years ago," Fleury explained. "So we just decided it would be a good idea to do it for the MS society in memory of Jen's grandmother."

Fleury's only plans beyond the hockey season are to spend time with his three kids in Calgary, one of whom, 18-year-old Joshua, now lives with his dad.

Fleury says his relationship with his kids could use some repair, after getting "off the rails a little bit" when he was traded by Calgary to Colorado, then signed a huge free agent contract with the Rangers, in '99.

"Basically when I left to go to New York, it was hard to keep those people in my life, because of the distance," he said. "And I lived in New Mexico for four years ... so I kind of isolated myself a little bit, trying to figure out what my issues were, my problems were, how I need to go forward."

In previous interviews, Fleury has spoken openly about his abuse of drugs and alcohol, describing his affliction as "a life-long sentence" in a TV interview with Rogers Sportsnet in November, '04.

Yesterday, the 37-year-old was more guarded.

"I don't think that's up for discussion anymore," Fleury said. "I've been pretty open and honest with the media throughout my career, and I've been judged because of it. And I've just decided my personal life is my personal life, and how I deal with it is nobody's business but my own and my family's.

"I think everybody in their life has everyday stresses they go through, and mine wasn't any different. Mine was magnified a little more because of who I am, that's all."

Who he was was one of the most dynamic small players in NHL history, the kind of player you imagine would have a field day in today's NHL.

"I haven't really thought about going back there to play, yet," Fleury said. "I've never ruled it out. I'm only 37, and guys are playing past their 40s, now. And I've been off for three years now, so I've had a chance to heal old war wounds."

Whether he's healed enough, inside and out, to make a comeback is another thing.

"As far as I could say, things are probably as good as they've been in a long time," he said. "Touch wood."


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