CALGARY – Calgary is where Theoren Fleury started his remarkable NHL career. It may also be where he resurrects it.
The Calgary Flames confirmed that Fleury has been invited to attend the Flames training camp, which begins Saturday, on a try-out basis.
“Once we determined that Theoren was training to our standards and the League permitted his return to on-ice competition, it wasn’t a hard decision for us to provide him with this opportunity,” said general manager Darryl Sutter in a statement.
“In the history of our franchise, he is among the top players all-time and regardless of what happens; he can finish as an active player. This is a day-to-day thing and we will develop our expectations over the course of training camp.”
Fleury, who lives in Calgary, played 11 seasons with the Flames. His last season was with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2002-03 when he was suspended indefinitely then for violating the NHL’s substance abuse policy.
“I am both thankful and very excited to be given this opportunity by Darryl and the Flames organization,” said Fleury. “I intend to come to camp today with a strong work ethic, a positive attitude and to be treated like any other member of the group.”
Fleury says he’s sober now. The Oxbow, Sask., native asked for reinstatement and it was granted by the NHL and NHL Players’ Association late Thursday night.
“I know Theo pretty well,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in Phoenix. “We had spent some time together when things in his life were a little less settled. Seeing him last night, he looked terrific, he sounded terrific, he seems to be in a good place, he’s been sober for a number of years.
“We wish him well. I hope he can fulfil his dream and come back.”
The diminutive forward made up for his five-foot-six frame during a remarkable NHL career. He scored 455 goals and added 633 assists in over 1,000 career games with the Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, New York Rangers and Chicago between 1988 and 2003. He won a Stanley Cup in his rookie season with Calgary and was a member of the Canadian team that won an Olympic gold medal.
Fleury also battled alcoholism through his career.
“At heart I’m a hockey player first and foremost,” Fleury said after one of his recent practices. “Obviously I didn’t go out the way I wanted to.
“I knew something was wrong about 15 years ago. I just didn’t have the tools to be able to deal with life. I started picking up really good tools to get to a point four years ago where I knew I could stop and continue and maintain my recovery and sobriety.”
He will continue to participate in the after-care phase of the league’s substance abuse program.
A return to the NHL after a six-year absence is a tall order. Defenceman Chris Chelios may have played in the NHL at 47 last season, but he’d never left it.
Forward Claude Lemieux, 43, played 18 games with the San Jose Sharks last season after a five-year absence. He had one assist and retired again.
Fleury had 12 goals and 21 assists in 54 games with the Blackhawks in 2002-03. He’s played in Europe and in North American senior leagues since then.
He’s operated a cement company in Calgary in recent years.