Friday, September 18, 2009


For those of us who remember Theo Fleury as a New York Ranger - last night was a very special night. Fleury was a man of special talent but also a man consumed by his own demons. His addictions forced him out of the game he loved - but while he was here he wore the Ranger colors with pride and played hard and with distinction for us.

And now, at 41 years old - clean and sober for the past several years - Fluery is trying the impossible - another chance at the NHL - a shot at redemption. Theo worked diligently with a trainer to get his 41 year old body back in hockey shape - using the same personal drive and passion he used to clean up his life several years ago.

Next, the National Hockey League met with him, deliberated, and ultimately re-instated him - lifting his ban and clearing the way for him to get to a training camp invite.

I was hoping the Rangers would step forward - but it was Calgary - another of Fluery's former teams that made the classy move - inviting the former great forward into their training camp. Last night Calgary took on the Islanders at Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary, Canada. And after 6 years away from the NHL, at the improbable age of 41, Theo Fluery returned to the game he loves.

"I don't know at this point how I'm going to react to that situation and react to the crowd. It's going to be emotional," Fluery told a reporter before the game began.

It was emotional. The Calgary fans cheered him on the ice in the warm ups and during the game roared their approval every time he jumped on the ice. In regulation he was plus-one on the night with a shot on goal.

But then came the Shoot Out, a part of NHL hockey that didn't even exist back when Theo last skated on NHL ice. In Fluery's former playing days - hockey games that were tied at the end of regulation just stayed tied. Back then, everyone just went home - none of this 4-on-4 OT and Shoot Out business.

So, after the OT period ended without a tie breaking goal - the teams lined up for the Shoot Out.
After Nigel Dawes missed for Calgary - sandwiched by two failed Islander attempts by Moulson and Smith - the Flames sent Theoren Fluery out on the ice out for his first ever NHL Shoot Out attempt.

Theo took the puck, moved up the ice at Islander goalie Kevin Poulin and launched a blazing six foot wrister.


He beats Poulin! The light goes on, the buzzer sounds and it is bedlam in the Saddledome.

It's like something out of a movie. Moments later the Islanders missed again and it was over. Fluery had won the game with the only goal of the Shoot Out. He was the first one back on the ice to congratulate the Flame's goaltender as he was mobbed by his teammates. The crowd stood and cheered - what a night!

There are not a lot of 40+ hockey players in the tough, lightning-fast NHL. The odds against an old man like Theo sticking with the Flames are still quite slim. So there's no telling how long this ride will last.

But for one night - for one shining moment - Theoren Fluery came all the way back. Back from exile. Back from addiction. Back from forced retirement. And back from his own troubled past.

For one night at least - Theo Fluery is back in the NHL.

Welcome home, warrior. And, wow, I wish I'd been there to see it.

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