Back in the saddle
Theoren Fleury hit the 'Dome ice for the first time in his comeback
On the eve of training camp, the excitement surrounding the prospect of returning to the ice where he skated for the majority of his career proved too overwhelming for the Flames legend.
"I woke up at 6:00 this morning ready to go, so there's definitely some excitement. I'm happy it went well, hopefully I'll continue to get better and feel better as we go along," said Fleury, who despite being thrilled awake early, had few nerves as he went out for the first day of Flames training camp.
"I tried to make sure I didn't trip when I came out on the ice for the first time, other than that it's my nineteenth training camp, so...."
Head coach Brent Sutter ran his new charges through a spirited first practice, but the pace was no problem for the 41 year-old Fleury, who scored better in his pre-camp fitness testing this time around than any during his previous time as a Flame.
"This is the National Hockey League and I didn't expect anything less," said Fleury.
"I think the biggest hurdle was (fitness testing) yesterday, just realizing that I belong here fitness-wise. I've always been able to play hockey, it was just a matter of the fitness part. I'm really excited about yesterday and how I tested."
Following the first day of camp, the coach remained cautiously optimistic about a player he once opposed on the ice.
"(Fleury) had a good first day. We're just going to take it day-to-day and when tomorrow comes, we'll worry about tomorrow. When you've been out of the game for six years, that speaks for itself. It's going to take some time, it doesn't just happen overnight, and that's why we're going to take it day-to-day," said Sutter.
"To Theo's credit, he came here in tremendous shape, his physical and medical went great, now it's just a matter of getting on the ice."
Dion Phaneuf, who has been in touch with Fleury for the better part of his comeback attempt, was impressed with what he saw on the ice during their groups' practice.
"I thought he was really good. He tested very well and today he was moving. It's great to see him come back, especially in the shape he is. He looked good out there for the first day," said Phaneuf.
"I wasn't surprised. I skated with him last week and he seemed to be in very good shape. I hope he has a great camp, he worked hard for the last eight months. I've been talking to him, he put in the work and it shows"
Flames fans young and old came out to catch a glimpse of the practice, and they were rewarded during an offensive drill when Fleury looked in vintage form, streaking down the right wing and feeding Carsen Germyn with a picture perfect pass in the slot, which Germyn in turn roofed. When asked about the play, Fleury provided the kind of invaluable sage advice he was brought in to share with his teammates.
"A little patience can go a long way in this game if you can hold onto the puck and force the defender to make his move first," said Fleury, who appreciated the fans cheers as well.
"It's better than getting booed, I know that."
Fleury's first foray with the Flames came during the magical 1988-89 season in which the Flames won the Stanley Cup, and he admitted it was a bit odd lacing up his skates alongside players who were only born around that time.
"Everybody here has been more than welcoming. It's fun, but I have a boy that's as old as some of these guys, so I do feel like a bit of a senior citizen, but I'm competing against them and that's why I'm here," said Fleury, who also begrudgingly confessed to one weak spot in his game so far.
"(Skating backwards) does need a little bit of work, but that's okay, I skate forwards most of the time."
With fitness testing, one restless night, and a full day of practice under his belt, hopefully Fleury will sleep soundly tonight, as he's back at it first thing Monday morning.
"I'll continue to workout off the ice and continue to get better and better everyday, and when I do get the opportunity to go on the ice I'll give it all I have," said Fleury.
"The more days go by, the more I feel comfortable, it's not like I haven't been here before. I've just got to have fun, and enjoy this for however long it lasts; hopefully it lasts for a long time."