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Theo Fleury is poised to take another step forward in his attempt to get back into the National Hockey League.
Fleury, a fan favourite in Calgary for 11 seasons, is set to play a pre-season game for the Flames on Thursday, at home, against the New York Islanders.(7 pm, Live stream on calgaryflames.com, Fan 960).
"It'll be a special evening. When I started training in February I had little goals in mind, and I always reverted back to them when training sessions got tougher," said Fleury following Wednesday's on-ice session.
"One thing was standing in the tunnel, waiting to go on the ice for a game. I always enjoyed that 10-15 seconds before you actually go on the ice," said the 41-year-old Fleury.
"The hardest part for me is leading up to the game. Once the puck drops, I know what to do. But leading up to it, all the excitement, the memories flooding in and all that kind of stuff, so we'll see, I'll take it as it comes."
Fleury was given a try-out by the Flames on the eve of training camp after having a suspension lifted by the league. He will suit up in a Flames jersey for the first time since 1999, when he was traded at the trade deadline to the Colorado Avalanche for a package that included Robyn Regehr.
Fleury has not played an NHL game in six seasons. It was only last Thursday that commissioner Gary Bettman approved Fleury's return to the NHL, satisfied that Fleury, suspended for not completing the league's alcohol and substance abuse program, is clean and sober.
Emotional doesn't begin to describe what the evening might entail. He is very likely to receive a huge welcome from fans. Fleury admits if, four years ago, someone had told him he would be skating in an NHL game of any form he would have laughed at them.
Now, here he is.
"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, all my kids are going to be here, all the people who have supported me through these four years, are going to be here because they deserve to be as much as I do," said Fleury.
"I've always admired Daymond Langkow from afar; I think he's an outstanding hockey player. He's a gritty guy, he doesn't say much, but he shows up every night and he plays hard, and that's going to be great for me because he's got a calming influence about him, he doesn't get too over excited, he just goes out and does his job," said Fleury.
"Nigel is a quick guy, and I hope I can get him the puck in the right position with some speed through the neutral zone," said Fleury. "From all indications I think it's a good line, hopefully we can develop some chemistry early in the game."
The feeling of respect is mutual from Fleury's linemates, who have nothing but admiration for a player they grew up cheering.
"He looks really good. We want to just focus on the game more than anything. But the fans are going to be into it, it's going to be an exciting night," said Langkow. "(Fleury) definitely hasn't lost his hands, he has the same hands he's had his whole career."
"He was such a great player when he was playing before and he still is now. It's fun to be out on the ice with him. It's almost like he's a little kid out there again," said Dawes.
Fleury officially announced his intent to return to professional hockey in August, and was reinstated to the NHL a day before receiving his official camp invite from the Flames. Having had a few days to re-familiarize himself to the pace of practice, Fleury believes there is one fail-safe way to muster the proper focus for an NHL game.
"I would love to get hit, that would be great... I always found it was really important for me at any time during the game to get into the game as early as I can," said Fleury
The probable lines are:
Backlund - Jokinen - Iginla
Sutter - Conroy - Sjostrom
Dawes - Langkow - Fleury
Van der Gulik - Stuart - Jaffray
Bouwmeester - Regehr
Phaneuf - Sarich
Aulie - Giordano