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Fleury retires as a Flame

by Mike Board / Calgary Flames

Theo Fleury has made his decision. He is officially retiring from hockey.

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A comeback attempt with the Calgary Flames, the team that gave the five-foot-six Fleury a chance back in 1987, ended on Friday when the team released him from his tryout agreement.

Fleury, 41, took the weekend to met with family and friends to discuss his future and on Monday, at an emotional news conference with family and friends present, he decided to hang the blades up for good.

"Today, after much debate with my family and friends, I am officially retiring from hockey," said Fleury.

That he was able to return to the game after a six year absence with the team that gave him his start in the NHL, was not lost on Fleury, who had four points in four pre-season games and captured the hearts and imaginations of fans in Calgary, and indeed, across Canada.

He received several standing ovations during the pre-season at the Pengrowth Saddledome and heard his name chanted from the rafters of the building.

"Thank you so much for all your support," he told fans. "How many athletes can leave the playing field to a standing ovation? Don't be angry. We got to say one last goodbye. I want you to know I could not sign with another team. I get to retire as a Calgary Flame."

The winger, a popular and inspirational story during Flames training camp,  took the weekend to discuss his future with family, including wife, Jennifer.

"His dream was to retire as a Calgary Flame and he is living that dream right now," said Jennifer, Fleury's wife of three years and a big part of Fleury emerging from alcohol abuse to skating in the NHL again. "The love and support from all the fans was amazing."

To attempt his comeback Fleury had a six-year suspension for violation of the NHL substance abuse policy lifted by  commissioner Gary Bettman.

"I knew 15 years ago that I had a problem. The thing with the disease is you don't die right away. It's a slow, long, lonely, bitter death. I said to myself 'That's not what you are. You are not a quitter. You have never given up on anything in your life'," said Fleury.

Having not left the NHL on the terms he would have liked -- under suspension -- Fleury set out last February to change that. He was 40 pounds overweight but came to Flames training camp a lean 174 pounds and scored well in the Flames fitness testing.

"As I say goodbye today, I am at peace. I don't have anything to prove to myself," said Fleury, choking back some tears.

In four pre-season games, he recorded four points — including the shootout winner at home against the New York Islanders.

The Flames released him from his tryout agreement after determining he could not play in one of the top six forward positions, largely because he had lost a step -- something to be expected with age.

When asked if he thought he could still play -- possibly in the top six -- Fleury smiled.

"I think that is still up for debate," said Fleury, flashing that mischievious grin at the assembled media. "I will let you guys mull that around for a couple of days."

Fleury emphasized this comback was not a gimmick to promote his upcoming book, which is due out in mid-October.  This was about a person, who had let his life slide, getting his life back in order. It was a way for Fleury to both help himself and help others by showing that no matter how low you might go, you can always recover if you have the will and the determination.

"I took this seriously," said Fleury, whose names is littered throughout the Flames record book.

Fleury had 364 goals and 466 assists for 830 points as a Flames before being traded to Colorado in a deal that brought current Flames defenceman Robyn Regehr to Calgary in February, 1999.

Ten years later Fleury took time to acknowledge the scouts, general managers, owners and coaches who helped him throughout his career.

"The Flames took a chance on me. That's all I wanted was a chance. The Flames gave me that and that's why I am so loyal to the Flames," said Fleury.

What does the future hold now?

Well, Fleury is helping a new recov ery centre project in Calgary, readying for a book tour, taling with the Flames about a future position in the organization. He is settling in Calgary.

"We have had a long journey and I think it is time we put down some roots and there is no better place to do that than in Calgary," he said.

Asked what his favourite hockey memory might be, Fleury didn't have to take long to come up with an answer.

"Probably the Stanley Cup experience in 1989," said Fleury. "When you play road many times do you play in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final? I couldn't have been involved with a better group of guys. They taught me how to be professional. A phenomenal group of guys. Probably the best team I ever played for."

Fleury also played for the Chicago Blackhawks and the New York Rangers. He finishes his career with 1,084 games, 455 goals, 633 assists for 1,088 points and 1,840 points.

He has seen many highs and  certainly experienced the lows. "There was a point in my life where I had given up on myself," said Fleury.

He has fought, for everything he has for his entire life. On Monday, he was rewarded for those efforts.

"I get to leave the game on my own terms," said Fleury.

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