by Rob Picarello - NHL.com Feature
Last February, Theo Fleury stepped away from the game of hockey in order to get his life back on track. There was nothing wrong with the feisty Ranger forward's on-ice play, as he was not only New York's leading scorer at the time with 30 goals and 44 assists, but his 74 points were also fourth in the entire NHL.
But the 33-year old winger was battling demons away from the rink, so he voluntarily entered a League and Players’ Association-sanctioned substance abuse program to deal with his problems.
"The rink always has been my happy place. I always got a lot of things I didn't get off the ice," Fleury said. "I always felt joy, I always felt happiness and I always felt complete when I was on the ice. (But) I'm the type of guy that doesn't like to ask for help. It just came to the point I knew I couldn't do this alone anymore. I felt it was time to deal with some issues I needed to deal with."
So the courageous Ranger entered the program last season with full support from his teammates and management. Monday night Fleury showed his supporters that he was all the way back, as he not only notched his 1,000th career NHL point, he also helped his team end an eight-game winless streak against the Dallas Stars.
Fleury showed his supporters that he was all the way back, as he not only notched his 1,000th career NHL point, he also helped his team end an eight-game winless streak against the Dallas Stars.
Fleury set up a pair of goals by Mike York to reach the impressive milestone, helping rally the Rangers to a 4-2 victory over Dallas, which was New York's first win over the Stars in nearly five years.
"Anytime you reach a milestone, it's nice to reach it with a win," said Fleury. "How it came about means more to me than anything else. I left the game for a while to handle some personal problems, and to come back and achieve this milestone makes it extra special. I took care of what I needed to and it was nice to come back and be part of this team again."
"I'm proud of what he did," Rangers GM Glen Sather said. "What he is challenged with now is probably the biggest battle of his life and while we can do things to help, in the end it's him."
The 14-year NHL veteran, who missed 20 games last year, came into the season in great shape, never doubting for a minute that he would make it all the way back to the NHL.
"I don't think I've ever felt better physically than I do now," Fleury said. "It was never ever a thought in my mind that I wouldn't come back (to play this season). "Not only do I feel good about myself again, I feel good about being able to play again,"
In the beginning of the year, Rangers head coach Ron Low was curious to see how Fleury would perform after his layoff. But once the All-Star's blades hit the ice in a game, Low knew he was back.
"Our first game I didn't know what to expect," Low said. "Then he went out and took the body six times on his first two shifts. I was relieved more than anything -- Theo was back."
Fleury deserves a lot of credit—and I'm not only talking about him registering his 1,000th point — as he not only came into training camp in great shape, he also came in with the mindset knowing that he would have to answer constant questions about his time away from the game and also about his on-ice performance.
"Obviously, there are going to be some questions," he said. "What kind of player am I going to be when I get back? Will I have changed on the ice? Nothing's changed. I play a certain way, a certain style, and that's not going to change. I know what makes me a successful hockey player."
After recording his 1,000th point Monday night, he was even able to laugh and joke about his achievement.
"I don't know if it just means I'am old or what," Fleury said.
But York knows 1,000 points in the League is no joke and he was well aware of how close his teammate was to reaching the milestone before the game against Dallas.
Fleury has now tallied 422 goals and 578 assists in 960 career matches with the Rangers, Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche.
"That's a lot of points. Before the game, you look and see that he (Fleury) is two points shy (of 1,000)," York said. "So after we got the first one, I looked over at him on the bench and said, 'One more.' Then he got it. That was great."
Fleury has now tallied 422 goals and 578 assists in 960 career matches with the Rangers, Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche. In 155 career games with New York, Fleury has tallied 45 goals and 98 assists for 133 points, along with 226 penalty minutes.
"For a guy who wasn't supposed to play in the NHL -- at least that's what people said anyway -- I guess that's quite an achievement," said Fleury, a native of Oxbow, Saskatchewan who was originally Calgary's eighth round choice (188th overall) in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft.
But in reality, the bigger achievement is how Fleury is handling himself off the ice these days.
"I hope through this whole process somebody else will see where I've gone and see where I'm going and use it as (an inspiration) in their life," Fleury said.
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