Overcome with joy
Fleury scores in first game back from suspensionPosted: Friday December 06, 2002 5:32 PM
Updated: Friday December 06, 2002 11:41 PM
CHICAGO (AP) -- For once, the outcome may have been secondary for Theo Fleury. Just getting back on the ice was good enough.
Fleury made an emotional comeback in his first game back after sitting out the first 25 for a substance abuse violation -- scoring Chicago's first goal midway in the first period.
"I think anybody would have a smile on their face after the couple months I've been through," Fleury said after Friday's 4-3 loss to Anaheim. "Tonight was what my goal was and I looked forward to getting here."
With a defender draped on his back, Fleury controlled a missed shot in front of the Anaheim goal and, with his back to the net, whipped the puck around his body and past the goalie.
Fleury pumped his fist in the air and retrieved the puck from the official, then skated back the bench where he watched several replays of the goal on the JumboTron.
It was Fleury's first goal since March when he was with the New York Rangers.
"I love scoring goals. That's my job. It was nice to get that one early and out of the way," Fleury said. "There was a lot of meaning to it."
The crowd, which cheered Fleury when he first entered the game, chanted "Theo, Theo" as Fleury sat and watched as play resumed.
Fleury was cleared to return to the NHL on Thursday and stepped onto the ice just 36 seconds into the game, drawing another cheer from the crowd when the 5-foot-6 Fleury crashed into the glass while going after defenseman Vitaly Vishnevski.
"It was probably the first time they were able to welcome me to Chicago," he said.
Fleury said he was eager to focus on hockey after a difficult two months away from the game because of his personal struggles.
The 34-year-old Fleury spent most of the last two months skating alone in empty arenas, slapping shots into empty nets while awaiting his return. He was not been allowed to work out or practice with the team after he was suspended for violating the league substance abuse aftercare program.
He will continue to participate in the substance abuse program and will be monitored by doctors throughout the season.
Fleury joined a team that is desperate for a spark. Chicago has scored 55 goals this season -- fourth lowest in the league.
He gave it to them in his first game back.
When asked whether he felt good for Fleury, coach Brian Sutter said there was no question.
"Absolutely. That's an understatement," he said.
Fleury signed a two-year, $8.5 million contract in the offseason, then relapsed. He is taking recovery slowly and said he can't afford to look far ahead.
"I have tried to stay in the moment and stay with what's been working here in the last two months," he said. "I am an alcoholic. Let's just say my disease is in remission."
Fleury is a seven-time All-Star with 443 goals and 612 assists in career that has spanned 15 years -- the first 10 1/2 in Calgary. He scored 40 or more goals three times and had a career-high 104 points in 1990-91.
With the New York Rangers in February 2001, he was leading the team with 30 goals and 44 assists when he voluntarily checked himself into rehab with 20 games left in the season.
There have been on-ice problems, too.
Fleury has sought treatment for anger management and finished last season in New York with a team-high-tying 214 penalty minutes in 82 games. He also was fined $1,000 for making obscene gestures to fans, allegedly had an altercation with a team mascot in San Jose and left the arena in the middle of a game in Pittsburgh.
Fleury hopes that, too, is behind him.
"My mental frame of mind is in really good shape," he said.
Though he hasn't played since the preseason, Fleury said he hasn't forgotten how to score. He proved that on Friday.
"You can't teach goal scoring and fortunately for me I've been
gifted with that talent," he said. "In the time off that I've had
in two months, I've probably shot more pucks practicing by myself
than I would have being with the team. I don't think I've lost
anything in that area. I possibly have improved a little bit."