Theo Fleury has issued his first public comments since taking a sudden leave from the New York Rangers last February to check himself into a rehab program. The 5-foot-6-inch all-star winger, who is known for playing like he’s 6-foot-5, is now on the road to recovery after months of treatment for substance abuse. Fleury, a Metis from Oxbow, Saskatchewan, has struggled with substance abuse for years. Both of his parents have had their own problems with addiction.

The world of hockey was especially stunned by Fleury’s self-imposed departure from the ice last season since he appeared to be at the top of his game. The fiery winger was leading his team with 30 goals and 44 assists and was duelling with Colorado’s Joe Sakic for the overall league lead in points. Somehow, the 13-year veteran who broke in with the Calgary Flames, where he played for 10 seasons, managed to keep his off-ice problems separate from his on-ice performance.

Fleury’s recent comments were made in Calgary before his annual golf tournament. The tournament raises money for research into Crohn’s Disease, a debilitating digestive disorder that affects Fleury and millions of others like him. ‘The hockey rink has always been my happy place and my place where I felt really comfortable,” said Fleury. “I always felt joy,

I always felt happiness, I always felt complete when I was on the ice.”

Fleury claimed he’s never felt better physically and is raring to get back on the ice for training camp. Rangers general manager Glen Sather sat with Fleury at the press conference. The former Oilers guru has overseen the rehabilitation of several of his players in the past, including Craig MacTavish. While Sather was proud of his player’s comeback so far, he also had words of caution. “This is not something where you spend four or five months changing your lifestyle,” said Sather. “He’s going to have to fight until someone sticks him in the ground 50 years from now.”

“There was never a thought in my mind that I would not come back,” Fleury said. He now awaits word to find out if he’ll be invited by his friend Wayne Gretzky to an orientation camp for the Canadian Olympic team in early September.