Friday, June 23, 2017

A fitting farewell for Fleury, a fan favorite

By Kevin Gorman
June 20, 2017
(Andrew Russell/Tribune-Review)
The final farewell was signature Marc-Andre Fleury, smiling while autographing an array of items for Penguins fans who are still sorry to see him go.
A day before he is expected to be selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL expansion draft, the Flower signed everything from No. 29 jerseys and goalie masks to a homemade Stanley Cup and an oil portrait of the Penguins goaltender.
Poetically enough, one woman gave him flowers.
Another arrived at 4 a.m. Tuesday at Dick's Sporting Goods in Cranberry, hoping to be one of the first 250 people to get a wrist band to get in line for Fleury.
“He's my favorite, the way he is with teammates and how caring he is with fans,” said Jordan Maxwell, 20, of Avalon, 18th in line and trembling as Fleury signed her painting. “He's always smiling, no matter what.”
Fleury will go down as one of the most beloved Pittsburgh sports figures. That's what makes this such a difficult goodbye, not just for Fleury but his fans.
Fleury arrived in 2003 as a No. 1 overall pick from Montreal, like Mario Lemieux 19 years before him. The Penguins were rebuilding, but Fleury quickly became a cornerstone in goal.
Now 32, Fleury leaves the Penguins as a three-time Stanley Cup champion, arguably the best goalie in franchise history but unquestionably the most popular.
During the Stanley Cup playoffs, I asked him about being the building block and such a significant part of the team's turnaround.
“When I first came aboard, we couldn't win many games the first few years. We couldn't give tickets away. The team was for sale, right?” Fleury said. “At that time, I wasn't thinking too far ahead. My dream was to be in the NHL, and I was really happy with it.
“I was lucky to play with great guys and made a lot of friends. But your main goal is always to win the Cup, and to be able to do it was very gratifying.”
Just as it was gratifying for Fleury to go out the way he did. He handled his demotion to backup with such class that Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford called him the best team player in sports. And no one could argue with that logic.
That mattered to Fleury, who said it was important to be remembered “as a good person, not just a goalie.”
Fleury showed that by handing the Stanley Cup to Matt Murray, who replaced him in net in the Eastern Conference final after Fleury played spectacularly.
Fleury sealed that sentiment Monday, when he unveiled a playground at the Sto-Ken-Rox Boys & Girls Club whose construction he financed and donated.
“I love the game. I love playing hockey. I'm very fortunate to be able to do that for a living,” Fleury said. “I've had some success, winning some Stanley Cups. That's very important for me, the success of the team.
“Sometimes, people think athletes are maybe out of reach a bit. It was important to not be like that.”
It's why Penguins fans are hoping Vegas opens next season at PPG Paints Arena, so Fleury can see the Cup banner raised to the rafters.
Perhaps no one captured Fleury as well as my cousin, Mike Moore, did in a Facebook post.
“I don't recall the last time I was this upset about a player leaving the Penguins,” wrote Moore, 40, a season-ticket holder since 2007. “It's not anger nor is it disappointment. This isn't frustration over a trade, injury, illness or retirement. It's simply sadness.
“The NHL is a business, and I understand that. But up through his last moment in a Penguins jersey, Marc-Andre Fleury has exemplified the very essence of what a sports figure can mean to a city, a fan base and a franchise.”
Fleury will be remembered to all three as a great goalie and an even better person.
For that we should say, au revoir, Marc-Andre, and merci beaucoup.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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