At 17, Sidney Crosby brought me back to hockey, and brought me to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It’s safe to say that, in large part, Marc-Andre Fleury kept me there.
I’m the kind of person who reacts emotionally first, no matter the situation. On a not-unrelated note, I quite often have lots of strong emotions about hockey. Fleury resonated with me for that reason. Anyone familiar with Fleury understands that. He felt like a kindred spirit in many ways—never more so than when I first heard the story about him, his wife Vero, and Kris Letang running after the neighborhood ice cream truck.
Video clips of him grinning from ear-to-ear, usually about pranking a teammate or stopping their shots in practice, could always be found when I needed cheering up. When Crosby was out for significant parts of two seasons, it was hard to bring myself to watch any games, but thanks to Fleury, I knew there would always be something worth watching, whether it was spectacularly athletic (probably more athletic than necessary or comfortable, if we’re being honest) save or a hilarious quip to a reporter or teammate.
I’m pretty good at separating myself from any sort of fannish feelings when I write—it’s something I practice actively, and something I have to do in order to succeed at my job. Intellectually, I know that it’s time for Fleury to move on. Matt Murray has now won back-to-back Stanley Cups as a rookie, and closed out the most recent with back-to-back shutouts against a fairly formidable opponent. He’s beyond ready to be The Guy.
Somehow, knowing it’s time and knowing that the Penguins are in good hands doesn’t make Fleury moving on sting any less. He’s had a pretty big chunk of my hockey-loving heart for almost 12 years now, and while I’m excited to follow where his career goes from here, knowing that it won’t be with Crosby, Malkin, or Letang is a strange and foreign concept.
Selfishly, I’m glad that the Penguins won this year. I’m glad that Fleury got to don full Penguins gear for the last time in the arena where he was drafted, bringing everything full circle. I’m glad that he was able to contribute significantly to the final Cup he lifted in the black and Pittsburgh gold. I’m glad that he knew he was saying goodbye, and that we all knew too, and got to say goodbye to him as a champion, rather than in disgrace like we could have in 2012 or 2013.
Mostly I’m glad I got to spend more than a decade watching this silly, committed, big-hearted guy play hockey in a city that, for the most part, loved him so fiercely.
Best wishes down the road, mon fleur. I can’t wait to see what you do from here.