Marc-Andre Fleury: Goalie, Teammate, Inspiration

What can be said about Marc-Andre Fleury that hasn’t already been said? Plenty!

Fleury the goalie…

Will have his name etched in the NHL and Penguins history books for a long time. “Flower” is one of only three goalies drafted 1st overall in NHL history. The other two were Michel Plasse of the Montreal Canadiens in 1968 and Rick DiPietro of the New York Islanders in 2000. Plasse lasted 299 games, DiPietro 318 games, while Fleury has racked up 691 NHL games and counting. In the Penguins history books Fleury exclusively holds six different team records. As I just mention Fleury has played in 691 games, a Penguins record for Games Played by a Goaltender. Other team records are as follows, Goaltender Wins 375, Shutouts 44, Most Games Played by a Goaltender in a season 67 (3x), and Most Shutouts in a Season 10.

But please, don’t let these incredible records distract those of you who’ve had a Jekyll and Hyde, love, hate, relationship with the 2x NHL All-Star, since his debut with the Penguins in 2003.

Oh, and please don’t turn an ankle jumping on and off the bandwagon for the 3x Stanley Cup Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist. As if those stats alone aren’t enough to warrant a city and fanbase’s unconditional love, Fleury is more than his records and stats, he’s and incredible teammate.

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Fleury the Teammate…

Is something that no one, not even the biggest anti-Fleury fan can deny. In fact, he has awards for that too. Twice in Marc-Andre Fleury’s career with the Penguins he has been awarded the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Good Guy Award. An award that not even the team’s owner Mario Lemieux has ever won. Fleury was even voted team MVP twice (2011, 2015) during his tenure with the Penguins. The team MVP has only been awarded to a goalie, three times since its inception in the 1967-68 season, in which Les Binkley (the team’s goaltender) was the initial recipient.

But moreover, to prove the validity and value of Marc-Andre Fleury as a teammate, are heartfelt quotes from his teammates, on his character and importance to his team during this year’s locker clean out day. Four of my favorites from that day are:

“It’s pretty clear what he means to this town. He rode in the truck behind me in the parade yesterday. Listening to the fans and everything that they said to him and the support they gave him … it’s pretty clear what he means to this community. I know what he means to this team. I haven’t played with many better teammates than him. I just remember when he stepped in for Game 1 of the playoffs, the way that he played and what he did for us, the way he stepped up. I know what he’s gone through these last couple of seasons, sitting next to him in the room. He comes to the rink with a smile every day. He does his best to support his teammates. It’s never about him. He’s a pretty unique person and a unique teammate. Whatever happens for him, whoever gets him, is going to be very lucky.” —  Matt Cullen

“It’s sad. He’s the type of guy that I want in my life at all times. If I could follow that guy around all day, I’d be happy. He’s such a fun guy to be around and I love that guy so much. He’s such a great player that he’s going to be good if he’s here or no matter where he is.” — Brian Dumoulin

“So happy to play with him. He’s the best teammate, best guy. I never met a guy that doesn’t like him or want to play with him. He’s unbelievable, and we’ll see what happens but I love him.” — Justin Schultz

“There’s not much you can say about Flower that isn’t great. He’s awesome. He’s one of the best teammates you can ask for. He’s always having a good time. He’s always welcoming guys. He’s always playing little pranks. I think that helps build chemistry. Having a guy like that on your team is special. It makes everyone a little bit closer.” — Bryan Rust

The final quote by Bryan Rust brings us to something that, thanks to Penguins marketing and media, we as fans have had the privilege to witness throughout the years, and that is Fleury’s pranks. Some of which you will see if you follow me on twitter (@benchbossx2) for 29 Days of Fleury Love aka #29Forever. The pranks and the silliness and the laughter and most importantly Fleury’s big smile are all apart of building chemistry in the locker room, on a professional team, that can tend to have personnel turnover from year to year. I see this every year in my job as a university hockey coach and it’s always incredible to see those types of players that can be the glue between the veterans and rookies, between the top line players and the healthy scratches. The hierarchy within the room can get complicated and be detrimental to a team’s success. The selfless teammate that “Flower” is, has become a large part of why this Penguins organization has been successful for so many years. I’m not sure many people realize this, but no one has been with the Penguins longer Fleury (since 2003) other than Mario Lemieux, Ron Burkle, Mike Lange, Paul Stiegerwald, and some of the Equipment Staff. Fleury has seen coaches and General Managers come and go. He has seen many teammates come and go as well. Yet, the lighthearted and often comical Marc-Andre Fleury remained as the pulse of the Penguins franchise. Yes, Sidney Crosby is the team’s Captain, leader and heart of the Penguins, but Fleury has been its soul for the better part of a decade. Fleury as a great teammate, cannot be replaced, nor can Fleury as the humanitarian and inspiration.

Fleury the Inspiration…

Marc-Andre Fleury’s selflessness does not end at the locker room doors. He has understood the commitment of a professional athlete who’s made his home in the city he has played for many years.

Most recently as we all know by now, Fleury and his wife designed, donated, and assembled a new playground to the Boys and Girls Club in the Stow Rocks area of Pittsburgh, as well as donating equipment and an indoor floor hockey rink for the club. The “29” on the playground’s floor will forever embody the spirit of Fleury no matter where his career takes him. However, this is not the first time the Penguins netminder has showed his love for the city and its communities.

As fans, we have seen Fleury give his time to different charity events, visiting children in the hospital, playing ball hockey with local youth players, visiting schools, participating as a coach in Crosby’s youth camps, and stopping along his way to wherever it is he’s going to sign autographs for fans.

Pittsburgh has long been the home of Marc-Andre Fleury and his family. If it is inevitable that his long tenure with the Penguins organization ends, there should be no doubt that he loves this city and its fans. When asked what he’d miss most about Pittsburgh, he summed it up in one word, “Everything!”.

For this fan, Fleury hasn’t been just a franchise goalie to watch. I remember witnessing the departure of Tom Barrasso a few years prior to Fleury’s arrival. As much as a I enjoyed watching him play and see the success of the team while he was with them, it was easy to see him go. The media scrutinized him and at the time I felt like I understood why. That is far from the feeling myself and many Penguins fans have about Fleury.

If this is to be the last time as a fan I get to witness Fleury donning the Penguins logo…

If this was the last season we witness him defending the Penguins net with Statue of Liberty glove saves…

If this is the last time we get to see Fleury move the furniture out of a teammates hotel room or do cartwheels in the Penguins runway or just see his smile behind a Penguins mask after robbing a rival player on a breakaway…

Then I will certainly be saddened.

I have watched Fleury since he came into the league and joined the Penguins as an 18-year-old kid fresh out of the QMJHL. I watch Penguins bounce him back to juniors several times, while stating “he just isn’t ready for the NHL, we need to let him develop”. Meanwhile, they just knew that it wouldn’t help his development to get shelled every night behind a floundering team. But they couldn’t publicly say that, of course. I watched as Fleury finally joined the team permanently and thinking, “Wow! He’s so athletic! He’s so good!” I remember being so excited that this kid is the Penguins franchise goaltender. Then I watched him grow as a goalie. He wasn’t just athletic anymore. He wasn’t just relying on his natural ability anymore. Fleury began to think the game and be selective with his saves. I watched as he got out of the truck in the 2009 Stanley Cup Parade and run by me high fiving fans. I’ve watched him spin, rub the posts, attempt to score a goal, attempt to get into a fight, be an intricate part of winning two more championships and capture the hearts of a city.

As a fan, I’ve been more than fortunate to watch Fleury’s career bloom with my hometown team. As a writer, who knows, maybe I’ll be just as fortunate, if by some chance “Flower” reads this. If he does, I hope what he takes from it is that, he will never be forgotten here in Pittsburgh.

Thank you, Marc-Andre Fleury, from the bottom of my heart, for all the wonderful memories you have given me and the Penguins fanbase. #29Forever

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