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PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) – Following Monday’s practice, the Penguins were hit with a barrage of questions on former teammate and Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
On Tuesday night, Pittsburgh will welcome the expansion Golden Knights and their second-best point total in the NHL to PPG Paints Arena.
But beyond what will surely be a somewhat unexpected marquee matchup on the NHL’s slate, the story will be the return of Fleury, who won a trio of Stanley Cups with the Penguins and is widely considered one of the most beloved athletes in Pittsburgh sports history.
“He deserves every bit of recognition that he gets,” Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray said. “He’s an awesome guy, an awesome goalie. Flower was a huge mentor for me, obviously, somebody I became pretty close with over the last couple of years. It’ll just be nice to see him again.”
Fleury established himself among Penguins fans early in his career, leading Pittsburgh to its first Stanley Cup in 17 years when it beat Detroit in seven games in 2009.
But following the initial success, Fleury’s career took a rollercoaster ride that included injuries, a multiple benchings due to lackluster play, early playoff exits and, last year, a concession of the top goaltender position to Murray.
“I think the mindset he had, he came to the rink every day and just had fun, put a smile on his face no matter what the situation was,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “That’s not always easy to do and he found a way to do it, and I think that was something I got to see up close for a long time.”
Through the trials, Fleury kept the demeanor that endeared himself to his fans, teammates and coaches.
“I think when you go through the experience that Marc went through the last couple of years, it takes a real professional and a real solid person to handle them the right way,” Mike Sullivan said. “I can tell you how appreciative I am of how professional he was.”
In the end, Fleury was selected by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft, a move that was a foregone conclusion during the latter parts of last season and one that Fleury was made aware of even before he navigated Pittsburgh through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
“There were a couple of tough conversations and those conversations might have been a couple of the hardest conversations that I’ve ever had as a coach,” Sullivan added. “And the reason is because of how highly I think of him. He’s a great player, he’s a great person and he’s a great teammate.”