Pittsburgh fans still have love for Knights’ Marc-Andre Fleury

Updated May 25, 2018 - 6:53 pm

PITTSBURGH — To say the night of Feb. 6 was an emotional one for Marc-Andre Fleury would be an understatement.

It was the Golden Knights goaltender’s return to the city where he was drafted 15 years ago, the first time he played at PPG Paints Arena in a visitor’s jersey. The Penguins played a tribute video before the game to the goalie who helped win three Stanley Cups, and proceeded to beat Fleury and the Knights, 5-4. Fleury made 33 saves.

What Jim Rutherford remembers about that night was what happened after the game. The Penguins’ general manager took his 10-year-old son James into the Vegas dressing room to meet Fleury, and the former Pittsburgh goalie spent all the time with James that Rutherford could have hoped for.

“You can always talk about people when they’re on a high note and they’ve won five in a row and all the good things and you’re the first star of the game, but this was a tough night for Marc-Andre Fleury,” Rutherford said. “His demeanor and personality never changed. He took that time, and made sure that James came into the room to see him.

“I will always remember that. Of course it touches me close because it’s family, but not a lot of athletes will do what he did that night.”

Rutherford’s admiration is echoed by the city. Fleury has not been a Penguin in nearly a year, and the Knights will enter the Stanley Cup Final on Monday representing Fleury’s third consecutive trip, but first and only without a Penguins sweater.

There’s no bitterness from Pittsburgh. They want him to win.

“He’s made his way into the fabric of this city,” Penguins and Steelers season-ticket holder Bill Diamond said.

ADD ALT TAG INFO
Marc-Andre Fleury, a goaltender from Sorel, Quebec, center, is joined by Pittsburgh Penguins team officials after being selected by the Penguins as the top pick in the NHL draft on Saturday, June 21, 2003 in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Ryan Remiorz)

A quick turnaround

Pittsburgh made Fleury the first-overall selection in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Evgeni Malkin went second overall in 2004, and Sidney Crosby went first in 2005. The Penguins finished fifth in the Atlantic Division four straight times, not remotely resembling the dynastic squads of late.

After Crosby’s rookie year, the Pens have not missed the postseason in any year since, and won Stanley Cups in 2009, 2016 and 2017, with Fleury as the primary goaltender in 2009 and playing key playoff series in 2017.

That’s to say, it’s hard to measure the importance of those three players to Pittsburgh hockey.

“I remember when he was drafted, everybody was like this elite goaltender is going to make a change in Pittsburgh,” Pittsburgh-area teacher Bill Majeski said. “Then Crosby and Malkin come in and you start seeing this turn around, and it was a quick turnaround.

“Him and (Matt) Murray are the reason why we won the Stanley Cup. Crosby and them of course, and all the additions, but if you don’t have the goaltending you’re not going to get it.”

Pens fans had seen the writing on the wall for months and knew what would happen. Fleury had a history of concussions, he was well beyond the wrong side of 30-years-old, he had a high salary and of course they had Murray: a 24-year-old who was the primary goalie for two straight Cup wins. So when an expansion team came around, there was only one option.

Fleury was left unprotected, and on June 21 Vegas and made him its highest-profile pick in the expansion draft.

“At first it was difficult when they first decided to not protect him in the expansion draft,” local high school hockey coach Louis Pessolano said. “It was a business move, it was the right move.”

That doesn’t make it much easier. Pessolano was in the building for Fleury’s return to Pittsburgh, and it all came rushing back.

“There were definitely some watery eyes in the crowd,” Pessolano said. “It was a nice send-off.”

ADD ALT TAG INFO
Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury rides in the Stanley Cup victory parade in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, June 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Off the ice

Of course just about every city has a star athlete to rally around on the field of play. But Fleury has made himself known around Pittsburgh for more than flashy saves.

Last June, Fleury and his wife Veronique opened and financed a new six-figure playground at a Boys & Girls Club in nearby McKees Rocks. He was involved in the process, asking ways to make it as good as it can be instead of just cutting the check.

When he was selected by Vegas, he donated 25 of his nicest suits to a veteran leadership group. One time on a long road trip he had his teammates collect the toiletries from the hotel rooms and donated them to the Ronald McDonald House.

“It was all this stuff over and above,” Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation president Dave Soltesz said. “Through his tenure he was just amazing. On the ice and in the community, no doubt about that.

“He’s a special individual.”

Though the timing of the opening may appear as if it was a farewell gift to Pittsburgh, Soltesz stressed it was not any sort of legacy project. It had been planned years in advance, and he wanted to make sure the project was done right, regardless of if he was a Penguin or a Golden Knight.

It’s the kind of thing that catches the eyes of fans.

“It was already paid for. It was already built. Nobody was going to hate him for not showing up,” Pessolano said. “In a city in and a town that he no longer technically plays for. And that shows a lot about the person that he is, the genuine person that he is, not just the hockey player.”

ADD ALT TAG INFO
Pittsburgh Penguins goalies Marc-Andre Fleury, left, and Matt Murray hold the Stanley Cup on stage after riding in the Stanley Cup victory parade in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, June 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Love for Flower

The city is littered with anecdotes about its love for Fleury.

Diamond’s son Andrew was a goalie as a youth player because of Fleury. A Lyft driver named Michael said he’ll be watching the Final because of the man between the pipes (and to root against the Capitals). A teacher named Kelly believes the Penguins would still be in the playoffs if Fleury were in net. A software developer named Michael jokes that Vegas stole their goalie and that he keeps tabs on the Knights.

A Dick’s Sporting Goods employee named Dajon said he gets asked all the time if the shop carries Knights gear. Within the last two weeks, the store has started stocking it to meet the demand, the only apparel from non-Pittsburgh teams it carries (excluding the NBA, where Pittsburgh does not have a team).

Throw in that the Knights are meeting the Capitals in the Final, the team that eliminated the Pens from the postseason, and Pittsburgh’s rooting interest is clear. Residents of steel city might not be chanting “Go Knights Go,” but that doesn’t mean they won’t feel a touch of happiness if their old goalie raises the Cup on the Strip.

“Everyone is pulling for him,” Pessolano said. “He’s a great person. I think a lot of the city is watching Vegas games as if they were Penguins games.”

More Golden Knights: Follow all of our Golden Knights coverage online at reviewjournal.com/GoldenKnights and @HockeyinVegas on Twitter.

Contact Justin Emerson at jemerson@reviewjournal.com or (702) 387-2944. Follow @J15Emerson on Twitter.

Golden Knights Videos
Golden Knights Say an "Awful Call" Cost Them the Series - Video
Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant and Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault believe that an "awful call" by the officials cost them game 7.
Golden Knights Fans Watch Game 7 at T-Mobile - VIDEO
Golden Knights went through a roller coaster in game 7 which lead to the Knights loss 5-4 in overtime.
Sharks & Golden Knights fans fired up for Game 7
Ahead of Game 7 in San Jose, Sharks and Golden Knights fans get hyped for the game in the fan zone at SAP Center.
Golden Knights prepare for Game 7 in San Jose - VIDEO
Vegas Golden Knigths players and the head coach talk about their mindset ahead of facing the San Jose Sharks in Game 7 on the road at the SAP Center.
Knights' Gallant Calls DeBoer a "clown" - VIDEO
Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant calls Sharks coach Pete DeBoer a "clown" and says his comments are a little "unclassy" for him in response to being called the master chirper for the Knights.
Golden Knights fans father outside T-Mobile Arena waiting for game 6 against the Sharks
Golden Knights gather outside the T-Mobile Arena ready to watch game 6 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the San Jose Sharks.
Knights aim to close out Sharks series at home - VIDEO
The Vegas Golden Knights players and head coach Gerard Gallant spoke about what needs to be done ahead of Game 6 at the T-Mobile Arena to clinch the series. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gerard Gallant talks ahead of Game 6
The Golden Knights coach talked about his team’s upcoming game with the San Jose Sharks after Saturday’s practice.
Coach Gallant Speaks to media about game 5 against the Sharks - VIDEO
Golden Knight's coach Gerard Gallant speaks at City National Arena following thursday's game 5 against the San Jose Sharks.
Golden Knights Fans Watch Game 5 At Henderson Pavilion - Video
Golden Knights fans gather at the Henderson Pavilion to watch game 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the San Jose Sharks. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Fans prepare for Game 5 of the Golden Knights-Sharks series
Golden Knights and Sharks fans took part in pregame festivities at the SAP Center in San Jose ahead of Game 5 of the playoff series.
Golden Knights Fans Land in San Jose - VIDEO
Four Golden Knights fans who traveled from Las Vegas talk about the experiences they've had in San Jose with fans and the police ahead of Game 5 and give their predictions for the final score of the game.
Shea Theodore says he's trying to be a threat in all phases - VIDEO
Vegas Golden Knights Defenseman Shea Theodore says he's trying to elevate his game in all phases and his teammate Alex Tuch talks about Theodore's growth as a player.
Knights preparing to play a "desperate" Sharks team on the road
The Vegas Golden Knights could close out their first playoff series on the road against the San Jose Sharks when Game 5 takes place at the SAP Center. The team says they're going to have to play their best to defeat a "desperate" opponent.
Coach Gallant speaks after practice, as the Golden Knights prep for Game 5
Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant speaks to media after the team's open skate.
Sharks Coach: I think our emotions got away from us a little bit
Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer and center Joe Pavelski say the team needs to hold their emotions in check going forward. Pavelski talks about the Ryan Reaves effect.
2019 NHL Awards set for Mandalay Bay Events Center on June 19
During the 2018 NHL Awards in Las Vegas, tribute was paid to first responders and survivors of the Oct. 1 shooting by a handful of Vegas Golden Knights. NHL Chief Content Officer Steve Mayer said that's why the league is moving the show to the site of the tragedy. The Mandalay Bay Events Center will host the ceremony on June 19th.
Ryan Reaves says Joe Thornton's Hit was "Gutless" - Video
Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves says Sharks' forward Joe Thornton's hit on Tomas Nosek was "gutless." Thornton has been suspended for one game (game four on Tues., April 16) as a result of the hit.
Ryan Reaves Finally Throws Down with San Jose's Evander Kane - Video
Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves says the fight between him and Sharks' forward Evander Kane was nine years in the making. Spectators finally saw the two battle it out in game three of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Ryan Reaves Finally Throws Down with San Jose's Evander Kane - Video
Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves says the fight between him and Sharks' forward Evander Kane was nine years in the making. Spectators finally saw the two battle it out in game three of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Golden Knights rookie team coach Rocky Thompson on Rookie Faceoff
Golden Knights rookie team coach Rocky Thompson discusses team's 7-6 win over Colorado in the Vegas Rookie Faceoff
Fleury's newborn son attends Game 3 - VIDEO
Marc-Andre Fleury's newborn son and his wife Veronique were in attendance at the T-Mobile Arena during game 3. Fleury talks about having his family there to support him.
Sharks and Knights players get physical during game 3 - VIDEO
Several fights broke out during game 3 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs between the Golden Knights and Sharks. Capping off the skirmishes was an intense showdown between Ryan Reaves and Evander Kane.
Golden Knights Fans Gather At T-mobile To Watch Game 3 Of The Playoffs - Video
Golden Knights fans gather outside of the T-Mobile arena to watch game three of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Knights GM says it was important for the team to sign Nikita Gusev
Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee says it was important for the team to sign Russian standout Nikita Gusev. The Knights announced they had signed the forward to a one-year, entry level contract on Sunday. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Marc-André Fleury on flamingo
Marc-André Fleury on flamingo
Golden Knights Watch Party For Game 2 Of Sharks Series - Video
Golden Knights fans gather at Top Golf to watch the second game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the San Jose Sharks.
Gallant addresses the media after practice following a 5-2 loss
Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant addresses the media after practice following a 5-2 loss to San Jose in Game 1 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. (Ben Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gallant on lineup
Golden Knights Fans Gather Downtown For First Round of Playoffs - Video
Golden Knights fans gather downtown to watch the first game of the playoff series against the San Jose Sharks.
Golden Edge Mailbag - April 10, 2019 - VIDEO
Golden Knights reporters Ben Gotz and Adam Hill answer your burning questions.
Gallant on Golden Knights lineup against Sharks
Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant on lineup against the San Jose Sharks for Game 1 of the first round in the Stanley Cup playoffs. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Golden Knights Prepare for Playoffs - Video
Golden Knights players Shea Theodore and Jonathan Marchessault feel that the team is both mentally and physically prepared to take on the Sharks in round one of the NHL Playoffs.
Golden Knights sign defenseman Jimmy Schuldt to a one-year contract
The Golden Knights have signed free agent defenseman Jimmy Schuldt to a one-year, entry level contract. Schuldt comes to the Golden Knights after graduating from St. Cloud State University, where he lead the Huskies to a regular-season conference title and the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Golden Knights letting playoff mentality set in - VIDEO
As the Vegas Golden Knights finish out their season, the team and head coach Gerard Gallant talk about where their mindset is, how they are preparing for the playoffs and their win over the Edmonton Oilers.
Golden Knights Lose to Wild, Clinch Playoff Berth - VIDEO
Despite losing 3-2 to the Minnesota Wild, the Vegas Golden Knights are locked in to a playoff spot. Head coach Gerard Gallant and players discuss their performance against the Wild and what it means to go back to the playoffs.
Gallant on losing to the Avalanche
Gerard Gallant talks about the loss to Colorado. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gallant on Colorado loss
Gerard Gallant talks about the loss to Colorado. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Golden Edge Mailbag- March 27, 2019 - VIDEO
Golden Knights reporters Ben Gotz and Adam Hill answer your burning questions.
Gerard Gallant on Paul Stastny
Vegas Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant talks about Paul Stastny's role on the team. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gallant on St. Louis goal
Gerard Gallant talks about St. Louis's third goal on March 25, 2019. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gerard Gallant on St. Louis Blues
Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant talks about the team's loss to St. Louis on March 25, 2019. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Golden Knights Host First Charity Night At T-Mobile Arena - VIDEO
The Vegas Golden Knights host their first annual charity night during the Red Wings game at T-Mobile arena. Fans were able to buy from two choices of backpacks full of VGK memorabilia. 1,500 Golden Knights Charity backpacks were filled and fans lined up to buy the backpacks. The charity gives it proceeds to various causes around Las Vegas in order to give back to the community.
William Karlsson talks before Ducks game
The Golden Knights center talked about Paul Stastny’s line, Reilly Smith’s between-the-legs goal and more.
Mark Stone Locker Room - Full Video
Mark Stone, who was traded Monday to the Vegas Golden Knights from Ottawa, speaks to the press about the move. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Golden Knights coach talks Mark Stone trade
The Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant discusses the team’s newest player, forward Mark Stone, acquired from the Ottawa Senators. (Ben Gotz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rain doesn't deter hockey fans
Golden Knights and Bruins fans waited in long lines in the rain to get in to the T-Mobile Arena for the hockey game on Wednesday night.
Rain doesn't deter hockey fans at the T-Mobile Arena
A solid amount of Golden Knights and Bruins fans showed up at the T-Mobile for the hockey game despite inclement weather descending upon Las Vegas.
Mike Kelly talks about Golden Knights injuries
The Golden Knights assistant coach discussed injuries and the “dog days” of the season, on Feb. 19
Golden Knights ready to celebrate Valentine's Day
Even though they have a game on Feb. 14, Marc-Andre Fleury and Ryan Reaves are ready to spoil the ones they love this Valentine's Day.
Gallant talks about losing streak
Gerard Gallant talks about breaking a four-game losing streak. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gallant on finishing road trip
Gerard Gallant talks about finishing the road trip on a high note. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gerard Gallant talks about the win over Detroit
Knights coach Gerard Gallant talks about the 4-3 win over Detroit on Feb. 7, 2019. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gallant on Karlsson
Knights coach Gerard Gallant talks about William Karlsson. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gallant on breaking the losing streak
Gerard Gallant talks about breaking a four-game losing streak agains one the NHL's best teams. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gallant on Valentin Zykov's goal
Gerard Gallant talks about Valentin Zykov's goal against Tampa Bay on Feb. 5, 2019. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-journal)
Gallant on penalty killing
Gerard Gallant talks about the Golden Knights' penalty killing against Tampa Bay on Feb. 5, 2019. (Davis Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gerard Gallant on facing Tampa Bay
Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant on facing the Tampa Bay Lightning. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gerard Gallant on Valentin Zykov
Golden Knight coach Gerard Gallant talks about Valentin Zykov. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gallant on next game after loss to Panthers
Coach Gerard Gallant talks to reporters after Knights loss to Panthers. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TOP NEWS
Home Front Page Footer Listing