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.

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.”

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.”

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 Edge: Golden Knights Put up Record Amount Shots but Fall Short - VIDEO
The Vegas Golden Knights lose to the Winnipeg Jets 4-1. In the second period the Knights put up a record number of shots on goal but still go back to the locker room down 2-0. David Schoen reports from Winnipeg.
Gallant: Knights played a 'good game' vs. Winnipeg
Gerard Gallant says the Knights played a good game in the loss to Winnipeg on Jan. 15, 2019. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gallant on Golden Knights power play
Gerard Gallant talks about the Golden Knight power play vs. Winnipeg on Jan. 15, 2019. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gerard Gallant on loss to Winnipeg
Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant talks about the team's loss to Winnipeg on Jan. 15, 2019. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Golden Edge Mailbag: Will Brandon Pirri be an official Knight? - VIDEO
Ben Gotz and Adam Hill go over the Golden Knights fans reactions to Jonathan Machessault not making the NHL all star roster and Brandon Pirri potentially joining the Knights.
Gerard Gallant on Winnipeg
Gerard Gallant talks about continuing to play good hockey in Winnipeg. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gallant on facing Winnipeg
Gerard Gallant talks about trying to take 2 points in Winnipeg. (David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Golden Knights Win In Overtime Against Blackhawks - VIDEO
The Golden Knights win 4-3 in overtime against the Blackhawks with Shea Theodore scoring the game winning goal. Golden Knights beat writer David Schoen goes over the Knights comeback win.
Gallant on Carpenter goal
Gallant on win
Gallant on overturned goal
Gallant CHI 1
Theodore CHI
Golden Knights Win Streak Ends Against Sharks - VIDEO
The Golden Knights win streak ends after a loss against the San Jose Sharks. Golden Knights reporters David Schoen and Adam Hill go over the Knights giving up two goals in the third period and how the team will recover on the road.
Golden Knights React To Loss Against Sharks - VIDEO
The Golden Knights react to their 3-2 loss against the Sharks including Marc-Andre Fleury, Max Pacioretty and head coach Gerard Gallant.
Golden Edge: Knights beat Rangers for 7th straight win
The RJ's David Schoen and Adam Hill recap the Golden Knights' win over the New York Rangers on January 8, 2019.
CES 2019: VR Hockey Trainer Sense Arena - VIDEO
CES 2019 has a lot of VR options, but none quite as cool for Golden Knights fans as Sense Arena. Former NHL Jan Ludvig and Patrik Eliáš talk about the future benefits and possibilities of technology like this. Eliáš also talks about his experience at his first Golden Knights game this past Sunday when the knights faced off against his former team the New Jersey Devils.
Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant talks on Jan. 7
Gallant talked about forward Brandon Pirri being recalled, injuries and more.
Golden Edge Mailbag - January 7, 2019 - VIDEO
Reporters Ben Gotz and Adam Hill go over all your burning VGK questions and comments
Gallant says the Golden Knights need to keep pressing
Vegas Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant on how important it is that the team keep playing tough down the stretch as things as the race for the top in the Pacific Division remains close.
Golden Edge: Golden Knights Rally Behind Subban
The Vegas Golden Knights pick up their 6th win in a row scoring 3 goals to come back from a 2-0 New Jersey lead. Adam Hill, Ben Gotz, and Dave Schoen report from T-Mobile arena.
Golden Knights on their comeback victory over the the Devils
Vegas Golden Knights players reflect on their come-from-behind win over the New Jersey Devils. Max Pacioretty talks about the becoming a father for the fourth time and then playing.
UNLV hockey program aims for NCAA Division I status
As the hockey culture continues to grow in Las Vegas, UNLV looks to develop its hockey program and eventually reach NCAA division I status. Video produced by Heidi Fang
Schmidt 3rd periods 2
Schmidt 3rd periods
Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant talks on Jan. 5
Gallant talked about the team’s recent run of success in the third period, the schedule and more.
Golden Knights On Five Game Win Streak After Beating Ducks: Golden Edge - VIDEO
The Golden Knights are now on a five game winning streak after beating the Anaheim Ducks 3-2. Golden Knights reporter Adam Hill goes over the Knights win.
Golden Edge: Golden Knights Win with another Goal from Brandon Pirri
The Vegas Golden Knights defeat the LA Kings 2-0 with another goal from Brandon Pirri and shutout number 6 from Marc-Andre Fleury. David Schoen and Adam Hill repot from T-Mobile arena.
Pirri, Fleury on the Golden Knights shutout win over the Kings
Brandon Pirri and Marc-Andre Fleury discuss the team's play that led to the Vegas Golden Knights win over the L.A. Kings.
Golden Edge: Knights Win Big Against Coyotes
The Golden Knights defeat the Arizona Coyotes after scoring three goals in the third period and allowing one goal from a 5-on-3 power play. Golden Knights reporter Ben Gotz breaks down the highlights from the game.
Closing Out 2018 With The Golden Knights
With 2018 coming to a close, Golden Edge host Cassie Soto shares some of the highlights from the end of the Golden Knights inaugural season and the start of year two. While there were many big sports stories in 2018, none might be as historic as what the Golden Knights were able to accomplish in their first year of competition. The team joined the 1967-68 St. Louis Blues as the only professional baseball, basketball, football or hockey team to make it to the championship round. Although the Golden Knights fell short in their hunt to the hoisting the Stanley Cup, the team was able to unite the city of Las Vegas unlike anything ever before and for that, the community thanks them.
Golden Edge: Golden Knights fefeat Kings giving Subban his first win
The Vegas Golden Knights defeat the LA Kings 4-1 and Malcolm Subban gets his first win on the season reported by Ben Gotz and Adam Hill from Los Angeles.
Ryan Reaves describes the flavors in Training Day beer
Ryan Reaves talks about the flavor of Training Day, the new beer from 7Five Brewing that was launched at the PKWY Tavern on West Flamingo Road. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
2018: The Golden Year
The Golden Knights started off the year strong by making it to the Stanley Cup Finals and held many community to be closer with the fans.
Golden Knight Lee Orchard Discusses Career
Golden Knight Lee Orchard discusses his career and what he loves most about being part of an NHL team in Las Vegas.
Ryan Reaves describes his new beer
Golden Knights winger Ryan Reaves talks about his new beer from 7Five Brewing at a launch party at PKWY Tavern on West Flamingo Road. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ryan Reaves visits tavern to launch his beer brand
Ryan Reaves visits the Parkway Tavern to sign autographs for fans and get reactions about his new beer called training day.
Golden Edge: Knights get back in the win column at home
After losing two games in overtime on the road, the Vegas Golden Knights returned home to score a victory over the Colorado Avalanche. David Schoen and Ben Gotz analyze the team's 2-1 victory in their final home game of 2018.
Fleury, Pirri and Stastny recap Golden Knights win over Avalanche
After their 2-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche, Marc-Andre Fleury, Brandon Pirri and Paul Stastny recap the team's performance.
Gallant says Golden Knights were recharged after 3 days off
Vegas Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant talks about the team's win over the Colorado Avalanche and says the time off helped the team perform better.
Golden Knights Suffer Second Consecutive Overtime Loss
The Golden Knights fell to the Kings 4-3 in overtime and will enter the holiday break on a two-game losing streak. Golden Edge reporters Adam Hill and Ben Gotz discuss the loss.
Golden Knights Discuss Overtime Loss to Kings
Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, defenseman Nate Schmidt and head coach Gerard Gallant discuss the 4-3 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings ahead of the holiday break.
Golden Knights Owner Bill Foley Talks About First Season
Golden Knights Owner Bill Foley talks about the Knights phenomenal first season of the NHL and how they hope to continue the momentum this season.
Golden Knights Fall To Canadiens In Overtime
Golden Knights lose to the Canadiens 4-3 in overtime. Golden Knights beat reporter David Schoen, Adam Hill and Ben Gotz go over the Knights loss and how Marc-Andre Fleury was upset after the game about a potential high sticking call.
Golden Knights React To Overtime Loss Against Canadiens
Golden Knights react to their 4-3 overtime loss against the Montreal Canadiens.
Golden Knights Santa Surprises Kids with Gifts
Santa (Ryan Reaves) and his helpful elf (Will Carrier) surprised a lucky group of kids with Golden Knights swag and tickets to a game.
Golden Knights Owner Bill Foley Visits Review Journal Studios
Golden Knights owner Bill Foley made some time to tour the Las Vegas Review Journal Studios and sat down with Adam Hill and Ben Gotz for a podcast segment, as well as Ed Graney for an in-studio interview.
Golden Edge: Knights rally to beat the Islanders
Ben Gotz, Adam Hill and David Schoen of the Review-Journal recap the Golden Knights win over the Islanders in their return to the T-Mobile Arena from a 4-game road trip.
Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant previews Islanders game
Gallant discussed William Carrier’s hot streak, shuffling his lines and more.
Gallant NY 4
Gallant NY 3
Gallant NY 2
Gallant NY 1
Gallant NJ 3
Gallant NJ 2
Gallant NJ 1
Golden Knights center Paul Stastny on rejoining the lineup
Golden Knights center Paul Stastny on rejoining the lineup. David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Golden Knights center Paul Stastny discusses his injury
Golden Knights center Paul Stastny discusses his injury. David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Knights center Paul Stastny discusses his return to the ice
Knights center Paul Stastny discusses his return to the ice. David Schoen/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Deryk Engelland at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas was a new experience for Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland on Wednesday night. He said he was looking forward to spending time with family and going for a skate, as well as lighting the Christmas tree for fans.
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like