Marc-Andre Fleury on 'weird' return to Pittsburgh to face Penguins
Marc-Andre Fleury is ready for almost everything Pittsburgh and the Penguins can throw at him over the next couple of days. That includes the Stanley Cup championship ring Mario Lemieux will present to him, dressing in the visitors locker room at PPG Paints Arena for the first time, and the begging to stay from a 4-year-old eldest daughter who Fleury said "misses her friends back home."
"All the good memories, a lot of feelings," Fleury said of what he expects from the moment the Vegas Golden Knights' charter flight lands to the minute it leaves Pittsburgh.
The Golden Knights face the Penguins in a possible Stanley Cup Final preview Tuesday night. Tickets on the secondary market were being priced at up to $700 per seat.
As much as possible, Fleury has prepared himself for the emotional wallop of the feelings from playing against the Penguins in Pittsburgh for the first time — except for one in particular.
Fleury touched on that particular and other homecoming-related matters this past Friday in an exclusive interview with the Tribune-Review:
Q: So your wife, two daughters, parents and sister will meet up with you in Pittsburgh. And you'll get the ring from Mario after the morning skate on Tuesday. Just a normal stop on a long road trip, huh?
A: (Laughing) Yeah. Right. I think the day before, the day of — everything — is going to be weird, awkward.
Q: Be honest. Are you looking forward to this?
A: Uh... yeah.
I'm a little worried about my game. But I'm looking forward to seeing my friends, to seeing people around the rink, to just coming back to town.
Q: You're really worried about your game for Tuesday night?
A: Yeah, because for the two days I think I'll be really busy. I think emotionally, just coming back on the other side, I think it'll be weird.
Q: How will you try keeping the focus on hockey? (Full disclosure: nobody else around here seems to be thinking of this as a hockey game; seems like they want to hug you a lot.)
A: Oh, that's nice.
I've never had to play a game like this. I guess I did when Pittsburgh was in Vegas, but it was different because it wasn't in Pittsburgh, you know?
I want to let it sink in a bit. I want to let it sink in — the moment, everything that will be happening there. I don't know. I guess I won't know until after the game how I did.
You know what I always told you about big games: try to breathe, relax and stop the puck. But I've never been in a game like this one. It's a lot of emotions.
Q: Will you do dinner on Monday night with any of your former Penguins teammates?
A: No. No plans for a dinner.
Q: What about Matt Murray? I presume you reached out to him when his father died?
A: I just sent him a quick text. For sure, I was thinking of him. But you want to let him have space, you know?
Q: There is no way, not even in your wildest dreams, you thought you would come back to Pittsburgh to play the Penguins with a Vegas Golden Knights club that is a contender for the Stanley Cup.
A: I don't think myself and not many people saw this coming. It's a surprise, but it's a fun surprise, you know? Right from the start, we've been getting points. It's fun to be winning game and having a chance every night. I'm not used to just playing and throwing the season away because you're out of the playoffs in December. This is fun.
Q: It's been fun to watch from afar. But are the Golden Knights for real, Marc? If anybody in that organization knows what a real contender is like, it's you. Is this for real with Vegas?
A: Umm, I still feel it's a young team — maybe because I'm old. Hockey-wise, there still is not that much experience on the team. A lot of guys have played, but not many have played many games or a lot of minutes. And now everybody has a bigger role on this team.
But we've responded well this season. We've found ways to win games different ways. The confidence as a group is growing. I think that's a positive thing for down the stretch.
Q: OK. But can Vegas make a run at the Cup, Marc?
A: I think the consistency the guys show with their work ethic — we don't have any superstars and we all need to help each other to win games. I think that's our biggest quality as a team. We play as a team. Everybody chips in. That's our way for success. I think you can go a long way when everybody contributes.
Q: Do you have a pool at your house in Vegas?
A: (Laughs) Why do you ask, Rob?
Q: Well, if the Golden Knights win the Stanley Cup, a lot of people in the organization are probably going to turn to you and ask how to celebrate. Is your pool big enough for a Cup party?
A: If we need to, we can get our house ready for a party. And the pool is big enough to fit the Cup.
Q: Aside from the fans, what do you most miss about living in Pittsburgh during an NHL season?
A: I do miss the seasons, actually. I always liked all of the leaves and the snow and cold. Obviously, it's a little bit different in Vegas.
I think it was just so comfortable in Pittsburgh, from my kids' schools to where to go for dinner to all the people I'd see off the ice, the fans I'd run into. It was just a life I really got used to, and I really enjoyed it there.
Q: The Penguins became such a high-profile team. There was always a lot of pressure on you and Sidney and Evgeni and Kris (Letang). How is the attention — from fans, from media — different in Vegas?
A: I think it's growing, like, with the success we've been having. It's a decent amount of media. And more and more, I see people around Vegas wearing t-shirts and hats. I've started to hear a lot more people talk about our team, too, because it's their first professional team and it's winning, too. The attention is growing.
Q: With Vegas where it is in the Western Conference standings, are you taking a peek at where the Penguins are in the East?
A: I still look. I'm a fan of the team. I'll always care for the Penguins.
Q: Yeah, but the Penguins are starting to get hot. This is a different-looking Penguins squad than the one that visited Vegas a couple of months ago. You have to know that a couple of your best friends (Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) have been on a tear, right?
A: (Laugh) Yeah, for sure. Great.
You know, I wasn't too worried about them and their — what did people call it? — slow start. They've played a lot of meaningful games. In the beginning of the year, you don't have your back against the wall for a lot of games. They've been there. They know how to be there and be a great team.
Obviously, they're talented. They have Sid and Geno, so many great players who can score a lot of goals. It'll be an interesting game.
Q: Sidney and Evgeni, all of the Penguins, will be facing a goalie who can stop shots, too. Your statistics are incredible this season. How do you assess your game right now?
A: I feel pretty good. Some nights are better than others, but you know how that goes. Winning games is fun. It helps you feel good.
My teammates are working so hard defensively and offensively to help me out. You get those wins. I like wins more than my own numbers. But my teammates are the big reason why I'm there with those numbers.
It's like we used to talk about in Pittsburgh, Rob: the number I like is for wins.
Q: When you were with the Penguins and witnessed a former teammate get the video treatment, what do you remember about those moments?
A: I always watched those videos. Always.
Q: So when you see yours, what are you expecting to be on your mind?
A: Good memories.
I was there for so long. You knew me when I started; I was just a kid, not knowing what was going on. I met a lot of great people, a lot of great friends, a lot of great teammates. I had some tough times. I had some good times.
There was a lot that happened. There will be a lot to think of when I watch.
Q: What will be strange for those of us who covered you is seeing you step onto the other side of the ice before the game. How worried should we be that old habits will kick in and you'll join the Penguins for the warm-up skate?
A: You know, I've been thinking about that, too. I need to be, like, "Go the other way." Going on the left side of the ice will be weird. Even getting dressed in the other locker room. I've done interviews in that room for TV, but never dressed in it for a game — not even a (training camp) practice.
Q: Between the warm-up and the video, there will be that moment when Ryan Mill announces you as the starting goalie for the visiting team. And there will probably be a sellout crowd chanting your last name just like old times. How much have you thought about that likely moment?
A: Uh… I hope they will. Do you think they will?
Q: Marc, c'mon. It's going to be the first time the other team's goalie gets his name chanted at the start of the game in Pittsburgh. You can't be worried they won't cheer for you?
A: Yeah, I guess I'll just be standing there waiting to hear. It could be awkward, I guess. (Laughs.)
Q: About a year ago this time, you informed the Penguins you would alter your contract to allow them to trade you to Vegas. With everything that has happened since the moment, how do you make sense of the last year of your life?
A: Wow, that's a good question.
In the time of it, making the right decision was tough. All I knew was Pittsburgh, you know. I loved the guys, loved the team, loved the city. It was tough to know where I could find something similar somewhere else.
But to me, when that day happened and they asked me to do it, I know I could help the team and enjoy a good playoff run again with them. I knew we had a good chance. And, you know, I looked like a genius; we won the Cup.
Uh… it was all worth it, I think. It all worked out good. I found a good organization. I love these players. And, obviously, we're winning more than anybody thought we would.
It's awesome. My family is happy. I'm playing. We're winning. I can't complain.
Rob Rossi is a contributing writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Real_RobRossi