Pittsburgh Penguins’ Marc-Andre Fleury Turns Cold Start Into Blazing Hot Streak
By Nicole Barley / Photographs by Megan Wylie Ruffing / Styling by Mackenzie L. Hoops
A chorus of adamant cries sounded out in particularly loud fashion against Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury this past October, with some of his critics even calling for the team’s franchise goalie to be benched. Admittedly, it was not the best month of Fleury’s career. He tallied six losses in seven games, letting in goals that looked easily stoppable, while the Penguins backup goalie, Brent Johnson, seemed indomitable. With Fleury continuing to flounder at the beginning of November, Coach Dan Bylsma pulled his starter seven minutes (and two consecutive missed saves) into a game against the Phoenix Coyotes.
And then, mid November, the old Fleury, the “Did he really just make that save?” Fleury, reappeared. He went from shaky, struggling, sluggish, to red hot, resilient, highlight-reel worthy. Better yet, he kept on smiling and never looked back.
How was he able to do that? Well, in part, he rallied because of his unmatched athleticism. “Above and beyond everything else, Marc-Andre Fleury is a remarkable athlete. He combines quickness, strength, agility, and balance, and is able to do what few other goalies can,” says Alby Oxenreiter, sports anchor for WPXI-TV.
And then there’s the fact of his perpetually positive attitude. It’s worth mentioning that, in addition to being a Stanley Cup-winning goalie, he’s also insanely charming — you know, in that I-have-no-idea-how-cute-I-am kind of way. It seems seriously hard to believe that someone would dislike Marc-Andre Fleury.
Of course, how nice he is off the ice doesn’t drive his results on it, nor does it put a stop to criticism that might come his way when he lets in a few too many goals, and there are definitely doubters out there, quick to jump on the anti-Marc-Andre bandwagon. Still, personality aside, there are many experts and fans who agree that Fleury, at the age of 26, has earned the right to be called an elite goaltender in the National Hockey League and is an undeniably important part of the present-day Pittsburgh Penguins’ success.
KDKA-TV sports anchor Jory Rand highlights Fleury’s phenomenal game-changing stops as his greatest strength as a goaltender. “We hear it time and time again, but it’s Fleury’s ability to come up with the big save at a big time,” he says. “Four specific moments come to mind: The big save on Alex Ovechkin in Game Seven [in the Eastern Conference Semifinals]; The save on Eric Staal in the Conference Finals; The pad save on Jeff Carter [in the Easter Conference Quarterfinals]; And the Cup-clinching save in the waning moments of Game Seven on Nicklas Lidstrom. Check out those four names! Fleury bested them all and won a Stanley Cup in the process.”
Oxenreiter further explains that, “Fleury is a butterfly goalie, employing a common technique of dropping to the ice on both leg pads, with his toes pointing out, and with the top of his pads coming together in the middle. Like many French-Canadians, Fleury grew up watching a world-class butterfly goalie, Patrick Roy, but Fleury’s style is unconventional, and not necessarily like Roy, or any other goaltender. Fleury uses his acrobatic ability, rather than positioning, to make spectacular saves.”
A less-scientific survey of Pens fans (in the WHIRL Magazine office) turned up similar assessments of his aptitude, including this exchange:
“When he’s good, he’s incredible! I think he’s part octopus sometimes. Did you see that save the other night? He did, like, a cartwheel on the ice, and then caught the puck in his glove.”
“Oh, I know! I was there. That was sick!”
But what exactly was plaguing this world-class goaltender at the beginning of the season? Gregg Giannotti, host of The Fan Morning Show on 93.7 The FAN, isn’t quite sure of the answer. In fact, he says, “It’s funny. I’m not even sure the Penguins know.”
He too cites Fleury’s “flexibility and his propensity to make that spectacular save” as characteristics that set him apart from others in the league, but stresses the necessity of Fleury not falling into another slump like the one witnessed earlier this season. Regardless of the reason for it, “Fleury’s teammates never lost confidence in him, and that’s paying off now.”
Having to hunker down and face off against that sort of adversity has paid off for Fleury too, who “came out of it and is stronger for it,” says Paul Steigerwald, TV Voice of the Penguins on FSN Pittsburgh. He says that Fleury’s fans contributed to this resurgence, too. “He appreciates the fans, and they appreciate him. That evidenced itself when he was at the depth of his slump, and the fans started cheering for him before the game against Tampa Bay started. They were trying to help him. They see that Marc’s a good person, and that played a major role in getting him back on track.”
Steigerwald is talking about the crucial game on November 12 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, before which fans were chanting Fleury’s name. That night, he held the opposition to just one goal, recorded his 150th career win, and started in on a stunning winning streak. Games in early December featured further positive results from Fleury and from the fans. “Listening to the pens game on the x the fleury chant is unreal,” tweeted 96.1 KISS Freak Show host, Big Bob, following the Penguins’ 7-2 out-of-town smackdown of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Asked for an anecdote about Fleury, Steigerwald immediately cites #1 Cochran’s Fast and Fleuryous event, held at J. Verno Studios this past September, during which Fleury posed for photos and signed autographs for a line of fans long enough to fill two hours of meeting-and-greeting. “He was completely gracious the entire time. He couldn’t have been nicer. I’m sure all of those fans walked away thinking he’s the nicest guy in the world,” he says.
The event with Fleury was the first of its kind, and #1 Cochran owner Rob Cochran is enthusiastic about hosting another event together. “It’s just a thrill to have Marc-Andre representing #1 Cochran. He’s become a go-to guy for us, just like he is for the Penguins,” says Cochran. “Underneath the mask and all those pads, he’s really just a down-to-earth guy. What impresses me most is how comfortable he is interacting with the fans. You should have seen the kids smiling when he was joking around with them. He’s just a nice guy who happens to be a great goaltender.”
But back to the question of Fleury’s perpetual critics. Why do they continue to doubt? Maybe it’s some sort of tough love. Or maybe it stems from their intense devotion to the team and their can’t-lose attitude.
“What I don’t understand is why people are so willing to overlook his resume. It’s almost as if he wasn’t part of two Stanley Cup teams,” says Tim Benz, host of The X Morning Show on 105.9 FM and one of the goalie’s most outspoken supporters. “There are too many fans who apply the football fan mentality to hockey, where if something goes wrong, you blame the quarterback, and in hockey, the quarterback is the equivalent of the goaltender.”
Really though, it doesn’t seem to phase Fleury much, his laughing, smiling demeanor unchanged, whether he’s on top of the world or working his way back there.
For more information, visit penguins.nhl.com.
Did you know?
- Fleury’s goalie pads add an estimated 35 pounds to his 180-pound frame. “I’ve never really weighed myself [with the pads on]. I get used to it though.” Those pads are the equivalent weight of nearly 94 hockey pucks.
- Injury kept Fleury and Max Talbot from playing in the 2008 AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium in New York. Off of the ice, Fleury contributes to his friend and teammate’s charity, The Max Talbot Foundation.
We caught up with Marc-Andre in the locker room after practice at the Iceoplex at Southpointe for a quick round of questions.
Q: How do you like the new arena? How’s it different than Mellon Arena?
A: It’s different. It’s new, and everything is very nice. I think we’re lucky to be there. Our gym, our physical room, our lounge, our dressing room — everything is awesome. Even though Mellon had maybe a couple of mice and water dripping, it was still fun to play there, I still loved it. I got my start there, we won there — good memories.
Q: In the seven years that you’ve been in the NHL, how do you think you’ve changed. How has your style of play changed?
A: I’ve gained some experience, been through some tough times, some good times. I’ve worked with the same coach for a while, so I don’t think I’ve changed my game a lot, but things here and there. Maybe [I’m] a little more calm than I was at first because I was nervous. Now, I’m more relaxed.
Q: Do you have any secret talents that you make time for in the off-season?
A: No secret talents [laughs]. I love pretty much any kind of sports, other than golf. I don’t like golf much. I love Sea-doos, boating, swimming, volleyball, beach volleyball, and tennis. I like to see my friends and my family since I don’t get see them very much during the season.
Q: What is the worst training exercise that you have to do?
A: In the summer, usually, we go outside, and we carry a pulley with weight on it for resistance. You have a harness, so you have to run in the heat and do a bunch of long circuits outside. That’s probably the hardest.
Q: What do you eat on a game day?
A: Before, it’s always spaghetti and meat sauce, always. But after, it depends where we are. When we’re on the road, it’s whatever they give us. Most of the time it’s chicken, steak. But when I go home, I like scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast.
Q: What are some of your favorite restaurants in Pittsburgh?
A: I love steak, so there’s Hyde Park, Ruth’s Chris, Capital Grill, all those good ones. Sometimes McDonalds, not a lot though [laughs]. The coach won’t like that, but once in a while.
Q: Do you cook at all?
A: No, my girlfriend lives with me, so she’s great and always cooks for me. Otherwise, I’d always be at the restaurant.
Q: What’s the best part about being a hockey player?
A: I just get to do what I love. I would never want to do anything other than that.