Before I covered the Penguins, I was a fan — especially of their goaltender.
I grew up outside of Pittsburgh and I’ve played hockey since I learned how to skate. It would have been awfully hard to combine those two facts without being a Penguins’ fan, actually.
During what I consider my ‘peak fandom,’ I would find a way to the Igloo as many nights a year as possible to see as many games as possible regardless of the numbers dressed in black and gold — all for $20 a ticket as a student.
Of course, the good times were to see 66 and 68 with a flurry of 7’s and 10’s mixed in. But, my ‘Student Rush’ days were littered with Dick Tarnstroms, Ian Morans and Brad Werenkas. Regardless, I loved it.
I loved it even more, however, when I attended the 2003 season opener on October 10 and was a part of the crowd chanting ‘Fleury, Fleury, Fleury’ to the rhythm of rookie Marc-Andre Fleury’s pad saves against the Los Angeles Kings.
The modern day, three-time Stanley Cup champion Penguins are built on the backs of draft picks owed to the seasons played by the Tarnstrom and Werenka Penguins.
Of course, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are two of the game’s biggest stars — the former among the best ever — and were the Penguins’ top picks in back-to-back seasons. Prior to the duo, though, came Fleury, a number one overall pick, and the beginning of an incredible era of Pittsburgh Penguins hockey.
Being drafted first overall as a goaltender is not a common occurrence, but extended periods of brilliance between 2003 and 2017 made it clear to see why the Penguins placed such value on Fleury. His athleticism and style of play allowed the stars in front of him to take chances and know there was someone capable of stealing a game on any given night behind them.
Now, that goalie is a Golden Knight, preparing to play his first season away from Pittsburgh and the first season for the expansion
Las Vegas team.
Marc-Andre Fleury is a three-time Stanley Cup champion and the Penguins will miss him, the fans will miss him and I will miss him.
I won’t miss him as a fan any more, however. Those days are behind me, even though I hold the memory of attending his first start near to my hockey heart. I will, though, miss Mr. Fleury as a photographer who feels beyond fortunate to have photographed a season of a true Pittsburgh hockey legend.
Thanks for the photographs, Flower, and good luck.