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Fleury battles the odds against boyhood idols

Tuesday, 08.25.2009 / 8:38 PM / All-Access Vancouver

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

CALGARY -- First you have to get past the wide grin and ignore the uneasy attitude that gives you a sense that he really and truly doesn't feel he belongs here at Team Canada's summer retreat.

But Marc-Andre Fleury, Stanley Cup champion, is a battler who thrives on overcoming the odds and that might just be the attitude the Pittsburgh Penguins' goalie needs to get to the Olympics.

"I always liked the battle, liked the challenge," Fleury told NHL.com Tuesday at the Pengrowth Saddledome. "When you go through the tough times, sometimes it's motivating trying to get out of it and achieve good stuff."

Fleury went through the tough times last season when fans and critics in Pittsburgh questioned if he was the right guy for the Penguins. Fleury was being labeled as a disappointment and, in some circles, a disaster waiting to happen.

Fleury stopped watching television and reading the newspaper in order to avoid all the negative press. Whatever the formula, it obviously worked as he led the Penguins into Detroit for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final and stood on his head for the win with 23 saves.

Fleury also won Game 7 in Washington in the second round and closed out the first-round series in Philadelphia as well as the Eastern Conference Final in Carolina.

"If I go out there and I don't work hard, then I'll take it, but if I try my best that's all I can do," Fleury said. "Finally, everything worked out. Maybe I'll have a little bit more peace now."

That experience, and that victory at Joe Louis Arena in particular, are what got Fleury to Calgary this week for the National Team's Orientation Camp. He's here with two of his idols, Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo, as well as with Cam Ward and Steve Mason.

Three of them could be going to Vancouver in February. Two of them definitely won't. Fleury, the only one of them who brought the Stanley Cup home this summer, still isn't sure if he belongs in the discussion, even though most people here think he's the guy that could push Luongo and/or Brodeur down a notch on Canada's Olympic pecking order.

As flattering as it is to for him to hear that, Fleury gets uncomfortable and even fidgets in his seat when he talks about it. You have to understand that as a 24-year-old from Quebec, Fleury grew up idolizing Brodeur and imitating Luongo.

"It's kind of weird for me, you know," Fleury said. "I have been watching them since I was young and I always looked up to them. Roberto is a little younger, but I remember watching him in junior and then in the NHL. It's kind of weird to be talked about in the same group as them. In my head they are on top, they're the best."

Although the general consensus here is that Brodeur would be No. 1 and Luongo would be 1A in Vancouver. Coach Mike Babcock, though, begs to differ. Fleury has as good of a shot at making this team as anyone, as long as he does just one simple thing.

"Just outplay the other guy," Babcock said. "It's simple. In goal every night you look down the rink and you see the guy across from you. If you outplay him every night pretty soon you're on the top of your game and you're at the top of the League.

"I think sometimes what you like us to tell you is who is on the team, but we don't know who is on the team," the coach continued. "We're going to watch them. They're going to earn their right to be on the team. They'll decide."

It's a good thing their play will decide because Fleury clearly won't convince anybody that he belongs on this team with his words. He can't even convince himself of that.

Perhaps, though, that uneasiness is exactly what Fleury needs. If he ever got comfortable in his own skin, he wouldn't have to battle the long odds. They motivate him.

"At first I was playing hockey because I love it and I still do," Fleury said. "I never really thought I'd make it to the NHL and win the Cup, but that has always been one of my dreams. To make it to the Olympics is another one. That would be pretty cool.
"I would love to be part of the team, but we'll see what the staff decides."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com