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Marc-Andre Fleury says goodbye to Penguins fans

Goaltender, possibly headed to Golden Knights in NHL Expansion Draft, signs autographs for admirers

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Marc-Andre Fleury might have said his final goodbye to Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

Fleury met with more than 250 Pittsburgh Penguins fans at Dick's Sporting Goods from 7-8 p.m. As he made his way toward a table while wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap, Fleury smiled as the crowd chanted his last name.

With the Vegas Golden Knights potentially selecting Fleury in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft on Wednesday, he wanted to be among Pittsburgh fans on what could have been his final day with the Penguins.

"Dick's called my agent and said a lot of people were asking," said Fleury, who has spent the past 13 seasons with the Penguins. "So, it was just a chance to come and meet some people, and spend some time with them. … It's very flattering. I heard there were a lot more people waiting in line. That's crazy. I didn't expect that."

Fleury waived his no-movement clause so he could be left unprotected by the Penguins for the NHL Expansion Draft, with Pittsburgh protecting goalie Matt Murray instead. The Golden Knights, who will select one player from each of the other 30 NHL teams, must submit their picks by 10 a.m. Wednesday. Their selections will be announced later during the 2017 NHL Awards and Expansion Draft presented by T-Mobile in Las Vegas (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN).

The event Tuesday took place one day after Fleury and his family celebrated the opening of a playground he gifted at the Sto-Ken-Rox Boys & Girls Club in McKees Rocks, a borough outside of Pittsburgh.

"I think sometimes people think athletes are out of reach a bit," Fleury said. "So, I think it was important to not be like that."

It's that attitude that drove Tevin Belleville, an 18-year-old from Evans City, Pennsylvania, to arrive at the Dick's store at 9:30 p.m. ET Monday. He was first in line to receive a required bracelet.

"I heard it on the news and I was like, first thing, 'I have to be there. I don't know what time people are getting there,'" Belleville said. "I started making phone calls to Dick's and stuff to try to get an idea of when people were going to be there. I just came as early as I could, pretty much."

Belleville said more fans began to show around 10:30 or 11 p.m. Monday. He expressed gratitude for how Fleury carried himself throughout his tenure in Pittsburgh.

Video: OTT@PIT, Gm2: Fleury robs Turris through traffic

"Fleury's personality, he just always gives his all," Belleville said. "He's just such a team player. Pretty much, that's what it's all about."

The turnout didn't surprise Belleville or other fans in attendance. Fleury, on the other hand, was taken aback.

"It's been a little crazy," Fleury said. "I think, wherever I go, people have been great to me. They say hi, take a picture or something. They all have very kind words. Sometimes it's a little emotional, but it's very flattering."

Fleury, who won the Stanley Cup three times with Pittsburgh, including this season, holds Penguins goalie records for games played (691), minutes played (39,769), wins (375) and shutouts (44).

The fans on hand Tuesday touted those accomplishments but mostly focused on Fleury's demeanor.

"Fleury was one of the first Penguins that I actually enjoyed," said Sarah Evans, 20. "The first game I went to, he was the goalie. But I just like the way he loves the game. When he makes a save, you can tell he's really proud of himself."

Her 15-year-old sister, Abby Evans, agreed.

"For me, it was his personality," Abby said. "Just his excitement on the rink. The way he acts on and off the ice is really great."

Video: OTT@PIT, Gm2: Fleury stretches to deny Stone with pad

Fleury spoke with fans as they passed him posters, signs, hockey sticks, jerseys and other pieces of memorabilia to sign. He appreciated the reception, but said it wouldn't make leaving any easier.

"I think [leaving will be] hard. This is like my home," Fleury said. "It'll be tough. I don't know what's coming and I'm glad people remember me as a good person, not just a goalie. I feel like that's important for me."

Fleury said the idea of leaving has yet to sink in.

"That will be coming up soon," he said. "I still don't think it will feel real until next season or next training camp, when I don't come back here and do what I usually do. That's when it's really going to hit me."

With his future possibly being decided Wednesday, Fleury wanted to focus on his recent past.

"I'm happy I had the chance to take the last lap with my [Penguins] jersey on," Fleury said, "and the Cup in my hand."

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