SOREL-TRACY, Quebec -- Marc-Andre Fleury was in the middle of Colisee Cardin, the biggest rink in his hometown, and stood with the Stanley Cup as hundreds of local minor hockey players waited their turn for a picture with their local hero Saturday night.
The kids came out from the stands in small groups, one team at a time, wearing their jerseys, and Fleury made sure to shake hands and chat with each of them before posing for pictures and signing autographs. One kid even interviewed Fleury, using a marker as a microphone, and the Vegas Golden Knights goaltender played along, answering his questions.
It essentially was Fleury's final public moment as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the only team he has known in his 13-season NHL career. The one that selected him No. 1 in the 2003 NHL Draft, the one he won the Stanley Cup with for the third time last season, and the one he is leaving to be the starter for the expansion Golden Knights this season.
So as the kids handed him Penguins jerseys and hats to sign, Fleury closed the door on one team and allowed himself to really start thinking about his new team in earnest.
"I think this was my last day as a Penguin, I would say," Fleury said. "I have members of my family who had their Penguins hats who told me this was the last time those will come out. So I think after today, I can turn the page and get ready for Vegas."
Fleury was wearing a hat bearing the numbers 412, Pittsburgh's area code, so he, too, allowed himself one last memory of a place he has called home for so long. But now he moves on to Vegas, where he is the face of the NHL's newest team. It is not that different from the way Fleury arrived in Pittsburgh in 2003, except instead of being an 18-year-old kid learning English, he arrives in Vegas a polished veteran with a lot of knowledge to offer.
"I don't want to be the star of the team," Fleury said. "I just want to play because I love playing hockey, I still have fun playing. I just want to do what I can to help us win games and put on a good show. It's a new team, we're starting from scratch, so if I can help with my experience and what I learned in Pittsburgh, a very good organization that has had a lot of success over the years … that would be good."
Fleury's expectations for the Golden Knights are high.
"I don't want to miss the playoffs, that's for sure," he said. "The playoffs are the most intense games, the ones that are the most fun to play. It would be fun to bring that to Vegas and show the people there what it's all about. That's why we play."
Fleury, 32, realizes nonetheless that it is very possible this was the last time he will get to bring the Stanley Cup to his hometown, so he made the most of it. His daughter Scarlett celebrated her second birthday Saturday, and got to do so with a very special guest at her party, though Fleury said that the timing of his Cup day was lost on his daughter.
"I think she didn't really care," he said with a laugh. "But she ate some cake out of the Cup and we sang her 'Happy Birthday' while she sat in it."
Fleury then visited the Ronald McDonald House in Montreal, a charity he and his wife, Veronique, supported in Pittsburgh.
"It's easy in Quebec, everyone's a hockey a fan and everyone's happy to see the Stanley Cup," Fleury said of the visit. "It's fun to see them smile."
Then it was time to put smiles on the faces of the kids in his hometown with a photo session that took about an hour and didn't finish until each person who visited took his or her picture with Fleury. That included a blind man who shook Fleury's hand before Fleury took the man's hand and gently guided it toward the Cup so he could touch it.
When it was all done, Fleury carried the Cup back out to his Jeep, strapping it into the passenger seat for the ride to a restaurant where he was hosting a party for friends and family. There was almost no one around, just a local boy all grown up, carrying the Stanley Cup as the ultimate passenger riding shotgun.
But there were some people on the patio at a bar across the street who saw Fleury and the trophy. They all stood and applauded as Fleury drove off to spend one last night remembering the only NHL team he has ever known before beginning to prepare for life with a new team for the first time in 14 years.