With his cheerful, lighthearted and mischievous personality, it can be easy to forget that Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t a teenager anymore – he’s been in the National Hockey League for a while.
And right now, the 30-year-old is in the midst of arguably the finest season of a career that began back in 2003, after Fleury was taken first overall in that year's draft.
Fleury’s play – namely his incredible first half backstopping a Penguins team beleagured by injuries and a mumps outbreak – earned him a nomination to his second career All-Star Game this weekend in Columbus, and it’s not something he's taking lightly.
“It’s always an honor when you can be here playing with these guys,” Fleury said. “It doesn’t happen too often during your career, so I’m really happy to be here.”
Fleury, of course, credited the guys in front of him for getting him to this point.
“It’s nice. It’s nice to be recognized, I can say,” Fleury said. “I think my teammates have played a big part for me to be here. They’ve been helping me out a lot. I’m honored to be here.”
Fleury spoke with the media on Friday afternoon. Here’s the greatest hits from his interview…
- Fleury is the lone Penguins representative at this weekend’s festivities, as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were unable to participate as they are both dealing with lower-body injuries. While Fleury's bummed his teammates won't be here, he understands they need to use this time to recover.
“We talked about it. They wanted to be here. Obviously they’re not healthy enough,” Fleury said. “They need time to heal up. It’s a little disappointing to not have my teammates with me, but I’ll try to make the best out of it.”
- This weekend is an opportunity for NHL players from all 30 teams to set their rivalries aside and enjoy each other’s company. A lot of these guys have played on international teams together or train alongside each other during the summertime, so they like getting a chance to catch up with each other. But there were two players in particular that Fleury wasn’t thrilled about seeing again so soon.
“It’s pretty cool, especially when you get to share little stories about different teams and stuff, but probably not as fun seeing (Jonathan) Toews and (Patrick) Kane,” Fleury joked. “They scored on me in the shootout last game. It’s a little more tough (seeing them). But it’s been good.”
I asked if they had talked any trash to him on the bus ride over to the rink.
“No, not yet. They’re just smiling. That’s even worse, I think,” Fleury laughed.
- Speaking of shootouts, the Pens used to end every practice with one, Fleury would always have a blast with them. Here’s a few of his moves that we can remember: jumping jacks, pushups, shooting a fake gun, spinning around, covering his eyes, and even sitting on top of the net before jumping down to challenge. We asked him if he would bring any of those out during tomorrow’s Skills Competition like he did in Raleigh.
“I don’t know, I haven’t done them as much this year,” Fleury said. “I might be a little rusty. We’ll see.”
- My personal favorite event from the last Skills Competition back in 2012 was watching the goalies race each other, because it’s hilarious to see them trying to skate as fast as they can in all of that equipment. I don’t think they’re doing it this year, but if they are, I hope Fleury and Montreal’s Carey Price go up against each other.
“’Flower’ is awesome,” Price said. “He’s a pretty funny guy. I got to know him during the lockout a little bit. We skated together. He’s probably one of the most agile goaltenders in the league. He’s got really quick feet. He’s pretty technically sound. There’s a reason why he’s won a Stanley Cup.”
Flyers captain Claude Giroux also mentioned Fleury’s 2009 championship when talking about going up against the netminder in their division rivalry.
“He’s a quick goalie,” Giroux said. “He’s hard to play against. Any time a goalie has won a Cup, he just knows how to play in big games and he’s a pretty impressive player.”
- Fleury’s memories of his last All-Star Game (and first one of his career, back in 2011) aren’t the fondest. He started in goal for Team Lidstrom and kicked it off (literally) with a sick pad save on an Eric Staal breakaway, but faltered from there as he allowed four goals in the first 5:41 minutes. But he recovered and was perfect over the last 14:19 of the period, stoping every shot he faced as Team Lidstrom mounted a comeback to even the score after the first 20.
“Maybe (allowed) a little too many goals in that first period,” Fleury joked.
Fleury may have been taken by surprise by the fast and furious pace (and lack of defense) in that game, but now that he's been through it he's ready for Toews, Kane and the rest of those stars and has a strategy planned out.
“Everybody’s looking for the big goals. It’s tough,” Fleury said. “So I think just try to stop it, try to stay patient on the shooter because they might do four passes before they shoot the puck. Just try to enjoy it. Don’t get too worried about the goals. Just try to enjoy the time.”
Overall, he loved his experience in Carolina.
“I just remember it being fun for me and my family,” he said. “Same thing here. Just try to enjoy it. It’s a little different having a kid now. Probably a little more quiet at night. But still I think just enjoy the city and people here.”
- The last time Fleury spent an extended amount of time in Columbus was during last year’s playoffs, when the Penguins beat the Blue Jackets in their First Round matchup.
“Last year, me and (Kris) Letang, we went around the city on those little bikes,” Fleury smiled. “Rode the bike around town a little bit, so that was fun. It’s a nice place, it’s a good little hockey town, so we should have a good time here.”