I've also never claimed to be a writer yet here I am writing a blog. Even still, I don't consider myself to be a writer. I've never gone to school for writing, nor do I have a degree telling me that I'm writer. I'm just a regular guy that always has a million thoughts occupying his mind at once. Now and again, I simply need to get them out. So, I do. I do so by pounding my fingers away on a keyboard and hope that what I'm typing makes sense. Like, right now, because I'm about to talk about something near and dear to all of us.
Just a little over a week ago the Pittsburgh Penguins (my beloved hometown hockey team) got to hoist their fifth Stanley Cup, and their second in a row (for the second time.) It was nothing short of amazing to watch. There seemed to be something different about this cup run, something that seemed way more special than even last year's. Maybe it was because that the majority of last year's team was still intact. Maybe it was because of this special guy named Guentzel that came out of no where and made a run at MVP at the age of 22. Maybe it was because Sid and Geno showed us why they too, were MVP candidates for the playoffs (and we all know how that turned out.) Or maybe, just maybe, it was because this was the last time we would ever see Marc-Andre Fleury play in a Penguins Jersey. He may also be playing his final game as a Penguin not with his teammates or friends, but with his brothers.
He wasn't playing his last game in front of his fans, either. He was playing in front of his family. I say that because we are his family, and he is ours. You hear it said in national broadcasts on a regular basis: when you play Pittsburgh, you play the entire city. If you didn't think that was true, you are not from here, and you really need visit just to see how true that really is. It's one of those gotta see it to believe it deals.
I can't say I've always been a hockey fan. I jumped on the band wagon in '91 and '92 thanks to Lemieux, Jagr, and my friends. I just never jumped off. Why would I want to anyway? This sport was awesome! I continued to watch and still continue to try and remember all the rules (I think every time a Penguin gets hit it's a penalty. It is.) I remember staying up all night in Seattle while in the Navy to see the outcome of the Peter Nedved game. I remember Jagr being sent to Washington. I remember the tough times with players like Rico Fata. Those are all fond memories (well except for maybe the Fata one) but one of my fondest memories will always be one from the 2009 Penguins Victory Parade.
The Pens of course had to fight to get back to the Stanley Cup Final in 2009, because in 2008 they made it and lost. Making the final two years in a row is not an easy thing to do. When they got there in 2008, everyone was so young, Fleury included. You could tell the team was young, too. The nervousness showed the minute they stepped on the ice. I remember seeing Flower trip as he took the ice prior to the start of game one, and my superstitious sports mind felt that was an omen and the Pens were screwed. We all know that they didn't win, and it wasn't because of that. I know how I felt when it was all over, but I could not imagine how Sid felt, or how Geno felt. I was there, but they were the ones on the ice, and the ones that were playing their hearts out. I could not even begin to image how Fleury felt. But, none of that was any of their faults. Detroit was just too damn good. However, the Penguins now had a taste of what it was like to be that close to hoisting the Stanley Cup, and they made damn sure to get back there in 2009. They also made damn sure they won it.
I'll never forget those final seconds of game seven in 2009, either. Detroit was desperate to tie the game. The Pens were desperate to make sure they didn't. As the final seconds ticked away, Detroit had the defense beat. They had an open net on the right side of Fleury and fired away a shot. All of a sudden, time stood still. We've all seen goalies make a save like that before, but when Fleury did it, he seemed to move like lightning. As he shuffled on his knees to the right, he raised his chest directly in front of the shot. The puck bounced away, the clock struck down to zero, and the Pens won their third Stanley Cup. They would not have been able to do it had it not been for Fleury. What an immaculate save, from an immaculate goalie.
|Photo Credit: Mike Bober. Fleury opening|
|Pre-game warm ups|
|Thank you pats to the head for another Pens win.|
Fleury had been incredible all season long, but he was always pretty much amazing throughout the years. Not every save can be perfect and not every puck can be saved, but when I watched him play, there was no doubt in my mind that he was on fire and he was going to lead us to another cup. When he got hurt, it felt like the world (at least our hockey loving world in Pittsburgh) had been shattered. We wouldn't see him for the rest of the regular season, and only started once in the playoffs. But, the Pens persevered and still won their fourth Stanley Cup. This time, Matt Murray led the way in the net (except for when Jeff Zatkoff won the first game of the playoffs.) Sure we loved him too, and we're thankful for him being able to fill in for Fleury, but Marc-Andre was our guy, and our goalie. He got us so far last year, and injury aside, he still led the way. Well, in my mind he did. In the minds of many of my friends he did.
"Haven't faces a shot in while. I'd better loosen up."
|2016 Stanley Cup Champs|
|TV Screen Grab! My bearded mug looking like a way too|
grown up fan boy.
Fast forward again to this year, and the Penguins win back to back championships. As I stated before, this win felt different, even more special than in 2009 and in 2016. The Flower was splitting duties with Matt Murray as we all know, and it worked out quite well for the Pens. Our team had the perfect one-two punch, and that punch got us all the way through the regular season. But, no sooner did the Penguins win the cup than the talk about Vegas began. I mean, really? They win the Stanely Cup for the fifth time in franchise history and the first thing they want to talk about is Fleury being drafted by Vegas? Did they forget what just happened? I sure didn't! I don't want to talk about Vegas! I want to talk about my goalie, our goalie, and how awesome he was in the first two rounds of the playoffs!
When the final seconds ticked away in game 6 all I could think about was, "I hope the Flower takes the Cup and skates around with it. He's earned it." This was true. You knew it. I knew it. Matt Murray knew it. Everyone knew it. If anyone said otherwise they'd be wrong. Now, I'd be lying if I say that it didn't bring a tear to my eye because it did. Would that be the last time I would ever see Marc-Andre Fleury in a Pens jersey? If so, it was OK because he hoisted that cup and took a quick spin with it. However, as it turned out, that would not in fact be the last time I would get see the Flower in a Pens Jersey. The last time would be on June 14th, 2017, at the victory parade.
As Marc-Andre stopped in front of us, we could see that familiar glimmer in his eyes again. He really looked happy. I'm sure he knew more about his future on that day than we did, and he still just lived in the moment and took it all in. He looked as though he was having more fun than the year before. He was shaking hands, signing autographs, taking pictures, you name it. On a hot sunny summer day, he was shining brighter than the sun itself. This may have been his very last hoorah in Pittsburgh. This may have been the last time he was seeing us, and the very last time we were seeing him. This may have been the last moments that we got to spend together with our friend, our brother, OUR goalie.
In Pittsburgh, you can always see the flowers in the spring, fall, and summer. You could also see them in the winter. Sure, you'd head over to Schenley Drive to Phipps Conservatory on any given day. We know that they have a rare flower or two on display all year long. But, if you wanted to see the rarest flower of them all, you'd head on down town between the months of October through April (and hopefully in May and June.) This particular flower always shined under the lights and was drenched in black and gold, and there will never be another flower quite like it in the city of Pittsburgh. This flower had been planted, grew, and began to bloom at the Igloo. But, it fully blossomed for all to see, at The Paint Can.
|I wish I took a better shot here. Too blurry, clearly.|
And as the Old 2-niner would say, "He may be number 29
in your program, but he was number 1 in your hearts." - #1
star of the night.
Chuck Hull, and the entire Penguins Nation
PS - All Photos were taken by me, unless of course credit was given, which I make sure I do. Thanks folks!