I used to love saving and looking through ticket stubs for sporting events. I have a shoebox full of them and, once upon a time, I had the intention of creating a collage or putting them all up on a wall in a sports/memorabilia room. With the advent of printing tickets at home and scanning mobile tickets, collecting ticket stubs has become a lost art that I no longer even attempt to chase. Despite that, I still have a shoebox full of ticket stubs that I love to look through. There are some stellar ones in there – Lemieux’s 5-goal game in ’96, Lemieux’s comeback game in ’00, Crosby’s NHL debut in ’05, and several others. My favorite one to show off over the past few years though has been this one:
There are layers upon layers of memories and thoughts attached to this ticket stub.
A $10 ticket? Youth tickets were $10? How did we get youth tickets when I was 19?
Ticket questions aside, that stub represents the NHL debut for 18-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury.
There was an odd amount of hope going into that season. The Penguins had drafted Fleury 1st overall in the 2003 draft, trading up from the 3rd spot. You don’t usually have hope for a team that is drafting that high. On top of it, as I’m sure many have forgotten by now, the Penguins ended the 2002-03 season in horrific fashion. There was hope going into ’02 and the Penguins started off 6-2-2-0 in October. The Penguins finished that season on a 2-14-2-0 slide that should have left everyone completely devoid of hope.
(Odd coincidences: Fleury was drafted in Nashville, where he dressed for his final game as a Penguin. And Fleury was drafted on June 21st, exactly 14 years ago as we embark on Vegas expansion draft day.)
Alas, before the days of social media telling you that your team was terrible no matter what you thought, there was always hope – especially when you had a potential franchise goalie joining the roster.
What started with hope at 7:30pm turned into stunned reactions for most of the night after less than a minute of game time. The Penguins were throttled by Los Angeles from start to finish in terms of gameplay. Questions of “They can’t be *that* bad this year, can they?” were heard on the walk back to the parking lot.
There was one bright spot though. Despite allowing a goal on his first shot against, a SH breakaway by Eric Belanger 38 seconds into the game, Fleury looked like the special goalie he was drafted to be. He made 46 saves on 48 shots and earned the #1 star of the night in a 3-0 loss…largely because that Penguins team deserved a 10-0 loss.
A chant that would echo for 14 years began…
This extremely high-quality video from that season has Fleury’s poke check on Pirnes in it (along with his first career shutout):
October 10, 2003 – The Penguins were terrible but maybe this athletic 18-year-old in the yellow pads can start something.
Fast forward almost 14 years and Penguins fans are slowly but surely working their way towards accepting the fact that Fleury will be moving on from the Penguins.
It shouldn’t be difficult, right? It’s logical. Players move from team to team all the time. Fleury isn’t even the best goalie on the Penguins anymore (don’t get mad at me for that statement, it’s true).
Then you think about it. 14 years.
As I’ve grown through those 14 years, I’ve gone from a rabid 19-year-old sports fanatic to a more reserved and logical fan, who appreciates sports for what they are – an escape to most cynical people, but more importantly to me, a constant in life.
It doesn’t matter what happens in your life. Unemployment, illness, death of friends or family – there will be a sporting event coming up to both help you escape and show you that life continues on. Whether your team is good or bad, whether they’re going to win or lose, you can always turn to them.
We’ve been turning to Marc-Andre Fleury for a significant amount of the past 14 years. Pittsburgh Penguin Marc-Andre Fleury has been a constant in life for 14 years. Smiling Pittsburgh Penguin Marc-Andre Fleury has been a constant in life for 14 years.
Think about it again. 14 years. What all has happened to you in that time? I won’t go into my whole life story, but my best friend and I have been friends for 13 years. Marc-Andre Fleury has actually been a part of my life for longer than my best friend has.
It’s mind-numbing to consider how long we’ve been rooting for this kid, this guy, this now grown father who I still remember as an 18-year-old in yellow pads.
Not only has he been a constant for Pens fans, but we’ve watched him grow up from that 18-year-old kid into a father in a UPMC commercial with his wife and kids.
And all along the way, there has always been that typical Fleury smile. Whether he was proud after wins, sheepish after getting complimented, or sometimes even reluctant after awkward media questions following losses, Fleury’s smile has always shined bright and it has always been contagious.
I could talk about his stats, his highlights, his playoff failures, his Stanley Cups, his empty-netter attempts, and everything else regarding his career…but on the day that he leaves, my thoughts will have nothing to do with his performances.
My thoughts focus on the end of an era.
Fleury is the last link to the pre-lockout Penguins. He’s the last link to “The X-Generation”. And then I think about the success that the Penguins have had over the past 14 years, and he’s linked to all of it in one way or another.
This era in Penguins history will always be known as the Crosby era, but Fleury was there first and he’s had a front row seat for all of it so far.
Unfortunately though, times do change and eras eventually do end – so thank you for being a constant in my life for 14 years, Marc-Andre Fleury. At your first game in 2003, I could have never dreamed of the success that the Penguins would have while you were here. Now in 2017, it’s time for you to begin a new era and it’s time for you to be a constant in another lucky hockey fan’s life.
Thanks for reading!!