Cape Breton cheers on Fleury as he leads Vegas on improbable Finals run
It's a Cinderella story that could seemingly only happen in 'Sin City', and at the centre of it all is the man with a smile that shines brighter than the Vegas Strip.
There may not be a bigger story in sports right now than the Vegas Golden Knights improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final. And no one player is more important to the expansion team’s unprecedented success than goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
"That goalie right there is the MVP of the playoffs thus far, and I don't think that's even close," said NHL on NBC colour commentator Eddie Olczyk, as the star goaltender shook hands after leading the Golden Knights to a series clinching 2-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets.
Before the bright lights of the NHL, Fleury got his start in Cape Breton with the QMJHL's Screaming Eagles and Cape Bretoners are bursting with pride to see him on top of the hockey world once again.
Fleury's former billets in Sydney still have his sweater from his first year, when he was just 15-years-old.
"The thing that doesn't surprise is how well Marc-Andre is doing and the way he's been playing," says Bob Hawkins, Fleury's former billet.
"He's having a ball, he's over the moon, he's happy, his family is happy," says Angela Hawkins.
Fleury has been proving the doubters wrong all year, in a season that has been a revival of sorts.
He hoisted three Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but was on the bench for the last two, as young goaltender Matt Murray took over between the pipes for the Penguins.
Last summer the Penguins chose to leave Fleury unprotected in the expansion draft, and Vegas was happy to snatch up the veteran goaltender to lead their young team.
Now he is in the conversation for the Conn Smythe trophy, awarded to the Most Valuable Player of the NHL playoffs.
"I don't know what I can say, he's been outstanding, he's been our best player, and you've seen it all playoffs long, when we need him for big saves he comes up with them and he's been a star for us," says Golden Knights coach Gerald Gallant, a native of Summerside, P.E.I.
The 33-year-old native of Sorel, Quebec had a solid regular season with the Golden Knights, winning 29 of his 46 starts and posting a 2.24 Goals Against Average and .927 Save Percentage.
But he's taken his game to another level in the playoffs, winning 12 of his 15 starts and dropping his GAA to 1.68, while raising his Save % to an impressive .947.
On top of it all, Fleury has been the face of the young franchise. With his toothy grin and perpetually upbeat personality, he is one of the most-liked players in the NHL.
"I think you're only as good as your team, and you know, the guys in front of me have been great, and it's been a lot of fun," said Fleury in his post-game interview, displaying that humility that his former billets remember.
"He's just never changed from the day he got drafted, he's just still that same, sweet, humble guy," explains Angela Hawkins.
Fleury's number 29 has already been retired to the rafters inside Sydney's Centre 200, just one of many incredible accomplishments in his storied career.
But some analysts think if he is able to lead the expansion Golden Knights to a surprise Stanley Cup, the man nicknamed 'Flower' will be guaranteed a much bigger honour- induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The only thing that would make Fleury and his fans in Cape Breton any happier would be overcoming some of the biggest odds Vegas has ever seen, and lifting Lord Stanley's Cup.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Ryan MacDonald.