Thursday, February 15, 2018

Clint Hurdle's return to Pirates motivated by title

By Kevin Gorman
February 14, 2018
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle talks with catcher Francisco Cervelli during practice Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
(Chris Horner/Tribune-Review)

BRADENTON, Fla. — Clint Hurdle declared a new era for the Pirates on Wednesday, promising to own the present and create a future that will include a World Series championship.
Seriously.
The Pirates manager maintains unbridled optimism — or, as he calls it, unwavering belief — despite the franchise dealing away its ace (Gerrit Cole) and face (Andrew McCutchen) last month.
"Yeah, there's always going to be churn in the game and turnover," Hurdle said. "Fortunate to have been here for seven years, know the organization, know the players, know the city, know the fan base, humble to be a part of it.
"The place is going to explode when we win it all. The place is going to explode. I still believe that. I look forward to the opportunity to stand and be a part of that."
That was Hurdle's motivation to return for an eighth season, and why he signed a four-year contract extension through 2022.
From the outside looking in, it seems like self-inflicted torture, one that requires not unwavering belief but rather the willing suspension of disbelief.
Hurdle must crazy, right?
But he has the sense of purpose and pedigree to tackle a major makeover: Hurdle led the Colorado Rockies from 67 wins in 2005 to the '07 World Series. He took over the Pirates following a 57-win season in 2010 and led them to postseason berths from 2013-15.
"I love my job," Hurdle said. "So, to stay and be able to be a small part of this thing, which I believe is going to move forward and we're going to push through it and we're going to win and we're going to head further than we did in the past.
"A world championship is why you tee this thing up every spring. And the belief in that clubhouse also excites me, and the belief in the conversations I had over the winter excites me. That's why I chose to stay."
Pirates veteran Sean Rodriguez called Hurdle "one of the key pieces of the foundation in bringing this organization to that winning atmosphere again," and believes his return was important because of his winning philosophy and the sense of continuity it creates.
"It would have been a pretty big blow if he would have gone, too," Rodriguez said. "The fact that we've still got the same captain pointing the ship in the direction we need to go definitely helps tremendously."
Hurdle still speaks with the confidence of the manager who averaged 93 wins over three seasons, not the one who followed it with 78- and 75-win seasons the past two years.
"When you come in here and talk about winning, you get more eye rolls than you do people that lock into you," he said. "It excites me. I know the organization, and I know the fan base. The fan base is real and it's significant. I love the opportunity our men have to play on the North Shore in front of that fan base in that ballpark, and to watch the men continue to grow."
So, Hurdle wants to stop talking about Cutch and Cole but instead Josh Harrison, Starling Marte, Josh Bell and Gregory Polanco and pitchers Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova and Felipe Rivero.
"I get excited from their excitement. I pick up energy from their energy," Hurdle said. "My job is to walk in the door and be a thermostat, not a thermometer, to help establish the climate in the room and not just report on it."
If that sounds like a hard sell to fans who feel betrayed by ownership and the front office for trading Cutch and Cole, Hurdle knows the only thing he can do to convince them otherwise is win.
He's promising not just a competitive team or a playoff- caliber team but delivering the first World Series championship since 1979.
"Our fans need to feel what our fans need to feel. They're human beings, and they'll work through it in their own time and their own way," Hurdle said. "I honor our fans. I will tell them how excited I am to manage this club and the excitement in this room is real and the skill set is real and we're going to go out and do everything we can to represent the name on the front of the jersey to bring a World Series championship to the city of Pittsburgh. That's what I will tell them."
What Hurdle can't tell them is a delivery date, as the Pirates' present appears focused on the future.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

CROSBY SCORES NO. 400, BUT IT’S HIS CLIMB UP THE ALL-TIME POINTS LIST WE SHOULD KEEP AN EYE ON

February 12, 2018
Image result for sidney crosby 400
Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby skates during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues, Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Billy Hurst)
Sidney Crosby scored his 400th NHL goal on Sunday and snapped a 10-game drought in the process. But it's his rise up the all-time scoring list, not his milestone goal, that we should be focused on.
Well, it took a while, but Sidney Crosby finally has goal No. 400. After notching is 399th goal nearly one month ago in a Jan. 14 contest against the New York Rangers, Crosby was mired in a 10-game goal drought that finally came to a close on Sunday afternoon against the Blues. In the second period, 21 seconds after Kyle Brodziak gave St. Louis the lead, Crosby struck, sneaking a shot by goaltender Jake Allen.
With the tally, Crosby became only the 95th player in the 100-year history of the NHL to register 400 goals. He also became one of only three Penguins skaters to hit the 400-goal mark with the franchise. The others, Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, scored 690 and 439 goals in Pittsburgh, respectively. Chances are that by season’s end Crosby will close the gap between he and Jagr on the Penguins’ all-time goals list while also moving his way up the NHL's goals register. 
In fact, with two more goals Crosby can surpass three players on the all-time list: Shane Doan, Paul Kariya and John Ogrodnick. His next goal after that will also see him shoot by Marian Gaborik. That is, if Gaborik himself fails to score before Crosby picks up his next three goals. And if he maintains the pace that he has this season and fires home another eight goals before the campaign concludes, Crosby should also pass the likes of Rod Gilbert, John LeClair, Ray Ferraro, Patrik Elias and Ray Bourque on the all-time list. Realistically, Crosby could end the season with the 84th-most goals in NHL history.
But the number to watch shouldn’t be Crosby’s goal total, because even for as prolific a goal-scorer as he has become over the past several seasons, it's his overall point total that continues to impress.
Consider that earlier this season, Crosby was having what some would've called a statistical down year. Remember that heading into the all-star break, Crosby didn’t even consider himself worthy of an all-star nod. There wouldn't have been much disagreement with that, either. Phil Kessel was far outpacing Crosby, who had managed six goals and 16 points through the first 22 games of the season. Crosby has been remarkable since, however, registering 13 goals and 46 points over his past 35 games to put him on pace for another near 90-point season. And by the time the campaign ends, Crosby, who is already 63rd on the all-time points list, could rise to as high as 59th, surpassing Glenn Anderson, Frank Mahovlich and potentially squeaking by Patrick Marleau and Alex Ovechkin. If Crosby does indeed eclipse all four, he will have moved 20 places over the course of one campaign.
From here on out, however, Crosby's charge up the all-time list will get much more difficult. There will be no more moving more than a dozen spots in a single season, and working his way into the upper echelon of the NHL's great scorers will take him several seasons, if not as much as a decade. What could that climb look like, though? 
It’s by no means a perfect science, but by looking at a list of 15 players who finished their careers in the post-lockout NHL, each of whom rank among the top 50 all-time scorers in league history, we can try to understand the type of statistical decline a player goes through in the post-30-year-old stage of their career. The list of players utilized to get some sort of gauge include Jaromir Jagr, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, Joe Thornton, Brett Hull, Sergei Fedorov and Daniel Alfredsson, among others. And what we can glean from the points per game totals of these Hall of Famers is that the decline per season is somewhere in the .08 to .05 points-per-game range with each passing campaign after players turn 30. 
However, for a player such as Crosby, genuinely one of the great talents the league has seen, it’s a safe bet to suggest he’d be on the low end of the scale, likely closest to a Thornton or Fedorov-esque decline in the .03 points-per-game range. Thus, currently scoring at 1.09 points per game, Crosby could realistically be expected to score 1.06 points per game next season, 1.03 the season after, an even 1.00 point per game by his age 33 campaign and so on and so forth. That can help us chart Crosby's potential climb up the all-time scoring list, particularly given he has seven years remaining on his current contract.
Maintaining his pace this season would see Crosby end the campaign with 1,116 career points. Under the assumption that he plays at least 78 games per season for the remainder of his contract, which is his average across the past five seasons, Crosby would then have an 83-point season in 2018-19, bringing his career total to 1,199 points and put him into 48th all-time. An 80-point season the year after would move him all the way to 36th with 1,279 points. And in subsequent years he could move to 26th with 1,357 points and 16th with 1,433 points before his ascent begins to flatten. By the time he reaches the end of his contract, when he will be playing his age 37 season, Crosby stands be into the top 10 as one of 10 players in NHL history to score 1,600 points, but there’s no guarantee he surpasses Sakic’s 1,641 points for ninth all-time.
From there, though, it's all up to Crosby. Should he continue playing, he could pass Sakic and begin his pursuit of Mario Lemieux, who sits top the Penguins’ all-time scoring list and eighth in league history with 1,723 points. But given the decline rate of other top scorers, chances are Crosby wouldn’t surpass ‘Super Mario’ — which would then allow him to possibly slip by Steve Yzerman and Marcel Dionne, as well — unless he continued playing until he was months from his 40th birthday. We can't assume Crosby will continue at that point, either. Sure, Jagr continued to dazzle us into his mid-40s, but Wayne Gretzky hung up his skates at 37, coincidentally the same age Crosby will be when his current contract comes to an end.
For the next several seasons, though, Crosby will continue his climb. And with each passing point, we'll continue to witness what will almost assuredly be one of the 10-greatest statistical careers in NHL history.
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Related:

Crosby continues writing his legacy with recent milestones-

https://www.nhl.com/penguins/news/crosby-continues-writing-his-legacy-with-recent-milestones/c-295881530

Monday, February 12, 2018

Sidney Crosby scores 400th goal as Penguins beat Blues

The Associated Press
https://www.usatoday.com/
February 11, 2018



ST. LOUIS (AP) — Sidney Crosby got another milestone goal on Sunday. The puck went right to his dad.

Crosby scored twice, including his 400th career goal, and the Pittsburgh Penguins pulled away from the St. Louis Blues for a 4-1 victory.

Bryan Rust broke a tie with a third-period tally and Riley Sheahan also scored for the Penguins, who have won 12 of their past 17. Matt Murray made 33 saves.

Crosby had not scored in his previous 10 games dating to Jan. 14. The captain stopped the drought in the second period in front of his father Troy, who was on the two-game fathers' trip that began Friday in Dallas.

"It's tough when you're waiting that long to get it, but it's definitely worth the wait to have my dad here," Crosby said. "So many early mornings and sacrifices so I could play hockey. It's special to have him here."

Troy Crosby got the puck after the game along with a big hug.

"It's just so nice to be here," Troy Crosby said. "To be able to share it with him, there are just no words to describe it."

Kyle Brodziak scored for St. Louis, which had won two in a row. Jake Allen had 19 stops.

Crosby jammed a shot under Allen's pad from the side of the net at 3:31, tying it at 1 with his 18th of the season. He becomes the 95th player in NHL history to reach the 400-goal mark.

"I still don't know how it trickled in, it seemed like it took forever," Crosby said. "You're trying to put it in that area, short side. Somehow it kind of found its way in."

Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan marveled as Crosby's skills.

"He scores more goals from below the goal line than anybody I've ever seen and he's one of the few guys that thinks the game at such a high level," Sullivan said. "It was a typical Crosby goal."

Allen couldn't believe Crosby was able to find such a small opening.

"That's why he's the best player in the world," Allen said. "I would never play that any differently. He's one hell of a smart player."

The goal came 21 seconds after Brodziak converted from close range off a pass from Chris Thorburn.

Rust scored on a breakaway at 1:05 of the third period to give his team a 2-1 lead.

"It was kind of a shot of adrenaline," Rust said.

Crosby added an empty-net goal with 2:48 left.

It looked as if Paul Stastny had scored for St. Louis just 34 seconds before Rust got his eighth of the season, but video replay showed the puck was hit with a high stick.

"It wasn't our worst game we've played," St. Louis defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "I thought we battled hard."

Pittsburgh's sixth win in eight games also marked the return of Ryan Reaves to St. Louis after he was traded to the Penguins in June. Reaves, who spent seven season as the Blues' enforcer, was given a loud ovation when he came onto the ice for the first time.

"I saw a lot of signs, a lot of love," Reaves said. "It was a fun day."

NOTES: Stastny played in his 800th NHL game. ... Allen started back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 27-29. ... Pittsburgh has gone four games without a power-play goal, tying a season-high four-game drought from Dec. 11-18. ... St. Louis coach Mike Yeo was an assistant for the Penguins when they won the Stanley Cup in 2009.

UP NEXT

Penguins: Host Ottawa on Tuesday.

Blues: Travel to Nashville on Tuesday.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Play of Penguins' big 3 will determine postseason success


By Mark Madden
February 10, 2018

Image result for kessel malkin crosby
Phil Kessel #81 reacts to his goal with Evgeni Malkin #71 and Sidney Crosby #87 to trail 4-2 to the Anaheim Ducks during the third period at Honda Center on January 17, 2018 in Anaheim, California.
(Harry How/Getty Images North America) 

In 2016, the Penguins won the Stanley Cup because they had the best team. The result was occasionally in doubt, but not often.
In 2017, the Penguins were the last team standing. They used their depth and experience to squeak out a few critical victories against the run of play.
This season, as they search for the NHL's first three-peat since 1982, the Penguins' depth and experience have dissipated. Riley Sheahan, Matt Hunwick and Dominik Simon aren't Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley and Chris Kunitz.
So if the Penguins are going to do it again, the likeliest method is the way they're winning right now: with their stars ripping foes to shreds.
Evgeni Malkin has 16 goals and 11 assists in the 16 games played since the New Year. Sidney Crosby has three goals and 22 assists. Phil Kessel has eight goals and 15 assists. The Penguins are 11-4-1 in 2018.
Kessel, Malkin and Crosby rank second, fifth and 11th among NHL scorers. Kessel is just three points off the lead. Rarely have all three of the Penguins' offensive stars been on the boil simultaneously.
It has to continue. Simon, Zach Aston-Reese and their ilk won't pick up the slack, and the Penguins won't let Daniel Sprong.
The power play is No. 1 in the league, converting 26.6 percent of its chances. That also has to continue. That could be difficult presently with Patric Hornqvist injured. His net-front presence looms as large as anyone's skill.
Fewer penalties are usually called in the playoffs. That lessens the power play's impact.
Malkin, Crosby and Kessel were extremely effective in last year's playoffs, finishing 1-2-3 in points. It is unfair to ask for more?
Sure it is. But that's what's going to be required. Jake Guentzel probably won't score 13 postseason goals again.
Since the Penguins will be relying on their superstar circus to burn brightly come springtime, two more need to join the high-wire act.
Defenseman Kris Letang has lacked consistency and shown a penchant for the odd horrific mistake. He's minus-14. second-worst on the team. That stat can be misleading, but it's not meaningless.
Letang had major neck surgery in the offseason and probably rushed his return. He's playing better, but not yet at his accustomed level. Letang needs to understand less can be more. He can try too hard.
For the Penguins to make a playoff run, Letang has to come good. He is a rare combination of skating, skill, fitness and physicality. The Penguins won the Stanley Cup without Letang last year. That was the flukiest thing about it.
Goaltender Matt Murray has been beset by injury and troubled by the death of his father. His goals-against average is up, his save percentage down.
But the Penguins push forward with numbers so much, they can be a difficult team to play behind. Murray is about wins and big saves, and both have been coming with more frequency.
Murray is 3-0-1 since returning from bereavement leave. That's all that matters.
The NHL trade deadline is Feb. 26. The defense corps has stabilized nicely thanks to Ian Cole's reinsertion and fine play. Hunwick is a good spare on the left side. Chad Ruhwedel provides the same on the right.
Third-line center remains a talking point. But GM Jim Rutherford shouldn't sacrifice Sprong, Tristan Jarry or Conor Sheary if the result is a minimal upgrade like Ottawa's Jean-Gabriel Pageau or Edmonton's Mark Letestu. The new Nick Bonino isn't available, although the old Matt Cullen is.
But any additions, however needed, will be small potatoes. The Penguins' hopes for a three-peat rely on the stars running roughshod and not much else.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on 105.9 FM.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Black and gold economics: Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell costly but crucial

By Jeremy Fowler
February 7, 2018
PITTSBURGH -- That the Steelers are talking about extending Ben Roethlisberger one year after the quarterback entertained retirement is a major victory for a team whose master plan appears to be at work.
Try to sign Le'Veon Bell in the short term, the plan goes, then start reworking the final two years of Roethlisberger's current contract with something bigger, either this offseason or next.
Team president Art Rooney II rolled out both of those possibilities in a conference-table interview with a small group of reporters Wednesday, and these parts might just be mutually exclusive.
The Steelers have two premier players at their positions who couple with Antonio Brown to form the game's best offensive trio. Re-signing each ensures Roethlisberger has the pieces he needs as he plays into his late 30s.
Roethlisberger's future is undoubtedly the most crucial element here. Since he signed in 2015, the quarterback market has ballooned to $25-plus million per year thanks to Matthew Stafford and eventually Kirk Cousins.
Here's what Roethlisberger told me at the Pro Bowl when I asked him about this:
"For me, it’s about the team, what’s going on," Roethlisberger said. "I’m not going to sit there and say certain guys aren’t deserving of it, whether it’s on our team or other teams. There are quarterbacks in this league that have been very, very good. There’s been some that maybe haven’t produced as much, but when teams feel they have a franchise quarterback, they are going to pay him as they feel is necessary. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
The Steelers have a franchise quarterback, and paying him what's necessary would probably require that $25-million-per-year mark, or more. But Pittsburgh wouldn't have to go crazy on contract years (three seems in line with what Roethlisberger has told teammates), and the team could reduce his current cap number of $23 million with some signing-bonus maneuvering.
This would be an easy decision, one the Steelers won't overthink.
Bell's contract matter isn't so clear-cut because of his conviction to set a healthier market for running backs. This negotiation could drag out, even if Bell is confident both parties can bypass the franchise tag and deal in earnest. But Roethlisberger's best performances are tied to Bell, which the Steelers also won't overlook. Roethlisberger was impressive over the final seven games, with more than 2,422 yards passing. Bell accounted for 492 of those yards on 54 receptions. Arguably Roethlisberger's best statistical year as a pro, 2014, came while Bell was racking up 854 receiving yards.
The two complement each other well, and as Roethlisberger pointed out at the Pro Bowl, Bell has grown as a receiver. Those extra 40 to 50 yards each game help keep the no-huddle offense going.
The Steelers have work to do to complete the defensive rebuilding job that hit a wall at the end of the season. They can do so with bargain free agency and the draft. Signing Roethlisberger alleviates the need to draft a developmental quarterback, while Bell, at age 25, has at least a few years as a workhorse in the offense.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Golden night for Fleury, his fans

By Kevin Gorman
February 6, 2018

Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Vegas Golden Knights acknowledges the fans after a tribute video was played during the first TV timeout of the first period against the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena on February 6, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

Penguins fans came to PPG Paints Arena with divided loyalties Tuesday night, proudly wearing the number of an opposing player.
They gave goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who spent 13 seasons with the Penguins and won three Stanley Cup championships, a warm welcome in his first return to Pittsburgh.
Fans wore No. 29 on their sweaters, for the Penguins or Vegas Golden Knights.
One man even wore both.
Penguins season-ticket holder Mike Holthom is such a big Fleury fan that he had a special sweater made for this game. A seamstress from his hometown of Columbiana, Ohio, stitched the right side of a Penguins jersey to the Golden Knights' left side.
“I have the other half, actually,” Holthom said, “but it isn't as cool because it's the butt-side of the Penguin.”
It was proof that this night belonged not only to Fleury but Penguins fans who grew attached to his ever-present smile, gift for gags and spectacular saves.
The standing-room-only crowd chanted his name before the puck dropped, the familiar sing-song of “Fleury! Fleury! Fleury!”
At the first stoppage in play at 13 minutes, 3 seconds of the first period, the Penguins played a video tribute to Fleury. He looked up and watched from the ice below, standing behind the net and leaning on his stick.
It brought Fleury to tears — and he wasn't alone.
There was sentiment after the Penguins won their second consecutive Stanley Cup that the NHL should schedule Vegas to open the season at PPG Paints Arena, so Fleury could be on the ice for the raising of the championship banner.
But this was even better, as Fleury neither stole the spotlight from that night nor was overshadowed by it.
Instead, Fleury received his Stanley Cup championship ring in a private ceremony with owner Mario Lemieux, president David Morehouse, general manager Jim Rutherford and coach Mike Sullivan.
The goosebumps came when the game stopped and The Struts' “One Night Only” blared over the loudspeakers for a three-minute highlight.
It captured some of his most memorable moments with the Penguins, from his split saves to waving the Terrible Towel at the Winter Classic at Heinz Field to the Cup parades.
The loudest roars were for Fleury's glove save on an Alex Ovechkin breakaway in Game 7 of the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinal and his block of Nicklas Lidstrom's last-second shot to clinch the Cup.
Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Vegas Golden Knights looks on as a video tribute is played at PPG Paints Arena on February 6, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

When it was over, Fleury raised his stick to the crowd and clapped it with his glove.
Fleury took a deep breath to keep his composure, but couldn't help but wipe tears from his eyes afterward.
“I thought it was awesome,” said Mike Kubisiak, 29, of North Baldwin. “I almost teared up, I'm not gonna lie.”
Kubisiak and his fiance, Wynne Mitcheson, both sported No. 29s, but he opted for his autographed Penguins Fleury jersey that was a gift for being man of honor at his sister's wedding while she wore the Golden Knights' steel gray sweater that was a Christmas present (along with tickets) from her future mother-in-law.
“Penguins fans give you a look,” said Mitcheson, “until they see the number.”
Ben and Laura Pritz of Oakland wore the Golden Knights' gray steel sweaters with Fleury's No. 29 as they posed for a photo near the Mario Lemieux statue outside the Trib Total Media gate.
“He's always been a great ambassador for the city,” said Ben Pritz, who also was wearing a Penguins 2016 Stanley Cup championship baseball cap. “Despite not being a Pittsburgher, he took to the city, and Pittsburghers took to him. It's hard not to support him.”
Added Laura: “He's a Penguin at heart. We're welcoming him home.”
Despite their conflicting rooting interests, they still wanted the Penguins to win — which they did, 5-4.
“I think a 1-0 Pens victory on an absolute snipe from Crosby that perhaps no goaltender could come up with would be the perfect scenario.”
But Fleury was upstaged, first when Steelers inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, who had spinal stabilization surgery only two months ago, stood up when shown on the video scoreboard and received a standing ovation.
After Fleury delivered a handful of highlight stops and got a couple assists when Phil Kessel hit the crossbar and the right post — which Fleury playfully rubbed in appreciation — the Penguins scored three second-period goals and two early in the third.
It was as if Fleury's 13 seasons with the Penguins played out in one game, the good, bad and ugly all rolled into one.
It was, fittingly, a golden night for the fans of Fleury, forever a Penguin even if he's now a Golden Knight.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.


Fleury cements legacy along banks of Ohio River


By Ed Graney, Las Vegas Review-Journal
https://www.reviewjournal.com/sports/sports-columns/ed-graney/fleury-cements-legacy-along-banks-of-ohio-river/
February 6, 2018

Former Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and members of the Sto-Ken-Rox Boys and Girls Club in McKees Rock, Pa., are seen in this June 2017 photo at a groundbreaking ceremony. (Sto-Ken-Rox Boy ...
(Sto-Ken-Rox Boys and Girls Club)

McKEES ROCKS, Pa. — The streets are narrow and depressed, abandoned buildings as gloomy as the gray weather that winter has again brought this western Pennsylvania borough along the south banks of the Ohio River.

It’s a town of 6,000 working-class folks that never really recovered from the collapse of the steel industry, never totally bounced back from the early 1980s and all-time unemployment rates, never knew much prosperity following the deindustrialization of the U.S.

The mills shut down, and everything sort of died along with it.

Which makes this all the more significant: It’s here, at the top of a long, winding road off one of those narrow streets, in a place where more than 35 percent of residents live in poverty, where Marc-Andre Fleury decided to make a difference.

Most of the young faces running around the Sto-Ken-Rox Boys & Girls Club on Tuesday will never meet the famous goalie, never know personally the player who 6 miles away in downtown Pittsburgh later that night returned to PPG Paints Arena for the first time since being left exposed by the Penguins and selected by the Golden Knights as part of the NHL expansion draft.

It was a homecoming of extreme emotion, highlighted by a first-period video tribute to Fleury, who would make 33 saves but finish on the short end of a 5-4 Penguins victory.

The calendar flipped to 2018 and so did a switch for the two-time defending champions. Pittsburgh has won 11 of 15 in the new year. Here we go again with these guys.

The game ended, and Fleury could be seen throwing his stick in a back hallway departing the ice.

He wanted this one as much as any.

“It will get easier playing against them in the future,” Fleury said. “Lot of stress. I found myself thinking too much. But tonight, I will never forget.

“I will forget the score, though.”

Fleury received his third Stanley Cup ring from the Penguins earlier in the day, and yet if the quote is really true that we should carve our name on hearts and not tombstones and that legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you, he set a fairly high standard before leaving the town that was home for 14 years.

The state-of-the-art playground painted in Penguins black and gold stands just outside the Boys & Girls Club entrance, a structure financed by Fleury and dedicated at a ceremony in June with the player, his wife and their two young daughters.

To one side of the all-weather rubberized flooring is a water feature Fleury had built for the town’s children to enjoy over hot summer months.

A plaque featuring former Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is seen at the Sto-Ken-Rox Boys and Girls Club in McKees Rock, Pa. (Ed Graney/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
(Ed Graney/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

When you enter a side door, you come to Rink 29, a hockey dek named for Fleury, who also paid for the nets and score clock and sports equipment and educational materials and video games and all the consoles needed to play them.

Put it this way: They gave Fleury a wish list for everything the club needed to keep kids off the streets and safe after school.

They hoped he could provide a few of the items.

He provided all of them.

“We still can’t believe what the Fleury family did for our community,” said Kevin Nicholson, executive director of the club. “We have more kids now than we have ever had — 120 to 130 a day — and all of what he gave allowed them to be more active. Marc did this for all the right reasons. It’s something that will be here for a very long time.

“It’s a tough place for a lot of these kids. Not a lot of money. Even the younger ones who might not know who No. 29 is, we teach them. All of this was very needed.”

At one point Tuesday, a minivan pulled up and a 7-year-old boy bounded from the front seat, heading for another day of hockey inside Rink 29.

“The kids needed something like this in the neighborhood,” said his mother, Casey Bayer. “They deserve nice things to happen for them. Everyone loves Fleury here.”

In a town of 6,000 that never really recovered from the collapse of the steel industry, where the streets are narrow along the south banks of the Ohio River, they will share stories about the famous goalie who before leaving his adopted home, helped the most precious of things.

Its children.

“It’s what is important, yes?” Fleury said. “To give something back that will last.”

It is said to be how legacies are cemented, by carving your name on hearts and etching it into the minds of others.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

FLEURY HOPES TO KEEP EMOTIONS UNDER CONTROL IN RETURN TO PITTSBURGH


February 5, 2018
Image result for marc andre fleury all-star game crosby
Sidney Crosby with longtime Penguins teammate and current Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at the All-Star Game. (Getty Images).
Marc-Andre Fleury is hoping he can hold it together when he heads into Pittsburgh for the first time to face off against the Penguins, the franchise with which he built a tremendous legacy on and off the ice. "So weird," said the Vegas Golden Knights goalie. "There are mixed feelings when you play against guys you played with so long.”
As he ponders going back to the only NHL home he had ever known prior to this season, Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t concerned about how he’ll play. After all, the way he’s performed this season, that should be the last of his worries. In reality, Fleury is far more preoccupied with how he’ll react when a tribute video is shown on the jumbotron of the PPG Paints Arena on Tuesday night during the first stoppage of play.
“He’s worried about it,” said Fleury’s agent Allan Walsh. “I think he’s thinking, ‘I sure hope I don’t lose it in front of everybody.’ ”
If Fleury were to get a little verklempt and need a moment in the Vegas Golden Knights crease, nobody would blame him. It’s always difficult for an athlete to return to his old home for the first time, but it’s even more difficult when the relationship between the players, his teammates and the fan base is so intimate and so genuine. One of the great things about playing for the Golden Knights this season is that almost every game, there’s a player on the roster with a chip on his shoulder who wants to stick it to his old team. But it’s hard to imagine that’s the case with Fleury, one of the most respected players in the NHL today. Fleury will not be spitting in anyone’s eye on the way out of town.
Because as far as he’s concerned it’s simply not about Marc-Andre Fleury. And that’s what makes him “the best player team player in sports,” according to Penguins GM Jim Rutherford during last year’s run to the Stanley Cup. Need any more proof? Well, the Penguins asked Fleury if they could present his Stanley Cup ring to him in a pre-game ceremony on the ice and Fleury quickly declined, saying it would not be fair to his teammates. So instead, there will be a low-key quiet ceremony conducted by owner Mario Lemieux in Rutherford’s office after the Golden Knights’ morning skate.
When William Karlsson scored twice against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Golden Knights' 6-3 victory before the all-star break, there might not have been a happier man on the planet. And that’s perfectly understandable, since Karlsson was never given the opportunity to show his abilities in Columbus the way he has in Vegas. With that in mind, Fleury wants desperately to win the game, but isn’t looking forward to proving anyone wrong. “I think it helps that we already played (the Penguins) in Vegas and we won 2-1,” said Fleury, referring to the Dec. 14 game in which he stopped 24 of 25 shots. “I was happy. It was a weird game. So weird. There are mixed feelings when you play against guys you played with so long.”
To suggest that this is another game for Fleury, or anyone else involved, would be a stretch. Fleury’s wife and two children are making the trip from Vegas and will be met by Fleury’s parents and sister for the game. Winning three Stanley Cups with this group is one thing, but Fleury clearly forged a bond with the organization and fan base with his charitable efforts and down-to-earth demeanor. The fact that he did not make it about himself as he lost his starting job not once, but twice, over the past two Stanley Cup runs, is a measure of his character. Fleury refused to take the attention away from his teammates, which is in line with his penchant for always thinking of others.
“During the fires in Los Angeles, the first thing he did was pick up the phone and call me,” said Walsh, who is based in Los Angeles. “And he said, ‘If you have any issues with your house, just pack up your family and stay with me here in Vegas.' “He genuinely cares about people. In all the years I’ve been in this business, I’ve never seen anyone like him.
Nor will they ever see anyone like him again in Pittsburgh. Nobody is irreplaceable, but there’s also the sense that Pittsburgh and the Penguins had something very unique in Marc-Andre Fleury. It will be interesting to see how many dry eyes there will be in the house, but we do know that the ovation for Fleury during that tribute video will be long and loud and heartfelt. “It doesn’t matter really,” Fleury said when asked whether he thinks the ovation will be long. “I’ll just be happy to be there for a few claps. It’s all good.”