Wild goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is a family man with a Hall of Fame career

Marc-Andre Fleury, 38, has been an NHL standout since he was a teenager, and finds a busy home life with three active children.

By Sarah McLellan Star Tribune

October 9, 2023

Ten-year-old Estelle bounds down the front steps of her Edina home on a Saturday afternoon and arranges cones in the yard, planting the red ones farther apart than their yellow counterparts.

"This is Dad's net," Estelle declares.

Dad emerges from the house a few minutes later, a Twins cap on his head. Once the teams have been established — Estelle and her 8-year-old sister Scarlett against their father and 4-year-old brother James — the soccer game commences.

"I want to win," Scarlett says.

With his kids, Marc-Andre Fleury is like any other dad.

They go on bike rides, watch TV before bedtime and get Shake Shack now and then.

But at work, Fleury is far from ordinary: He is quite literally one of the best ever at his position — no ifs, ands or buts.

Fleury is eight wins from becoming the second-winningest goaltender in NHL history and 15 games shy of being only the fourth to play 1,000 games. He'll resume chasing those milestones when the Wild begin their season on Thursday against Florida at Xcel Energy Center.

A Hall-of-Fame lock, the 38-year-old Fleury is already in elite company as a three-time Stanley Cup champion and 2020-21 Vezina Trophy recipient as the league's top goalie.

Now that he's here, on the precipice of history in the twilight of his career, Fleury is going for glory.

"I love to win," he said. "I love to compete. I love every night trying to find a way to win games. That's it. I love the battle to win games."

Potential loading

Fleury never imagined he'd make it to the NHL, let alone turn into a record breaker.

Growing up an hour outside Montreal, he idolized goaltending greats and fellow French Canadians Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy. Fleury didn't believe he could be a hockey pro; instead, he thought maybe he'd join the police academy.

Still, he took hockey seriously and at 15, Fleury moved to Nova Scotia to suit up for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

After losses, he'd go outside of the home where he was billeting with Bob Hawkins, his wife Angela and their two children, and take shots against Bob for 30-45 minutes, what Bob described as therapy after a bad game.

"A lot of people see that smiling face and think hockey's all wonderful," Bob Hawkins said. "But he's a super-competitive guy."

Not until he backstopped Canada to a silver medal at the 2003 World Junior Championship when he was 18 did Fleury's potential dawn on him. The next summer, Pittsburgh drafted him first overall.

"When I got drafted, I was like, 'This is awesome,'" Fleury said. "But in my head, that wasn't it. You still needed to get further, to make the team, play a game. I was like, 'Let's just play a game. That'd be awesome.'"

Productive in Pittsburgh

Fleury played more than once.

He started 22 times for the Penguins while still a teenager, and kept the puck from his first save against Mario Lemieux at training camp. Eventually, he went back to Cape Breton, and was in the minors before taking over Pittsburgh's net for good. But in time, he and the Penguins became formidable.

"He didn't only play with good teams," said Gilles Meloche, the former North Stars goalie who scouted Fleury before the draft and went on to become his goalie coach with the Penguins. "He was with bad teams at the start, and he made bad teams good teams."

Meloche noticed Fleury relied on his reflexes and tried to save everything at the junior level, even the shots that sailed wide of the net. In the NHL, Meloche wanted Fleury to stop chasing the puck and let it come to him.

"It didn't take him too long to learn that," Meloche said. "The numbers talk for themselves."

Fleury posted his first 40-win campaign in 2006-07, saved a crisp 92% of shots the following season and then went 10-2-1 down the stretch in 2008 ahead of his first Stanley Cup Final appearance.

Pittsburgh went on to lose in six games to Detroit, but the Penguins prevailed in the rematch a year later and Fleury claimed his first championship.

"When I first met him, you knew there was something special about him," said Wild President of Hockey Operations Bill Guerin, who was on that Cup-winning team with Fleury in 2009.

The Penguins remained a contender as Fleury continued to pile up the victories amid a steady workload: 37 wins in 2010, 36 in 2011, a career-high 42 the year after that. Overall, his nine 30-win seasons are tied for the fourth-most all time.

"He has a short memory," Meloche said. "He would have bad goals and bad games, but we would go in the office right after the game, go over the game. The next day, like nothing happened. We start from scratch, and that's why I think he's been so successful."

More milestones

After picking up two more Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh in 2016 and 2017, Fleury left to usher in an expansion franchise in Vegas and delivered some of his sharpest seasons to date.

When he was recognized with the Vezina as the best goalie in 2020-21, he was 26-10 with a 1.98 goals-against average and .928 save percentage.

Over the years, Fleury would occasionally check on his win total and No. 500 with Chicago on Dec. 9, 2021, in Montreal is a highlight.

"That was special," said Fleury, who reached the benchmark in fewer games than Brodeur and Roy. A few months later Fleury was traded to the Wild and signed a two-year, $7 million contract that expires after the coming season.

With the Wild, he's banked 33 wins and is 544-315-89 (plus two ties from before shootouts were implemented) to sit seven victories behind second-place Roy at 551; Brodeur leads the way with a whopping 691.

Fleury owns a .912 save percentage and 2.58 goals-against average for his career and has won at least once against every NHL team. His 64 shootout victories are tops in league history, as is his streak of 17 consecutive trips to the postseason by a goaltender.

"It's a little surreal, right, to be so close [in victories] to a guy I idolized growing up," said Fleury, who met Roy once at a golf tournament. "I feel very fortunate that I played with so many great teammates and great teams and organizations that allowed me to play for this long, and staff, trainers, and people that helped me stay healthy."

Like last season, Fleury will share the crease with Filip Gustavsson, and each goalie's performance will dictate who starts. That means the 15 games Fleury needs to reach 1,000 and 44 required to tie Roy for third place will be moving targets.

But Fleury won't approach the action with a countdown in mind; he plans to wait until after the Wild are done playing this season to decide if he'll return to the NHL or retire.

"I'm aware, though, it's almost done here," Fleury said, "and I gotta enjoy things, appreciate it, appreciate the grind."

His joints are overused, and his body tightens up more; he has to stretch before dropping into the splits, unlike when he was younger.

But Fleury, whose 39th birthday is in November, still enjoys competing.

"Seeing [Brodeur and Roy] be at the top of all these achievements and for him to be getting so close, I think it's inspiring," Angela Hawkins said, "and it pushes him, I think, to try more."

Opportunity awaits

As victorious as Fleury is on the ice, he didn't have the same success in that recent soccer game with his kids.

Scarlett kept blocking her dad's shots, and she clocked the score at 5-1 for the girls before everyone moved on to other activities while their mom Veronique watched from the porch. Estelle tossed the football, James hauled out a tee and bat, and Scarlett blew bubbles from a wand — their chatter mixed with giggles and calls for "Dad," "Daddy" and "Papa."

Fleury doesn't see himself as different from anyone else; it hasn't even sunk in that he's one of the best goaltenders ever.

"No," Fleury said after a bashful laugh. "I don't see myself as that."

But he is. The results of his 20th season won't change that, but they can prove the point even more.

"Having kids, they're the priority," Fleury said. "I feel to me that's the first thing I gotta be good at, right? But hockey's everything to me. That's all I've done in my life. It's OK, I think, to be defined as a hockey player because that's all I've worked for."