June 8, 2009
The airplane shook from a slight burst of Michigan wind. It was as thought the natural environment of this place was giving the Pittsburgh Penguins one last taunting jab as they flew home. The players were silent for the most part. Bill Guerin read a copy of USA Today, leaving the sports section conspicuously out of the rotation. Tyler Kennedy bobbed his head slightly to the sounds of his i-Pod. Hal Gill was sleeping and Rob Scuderi just sat staring out at the Earth through the plane’s window.
Coach Bylsma told them before they left that they needed to forget this past game, a brutal trouncing at the hands of the Red Wings. A loss was a loss. It was no worse losing 5-0 than it was to lose a 3-2 triple overtime game. But it was worse for one man.
Marc-Andre Fleury tried to read a book on the trip back. L’Étranger by Albert Camus. He liked reading books in his native French more so than in his adopted English. It made him feel like he was back in Quebec. Simpler times.
The jeering turbulence made it difficult for him to read though. He felt sick, not only from the lurching motion of the plane and the stale air inside of it, but also from the memory of being pulled from one of the most important games of his career after letting five different Red Wings players score on his net. Each one of those five goals stuck in the pit of his stomach like a rotten piece of fruit, nauseating him delicately but continuously throughout the flight. Cleary, Fillpula, Zetterberg, Kronwall, Rafalski.
“I cannot be this fragile,” he thought to himself, interrupting the flow of text from his French classic. His nickname was “The Flower” after all though. Flowers are supposed to be flimsy and easily broken. “What hope could I possibly give my teammates with this name?” He put his book down on the extended tray table.
He remembered several years ago when his younger sister, Marylene, had got the idea in her head to plant a garden at their family’s home in Sorel-Tracy, a town just outside of Montreal. His father and he had been skeptical but his mother, as mothers tend to do, indulged the imagination of her youngest child.
“What would you like to plant in this garden?” his mother asked.
“I want a beautiful garden only of flowers,” Marylene replied, her youthful energy ringing through in her tone of voice.
His father gave a slight chuckle. Marc-Andre knew that this wasn’t possible. The bitter winter of Montreal would surely kill any delicate thing that was unfortunate enough to be outside and immobile.
“Flowers will never last, Marylene.” Marc-Andre scolded. “They will all die as soon as it becomes cold. Why even waste your time?”
His dejected sister’s fleeting dream had been ruined by a few of her brother’s cold words and she began to cry. Marc-Andre immediately felt a sad guilt, as big brothers tend to feel when their actions cause their younger sisters to cry.
“Now, now. Don’t cry. That is not always true,” their Mother calmly offered, wiping the tears from her eyes. “Marc-Andre do you know what a perennial flower is?”
“No. I am a hockey player, not a gardener,” he replied.
“Oh yes. Of course. I had almost forgotten,” his mother said, giving him a taste of his own mockery. “Well perennial flowers are ones that will wilt and wither away when faced with a harsh frost. But they always come back in the Spring. They bloom again and again.”
Marc-Andre faded back into the present from his memory and picked up his book. His adult eyes refocused on the open page. He read on.
“C’était comme si j’avais attendu tout ce temps pour ce moment et pour la première lumière de l’aube d’être justifiée.”
“It was as if I had waited all this time for this moment and for the first light of this dawn to be vindicated.”
The perennial flower always blooms in Spring. He would be vindicated. He would bring the Cup home to Pittsburgh.