Marc-Andre Fleury’s competitiveness, positivity already rubbing off on Blackhawks

Fleury takes every shot he faces in practice seriously but also knows how to keep the team relaxed off the ice.

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Marc-Andre Fleury has quickly made an impression on the Blackhawks.

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Marc-Andre Fleury didn’t take kindly to Adam Gaudette and Ryan Carpenter scoring on him on consecutive shots Saturday.

The Blackhawks’ new marquee goaltender smashed his stick on the post, booted a puck out of his crease and sighed as he reset himself for another onslaught of rush drills.

Only three days into training camp, it’s evident how seriously Fleury takes everything he does — including practice.

“[Being competitive is] always something I’ve tried to do, right?” Fleury said. “I’ve found sometimes with age it becomes a little harder, especially getting back into it. But I got a few weeks before camp to skate with the guys and get the timing back and all that stuff, so I feel good now. I feel like I can battle and play those rebounds and make it hard on them.”

“[Fleury] doesn’t give up on pucks,” Alex DeBrincat said. “Even if it’s going to be an empty net, he’s diving over to stop it. That’s what makes him so great.”

That mentality will fit in perfectly with DeBrincat and Patrick Kane, arguably Fleury’s two most dangerous practice adversaries. Kane in particular already has developed a friendly practice rivalry with Fleury, celebrating with excessive vigor — just to rub it in a bit more — every time he snipes the corner.

That’s something Kane hasn’t had many chances to do in his career, having scored only four regular-season goals against Fleury (two against the Penguins, two against the Golden Knights).

“When you play against a guy a bunch of times, you’re going to have certain times where you score on him, certain times where he has your number,” Kane said. “Just being competitive in practice, we both enjoy that. If I score on him with a shot, I might say something to him, or vice versa. It’ll be fun to enjoy that throughout the year.”

The goalie opposite Fleury in Group A has rotated each of the three days: Kevin Lankinen on Thursday, then Collin Delia on Friday with Lankinen on COVID-19 protocol, then Fleury’s old Knights teammate Malcolm Subban on Saturday with Delia out with a non-COVID illness.

That doesn’t matter so much when the Hawks have Fleury as their dependable, every-day No. 1 goalie. But even after 727 career starts, Fleury still wants to improve.

He and goalie coach Jimmy Waite have worked on puck skills — stopping dump-ins and passing to defensemen — along with rebound control and finding the posts in morning training sessions this week.

And off the ice, Fleury’s vibrant smile and easygoing personality — contrasting sharply with his intensity on the ice — should help the Hawks adjust to this season’s higher expectations.

“His energy and how he practices is also how he is off the ice,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “He’s always got a smile on his face. That helps. . . . It will be a grind, and having those personalities can help bring the best out of everybody.”

Fleury isn’t the most talkative guy, preferring to “do it by example,” but he carries a reputation as one of the NHL’s most well-liked players for a reason.

Much like Corey Crawford, whose soft voice belied his watchful eye and keen sense of mood around the locker room, Fleury clearly knows how to keep a group humble through wins and confident through losses. He’ll be a valuable addition to the Hawks’ leadership group.

“If we have fun, if we feel good and we’re relaxed, to me that’s when you play your best hockey,” Fleury said. “Because if you get too tight, too serious, you overthink stuff and you squeeze your stick, and those are the [moments] where things won’t go as well. So if you can just stay relaxed and enjoy what you’re doing, I think we’re going to have some success.”

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