It’s common knowledge that Marc-Andre Fleury’s nickname is Flower.
It’s derived from the English translation of his last name, and over the past couple of decades in the NHL, it has become very much a part of his identity between the pipes.
Yet it wasn’t until Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center that the 37-year-old goaltender can remember a fan actually throwing flowers at him.
“I don’t think it’s happened before,” Fleury said with a huge smile. “I felt like a figure skater.”
After the Wild put the finishing touches on a 3-2 overtime win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Fleury’s highly anticipated debut with Minnesota, the man they call Flower trotted back onto the ice for a short victory lap.
That’s when Minneapolis resident Anthony Varriano sprung into action.
From his seat in Row 3 of Section 102, Varriano launched a bouquet of yellow roses as far as he could. The flowers landed a few feet from Flower, and he twirled back to pick them up, cradling them as he retreated to the Wild locker room.
“I was pretty surprised with how well they carried,” Variano said. “Frankly, I almost threw them too far.”
Not bad for a guy who had elbow surgery not long ago.
“I was just happy he saw them and came back for them,” Variano said. “I wanted to put a smile on his face.”
In an interview with the Pioneer Press on Monday, the 35-year-old Variano detailed a memorable night that might have started a new tradition in St. Paul.
A self-proclaimed “late adopter” to the sport, Variano became a Wild fan after moving to the Twin Cities about six years ago.
His affinity for Fleury, however, dates back to the 2017-18 season. He casually followed the Vegas Golden Knights during their inaugural campaign, and he remembers being drawn to Fleury’s flair.
“The first time I watched him, he immediately became my favorite player,” Variano said. “He’s a performer out there. He just makes the game so entertaining.”
Naturally, Variano was thrilled when the Wild acquired Fleury in a blockbuster move at the trade deadline. He hopped on Ticketmaster as soon as he found out Fleury would be making his debut for the Wild’s home game against the Blue Jackets.
After finishing work Saturday evening, Variano made brief stop at the Lunds & Byerlys in downtown St. Paul on his way to the Wild game. He figured he would bring some flowers for Flower now that his favorite player was playing for his favorite team his.
“I went on Google and looked up which flower meant, ‘Welcome,’ ” Varriano said. “It said the yellow rose, and there were a dozen yellow roses right in front of me, so it made my decision pretty easy. I was going to go with red roses. I just thought that might be a little too romantic.”
The grand total came out to $16.17 after tax. He paid using the self checkout lane, stuffed the flowers into a grocery bag, then started his 15-minute walk to Xcel Energy Center.
“I didn’t really know what to expect as far as security goes,” Variano said. “Just stuffed them in my coat and zipped it up all the way. I was doing my damnedest to make sure they didn’t see them. As soon as I got them in, I knew I was good to go.”
The next thing Variano had to figure out was when to throw the bouquet of roses onto the ice. He watched warmups from his seat and thought about doing it when Fleury emerged from the tunnel. He decided to hold off.
“If I was a player, I sure as hell wouldn’t want someone messing with my head prior to the game,” Varriano said. “I stuffed them underneath my chair and figured if the Wild lost I would probably just come back for his next start and do the same thing all over again.”
Luckily for Variano, Kirill Kaprizov helped the Wild tie the score in the final minutes of regulation, and Jared Spurgeon completed the comeback with the game-winner in overtime.
A few minutes later, Fleury skated back onto the ice with hundreds of fans sticking around to show their appreciation for his first win with the Wild.
None more excited than Variano. He had been waiting for the perfect moment to give Flower the bouquet of yellow roses. This was his chance.
“As soon as he skated onto the ice, I chucked the heck out of those things,” Variano said. “I’ve never been happier at a live sporting event in my life.”
There’s a very good chance this becomes a thing in St. Paul in the coming weeks.
It’s already customary for NHL fans to throw things onto the ice. Like how Red Wings fans throw octopia in Detroit. Or how Predators fans throw catfish in Nashville.
Why not flowers in St. Paul?
“At least flowers are pretty,” Variano said with a laugh. “I didn’t know I would be the only person to bring flowers. I figured the ice would be littered with flowers. Maybe at his next start. Hopefully it becomes a trend here.”