Fleury will play for Canada at world juniors

Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will have another shot at winning a gold medal at the world junior hockey championship.

The Penguins agreed to loan their rookie sensation to Team Canada for the international tournament, which runs Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Helsinki.

"We had a meeting today and decided," Penguins general manager Craig Patrick said during the first intermission of Pittsburgh's 6-1 loss to the Calgary Flames on Sunday. "However it turns out, it's going to be a great experience for him.

"He will be expected to be the key guy and that will be a lot of pressure on him. It will be great for him to go into that type of situation and be successful."

This will be Fleury's second experience at the world junior championship.

The native of Sorel, Que., played for the Canadian team last year, and led them to a silver medal in Halifax. He was named the tournament's top goaltender and most valuable player.

Fleury didn't speak to the media after Sunday's game. He will join the world junior team in Kitchener, Ont., on Thursday when it opens training camp.

Patrick said Fleury would return to the Penguins once the world junior championship is finished.

"He'll be coming back to the team when he's done," Patrick said. "We're not required to pay him (while he's gone) but we're going to pay him as if he's in the NHL because he still has NHL expenses left behind in Pittsburgh."

For the last few weeks, the low-budget Penguins had been struggling to decide what would be best for Fleury keep him in the NHL, return him to his junior team, the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, or, let him play at the world juniors and decide on his fate after the tournament.

Complicating the decision has been the issue of Fleury's contract. Last week, Pittsburgh president Ken Sawyer said the Penguins stand to lose $5 million US this year and the team is reluctant to pay Fleury's $3 million in bonus money should he stay on the roster.

Once learning the team's situation, Fleury said he would defer the bonus money if he could stay in the NHL.

Despite the offer, Patrick felt it would be best for his young netminder to play in the world junior tournament.

"(When we told him) he didn't say a whole lot," said Patrick. "He's made it pretty clear through the coach that he wanted to stay with us, but sometimes other people make decisions that will benefit you the most.

"I think he'll look back on this three months from now, six months from now, two years from now, and agree this was the best thing for him to do."

Fleury, the top pick in the 2003 draft, is 4-9-2 with a 3.14 goals-against average for Pittsburgh, which occupies the basement in the Eastern Conference with a 6-15-4-1 record.

with files from Canadian Press