It started at the World Championship a few years ago and grew from there -- something of an unlikely friendship.
Defenseman Dion Phanuef of the Toronto Maple Leafs is 28. Forward Jeff Skinner of the Canes is 21. But competing together, for Team Canada, brought them together and created a bond.
"I first met him at the World Championship my first year (in the NHL) and then the next year I played with him again," Skinner said Thursday. "We became pretty good friends and we kept in touch since then and he's been pretty good to me.
“He’s talked to me about the things you pick up as you go through your career and helped me with that. Not all is hockey-related, which is nice. It’s nice to talk to someone who has been through as much as he has off the ice, too. It’s helpful.”
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Phaneuf, the Leafs captain, had much praise for Skinner after Thursday's morning skate at Air Canada Centre.
"The thing with 'Skinny' is he skates so well," Phaneuf said. "You look at his size. It doesn't really reflect the way he plays. He really competes. He's a guy that battles extremely hard.
"He's very shifty in the corners and that has a lot to do with how he skates. He's a skilled guy you have to be aware of. He's done a great job of moving up into that elite category in the league."
Phaneuf noted that he invited Skinner over for dinner at his "summer place" during the offseason a few months back.
"When he said he was bringing his family over I didn't know how many there were," he joked.
Dinner for eight?
"I kind of felt bad," Skinner said, smiling. "I was on vacation with my family and I told him I was there. He said, 'Come over for dinner." I kind of felt bad telling him there was eight of us. But it was fun. It was a pretty big dinner."
The group feasted on mussels and oysters, Skinner said, along with hamburgers and steaks. A good time was had by all.
There will be no niceties Thursday night at Air Canada Centre, however.
"When we're out there we're definitely not friends," Phanuef said.