When Marc-Andre Fleury was left unprotected for the expansion draft, and the Vegas Golden Knights swooped ever so quickly, it meant he’d leave some long-standing friendships behind.
It didn’t mean they’d end.
Plane trips, video games, pranks, long talks, and now, phone calls and text messages - the friendship between Fleury and Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby runs deep and remains strong as ever.
“When you spend so much time with someone and you see him every day and get close, he was a good friend of mine,” Fleury said during a 2020 interview, while recollecting the 13 years he spent with Crosby in Pittsburgh.
Crosby, also in 2020 while visiting Las Vegas, during an exclusive he granted while he was injured, described his longtime friend as someone who is “an easy guy to like. He comes in with a smile on his face every day, brings great energy, works so hard on the ice, supports his teammates.”
Nothing we don’t already know or have seen since Fleury arrived in Las Vegas. Be it with the media, fans, teammates young and old, coaches, members of the broadcast team - it’s hard to find somebody who doesn’t like the man affectionately known as Flower.
And you know you’re a part of his special circle once you’ve had a prank played on you. Just ask Golden Knights rinkside reporter Stormy Buonantony, who recently shared to her social media all of her broadcast materials taped together on a day Fleury coincidentally was not in net.
During a visit to Pittsburgh, where the Golden Knights arrived early before their game on Oct. 19, 2019, Fleury paid a visit to his old friend Sid’s house while the Penguins were hosting the Detroit Red Wings on the first of back-to-back nights.
“I came home from the game and all this stuff was all over the place,” Crosby said, laughing like a best friend might, talking about his long-lost buddy.
Fleury littered Crosby’s front yard with giant Halloween decorations.
“He never stops,” Crosby said. “He’d never give himself up though.”
The stories are endless between the two.
Like the late-night plane trips to the West coast, where they’d play video games, share some laughs, and at times, share serious conversation.
“I do miss that,” Fleury said. “We sat next to each other since our first trip on the plane. A lot of times we got to talk about anything in life. Played some video games sometimes, against the other guys - Jaromir Jagr - so that was good too. When you spend so much time with someone and you see him every day and get close, he was a good friend of mine.”
Said Crosby: “He’s always there for his friends, his family. You can talk to him about anything, whether it’s hockey or life in general, I think he’s just an easy guy to talk to. Whether it was advice or sharing experiences. Playing with someone for that long is pretty rare, so that’s a pretty unique thing to have.”
And though Fleury came into the league two years before Crosby, the future Hall of Fame goaltender said most recently, during a 1-on-1 interview in February, that he cherished the times he was able to walk in his friend’s shadow to simply watch and observe how to be patient, how to be humble, how to make time for people - simply, how to be the right professional athlete.
“He’s a very humble guy, and a very honest guy and he’s obviously one of the best players in the league,” Fleury said last month. “Everywhere we went, everybody wanted to talk to him. Once the media is gone or the fans are gone, he’s just a normal dude and I really appreciated that from him. I think that’s something that I’ve learned from him or I really appreciated from him. That’s how I wanted to be, just one of the guys.”
And by being just one of the guys, it helped establish Fleury as the consummate teammate the entire locker room can count on.
“We’re part of the same team, you want to have success, you want it to work,” Fleury said. “Sometimes problems (are) not always on the ice, sometimes problems come on the ice but then it’s in your head and other things going on in your life. If I can be assistance to anyone, just to talk about my experience and what I’ve gone through, I think it’s for the benefit of the young guys, or for the team too.”
Added Crosby: “He really, genuinely cares about every single guy, whether you’re a first-year player or you’ve played with him for multiple years, he just wants the team to win.”
Fleury also said last month “the first year in Vegas was tough to beat, other than my concussion, that sucked. It was a pretty magical year.”
But, he added, the years he and Crosby won the Stanley Cup also rank high on some of his favorite seasons.
That, and building friendships that will last a lifetime.