Don't Trust Sidney Crosby with Your Car Keys

The savior of the Pittsburgh Penguins is not the kid you think he is.




 

 

Sidney Crosby is a lot of things. He’s ruthlessly competitive while simultaneously devoid of an ego. He is a wine connoisseur who spends flights to and from arenas playing videogames with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. He is a taskmaster at practice who just so happens to play pranks on his teammates in the middle of the night.

As human beings, we have an insatiable desire to want to know our heroes. Even when it hurts, like this past spring when we got a bit too close to Ben Roethlisberger. In Pittsburgh, the impossible task of getting to know Sidney Crosby has become sort of a pastime. When a photo leaked to the Internet of a snoring Crosby cuddling with the Stanley Cup in the wake of Penguins’ 2009 championship, we reacted like tweens who just witnessed Miley Cyrus giving Justin Bieber a piggyback ride through Ross Park Mall. The smallest peek behind the curtain triggered a voyeuristic conniption.

Yet every time there’s a camera in his face or a bouquet of microphones running hot, Sid simply charms us to death with aw-shucks humility and Downy-soft media-speak. He’s so normal it befuddles us.

He is seemingly everything to everyone. But the real Sidney Crosby is a lot more interesting.

In October, Pittsburgh magazine sat down with Sid to discuss his childhood, his role as a captain and his forays into locker room espionage.

 

Sid the Spy

Dec. 14, 2009–Mellon Arena

The coup is working like it was masterminded by Danny Ocean. The Penguins just wrapped up a morning practice at Mellon Arena when a few of the boys decide to extract a measure of revenge on strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar for his tyrannical workout regimens. The ever-mischievous Max Talbot, winger Pascal Dupuis and defenseman Jay McKee have hatched a brilliant scheme, but they need a trustworthy, straight-faced double-agent to secure the coveted jackpot: the keys to Kadar’s SUV.

Who better than The Kid?

After getting dressed, Talbot, Dupuis and McKee hurry out to the staff parking lot for the crucial drop-off. Right on time, a security guard appears from a side-door and discretely hands over a bag containing the secret weapon. Moments later, Sid the Kid emerges from the players’ entrance and tosses Kadar’s stolen keys to Dupuis, who hastily opens the sunroof. With McKee standing on top of the car holding the weapon of mass destruction, Talbot capturing the moment on his camera-phone, Dupuis laughing like a stoned frat boy and Sid walking away discreetly like nothing ever happened, the gang unleashes their coup on drill sergeant Kadar: thousands of packing peanuts flood the SUV.

“Packing peanuts?” Crosby says now with a sly grin. “Oh, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

As the youngest captain in the history of the NHL to win the Stanley Cup, Crosby knows that his work ethic sets the tone in the locker room. His hustle at practice is relentless, and his instructions to teammates ceaseless. But he also knows when to take the pressure off.

“When we’re on the road, pranks are just part of the lifestyle in the hotel,” Crosby says. “One time, we had somebody take a bunch of alarm clocks and strategically hide them in [former teammate] Ryan Whitney’s room. One was under the bed, one was behind the TV and they were set for like 2:30 in the morning. It was harmless, but, obviously, he was pretty shocked when the alarms went off in the middle of the night. It took him a long time to find the one behind the TV.”

Crosby learned everything he knows about being a leader from his former landlord, Mario Lemieux.

“Coming into the league my first year, I didn’t know what to expect,” Crosby admits. “I didn’t know ... anything, really. The little things—like you’re wearing suits for the first time; you’re learning how to pack for a road trip. This is all new stuff that you don’t think about, but I was lucky that I got to observe Mario. The special thing about him is that he’s always even-keeled—through really good times, through really tough times, Mario takes everything in stride. I think that’s an important trait to battle the pressure that comes with this game.”

 

sidney crosby on ice

As Crosby, 23, leads the Penguins into a new era at the CONSOL Energy Center, he’s also preparing to move into a house of his own that’s not far from his former landlord, Mario Lemieux.

Photo © 2010 Pittsburgh Penguins/Gregory Shamus

 

Sid the Captain

Oct. 19, 2010–Penguins practice facility at Southpointe

The Penguins are sweating out their last practice before a long road trip that will take them to Nashville, St. Louis and Tampa, and the team has been on the ice for so long that even the media bystanders are getting tired. Penguins radio announcer Phil Bourque taps his watch and sighs, “Let’s wrap it up, boys.”

Finally, after two hours of intense scrimmaging and checking drills, coach Dan Bylsma blows his whistle, and the players wearily glide toward the locker room. Everyone except for defenseman Kris Letang, goalie Fleury and Crosby.

The Zamboni driver idles in the runway and looks on impatiently as Crosby feeds puck after puck to Letang, a supremely talented 23-year-old ready to light the NHL on fire—if only he starts hitting the net.

“Again,” Crosby says, drifting another pass into Letang’s wheelhouse. The shot ricochets wide off the Plexiglas.

Letang is spent. He leans on his stick as a crutch while Crosby collects more pucks. The Zamboni driver dozes off in his captain’s chair. Fleury spreads his arms out and leans back on the net like it’s a beach lounger. “You can’t beat me,” he taunts as his goofball grin beams through the bars of his mask.

Twenty pucks later, Letang finally hits the sweet spot and unleashes a slapshot visible only as a vapor trail. The puck thunks in the back of the net before Fleury can even react.

Without a word, Crosby skates over to the runway and stops. Fleury and Letang follow. Time to go home. Crosby, always the last off the ice, taps both of them on the butt with his stick as they retreat to the showers.

“That one,” Crosby tells Letang, “was a beauty.”

Back in the sparce locker room, Sid is dripping with sweat and still taking off his gear while most of the team is heading home. “Winning the Stanley Cup wasn’t easy,” he says. “It was a lot harder maybe than it looked. This is where the work starts.”

Two nights later in Nashville, the Penguins are deadlocked in an intense overtime struggle with the Predators when Crosby collects the puck at the blueline. He doesn’t even need to look where he’s passing. He floats the puck to where Letang will be before Letang is even there. It’s déjà vu. It’s Swiss clockwork.

Letang unleashes a replica of the shot that beat Fleury in practice 48 hours earlier when no one—except for Crosby—was watching. Nashville’s goalie doesn’t have a chance.

Game.

In the euphoric pig-pile of noogies and hugs that ensues, the only guy smiling wider than Letang is his captain and best friend, Crosby. The extra reps paid off.

“The first Cup win is definitely behind us now,” says Crosby. “It’s a fun memory to look back on, but I don’t want it to be the only one I look back on. The only thing on our minds is getting back there again.”

It’s easy to take Crosby’s sublime performances on the ice for granted. After all, they happen night in, night out. Truth is, his Russian rival, Capitals winger Alexander Ovechkin, possesses far greater raw talent. In fact, many players are probably more physically gifted than Crosby, who stands 5 feet 11 inches and weighs 200 pounds.

The real genius of No. 87 is his unparalleled work ethic. He is the Warren Buffett of sweat equity. And he will stay at the rink until the Zamboni driver falls asleep in order to make his teammates better.

 

sidney crosby

At the scene of the crime, The Kid makes his slick getaway as the gang unleashes payback for months of conditioning drills.

Photo courtesy of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's terrific Empty Netters Blog

 

Sid the Kid

May 18, 2005–Rimouski, Quebec, Canada

Fans from all over Rimouski, the small French-Canadian town in eastern Quebec, are lined up in the parking lot outside the Colisée de Rimouski. The early birds pulled into the parking lot before dawn to queue up for the hottest ticket in town. The only ticket in town, really—a chance to see their beloved Major Junior hockey team, the Oceanic, play in the 2005 Memorial Cup playoffs.

Now, there are hundreds humming with excitement waiting for the ticket booth to open. Many are wearing jerseys of their team’s new star, 17-year-old Sidney Crosby. Some call him by his nickname, “Darryl.”

The young kid from Cole Harbor, Nova Scotia, earned the handle—a reference to former Toronto Maple Leafs Hall of Famer Darryl Sittler, who once scored 10 points in a single game—after the kid himself scored eight in his first game with the Oceanic. “Darryl dirigera l’équipe à un championnat,” the fans hope aloud in the parking lot.

Suddenly, a commotion. A skinny, mop-haired kid emerges at the back of the line carrying a buffet of the holiest of Canadian delicacies: Tim Horton’s doughnuts. The tower of boxes leans like the Tower of Pisa, and his buddies are in tow with jugs of juice and coffee for the loyal fans.

The fans thank the kid for the free breakfast, but he just shrugs them off and extends his hand. “No, thank you for coming out to support our team,” he says.

Under the baseball cap and curly hair, the delivery boy is actually Sidney Patrick Crosby, idol of Rimouski.

“The rink almost became a second home for us,” Crosby remembers now. “As a kid, our team had some 5 a.m. practice times, so I was lucky to have parents who made a lot of sacrifices for me. My bond with my dad was especially strong. He obviously taught me a lot about the game but more so [about] life in general.”

Like how to act as if you’re still the kid down the street, even when your name is on the back of nearly every fan’s jersey—a rare trait Crosby exhibits to this day.
 

Sid the Franchise

2005–present

There’s one fact about Crosby that always makes Penguins fans cringe and fans north of the border grin: He grew up rooting for the rival Montreal Canadiens, the team that drafted his father, Troy.

Posters of Guy Lafleur and Maurice “Rocket” Richard adorned the walls of his childhood bedroom. Even now, he can speak conversational French (Sacrebleu!).

So, will we be faced with the excruciating possibility of Sid pulling a LeBron James and announcing his future on a “La Décision Deux” ESPN special when his contract expires in 2013?

Au contraire. Crosby’s love for the Canadiens has run out.

“Things change,” Crosby says with a laugh. “The instant I started playing in Pittsburgh, any of those feelings went away. I haven’t grown to like Montreal very much after what happened at the end of last season.”

Does that mean Sid the Kid will retire in the black and gold like his mentor, Super Mario?

“That’s definitely the plan,” Crosby says. “I love it in Pittsburgh. I love all the guys, and the organization is first-class. There [are] a lot of great things happening here.”

We live in an age when even seemingly immaculate NFL gunslingers succumb to camera-phone mudslinging, when an NBA megastar hosts the public execution of the franchise he once saved and when even our own hometown heroes let us down. A quiet kid who lives by a code? A leader by example? A nice guy? Unfortunately, that doesn’t always sell in the Age of Twitiocy.

If only fans saw more of the real Crosby, the one that exists outside the glow of the TV cameras, they would see a man who is more than an ambassador for the NHL, Reebok or Canada. They would see a genuine role model with uncommon character.

Just don’t trust him with your car keys. PM


Sean Conboy is Pittsburgh Magazine's associate editor for sports and features. Follow him on Twitter @SeanCon66 and his blog, Pulling No Punches

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