Sidney Crosby was a national obsession in Canada long before he netted his gold-medal goal in the 2010 Olympics. In fact, “Sid the Kid” has been on the hockey radar since puberty, setting new standards for precociousness every step of the way. He was the youngest ever to reach the 100-point plateau, the youngest-ever NHL MVP, and the youngest-ever Stanley Cup winning captain. One part Gordie Howe, one part Wayne Gretzky and several parts Mario Lemieux, Sidney may have more pure desire than the three of them combined. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Sidney Crosby was born on August 7, 1987, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) He grew up in Cole Harbour, where his mom Trina worked in a grocery store. His dad Troy had been a goalie in junior hockey with a reputation for throwing down the gloves. When a pro career didn’t pan out, he becamea facilities manager at a Halifax law firm.

Sidney’s interest in hockey began when he was two. He played floor hockey with a sawed-off stick in his basement and showed enough proficiency against the family dryer to graduate to the ice at the tender age of three. Two years later, Sidney was competing in leagues at the local arena, Cole Harbor Palace. To raise cash for hockey equipment, Trina took odd jobs, including handing out flyers.

At age seven, Sidney was good enough to be interviewed by a local newspaper. Soon, he became a national sensation. Sidney attended a number of hockey camps over the years and skated away from each with rave reviews. NHL players working at the camps put out the word on the youngster. A few, including future Conn Smythe winner Brad Richards, stayed in touch with Sidney as he moved his way up Canada’s hockey ladder.

One of Sidney’s closest childhood friends and hockey cohorts was Jackson Johnson, a talented player who doubled as S’idneys unofficial bodyguard. They progressed together, making each other better and smarter and more confident. Having a talent like Sidney to work with all those years helped Johnson develop into a terrific two-way player.

By the time 14-year-old Sidney graduated to Triple-A Midget in 2001-02, he was emerging as a national obsession. He enjoyed another banner year, scoring 44 goals in 31 contests against players two and three years older than him. His name was on the tips of tongues of hockey fans in five different time zones, and the question was no longer would Sidney be a star in the NHL, but when, and for whom. This before he even took a draw in the juniors.

Though he was just over five and a half feet tall, Sidney was good enough to be an impact player in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, which represented the next step in his evolution as a player. However, QMJHL rules prohibit 15-year-olds from playing. The owner of the top pick in the league’s 2002 draft was Halifax. The Mooseheads petitioned the QMJHL to make an exception for Sidney—a request identical to the one made when Super Mario was coming up. Now, as then, league officials denied the petition.

Sidney enrolled at the Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Fairbault, Minnesota, one of America’s top hockey-oriented prep schools. Part of the deal was that he and Johnson would go as teammates—hardly a sacrifice for coach Tom Ward, considering that Johnson was a future NHL first-rounder, too.

With SSM, Sidney continued to hone his skills while living out of the spotlight for a year. Initially, it was fun for him when he was recognized at malls and restaurants around his home, but it got to be hassle. SSM gave him a measure of anonymity he would not enjoy again. Sidney played one year for the Sabres and grew to 5-9 and 160 pounds. Logging a 57-game national schedule against the top prep teams, he netted 72 goals.

Sidney was also the only player under age 18 invited to suit up for Team Canada during the 2003 World Junior Championships, making him one of just four 16-year-olds ever to play for his country. The others were Gretzky, Eric Lindros, Jason Spezza and Jay Bouwmeester. Sidney became the youngest player ever to score for Canada, when he lit the lamp during a 7-2 win over Switzerland.

Among Sidney’s many goals during 2002-03 was a show-stopper from behind the enemy net. He scooped the puck onto his stick, cradling it the curve, and then using centrifugal force to keep it there, whipped it around the goal lacrosse-style and past a stunned goalie.

Following the hockey season, Sidney and Johnson decided to go out for the SSM baseball team. Sidney became one of the school’s best pitchers. Other schools heckled the two hockey stars until Johnson let himself get hit by a pitch and charged the mound with Sidney at his side. That stopped the bench-jockeying for good.

ON THE RISE

After his year at SSM, Sidney was eligible for the QMJHL draft> He was snapped up with the first pick by the Rimouski Oceanic, making coach Doris Labonte the happiest man in Canada.


 

 

 


Sidney Crosby, 2005 Premium

     
 

In his first exhibition game with his Rimouski teammates, Sidney tallied eight points. His teammates nicknamed him Darryl, after Darryl Sittler, who once registered 10 points in an NHL game. Sidney still has Darryl scrawled on his gloves.

Skating most of the year with two checkers shadowing him, Sidney still excelled in virtually every game he played. Particularly impressive was his willingness to go into corners—and get out alive. Indeed, he had a knack for slipping away from the goons and then reappearing in the crease, where he could get to the puck before opponents had time to react. When defensemen tried to bully Sidney, he responded by giving them back double or triple what they gave him, willingly taking penalties to drive home the point that he could prove hazardous to their health if sufficiently angered.

Sidney finished the season with six major awards, including QMJHL Rookie of the Year and MVP. He led the league with 81 assists and 135 points in 59 games and finished second in goals to teammate Dany Roussin with 54.

Sidney now stood 5-10 and weighed in at a rock-solid 175 pounds. That summer, he met Mario Lemieux and had a chance to skate with him. Each was impressed with the other. The possibility that Sidney might end up in a Pittsburgh uniform was a possibility. The Pens had one of the worst records in the league, and with a season-killing labor dispute looming, they might find themselves with the top pick in the draft come the spring of 2005.

In 2004-05, Sidney was named Major Junior Player of the Year for the second time. He began preparing for the next phase of his hockey life, the NHL, which was still ironing out a deal with players after a year of inactivity.

Nine days before the 2005 NHL Draft, Sidney found out where he would be starting his career. The Penguins won the lottery, earning the first overall pick. Within a few weeks of announcing their selection of Sidney, Pittsburgh sold more tickets than they had in the previous season. Sidney signed a three-year deal worth around $10 million—the maximum rookie salary as per the new labor agreement—plus performance bonuses that were well within his reach.

Sidney’s first game came against the New Jersey Devils. He slid a nice pass to Mark Recchi for his first NHL assist but was robbed by Martin Brodeur in his attempt to net his first NHL goal. Welcome to the league, kid. Two nights later, he set up Ziggy Palffy with an exquisite pass for the game-tying goal late in the third period against the Carolina Hurricanes.

In Pittsburgh’s home opener the next night against the Boston Bruins, Sidney scored his first goal and added a pair of assists, putting the full range of his talents on display for the home fans. By the end of October, he had two goals and 12 assists in 11 games and was named NHL Rookie of the Month.

If hockey’s new golden boy thought he’d be spared by the league’s thugs, he got a rude awakening in an early game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Derian Hatcher’s blade found Sidney’s face and knocked his front teeth out. The refs missed the infraction but whistled Sidney when he retaliated. Later in the contest, the refs caught Hatcher giving Sidney a stick to the neck. Steaming the rest of the game, the teenager waited until overtime to score the game-winner with blood still dripping from his neck and mouth. That day he became an honorary blue-collar guy.

Playing primarily on the wing, Sidney found NHL goals hard to come by at first. (Taking a shot off his foot in a November game didn't help matters.) The Pens, meanwhile, got off to a sluggish start, and coach Ed Olczyk was replaced by Michel Therrien. The new head man made Sidney an alternate captain and moved him to center, teaming him with feisty winger Colby Armstrong. Before long, the goals started coming with more regularity.

With this happy turn of events, however, arrived a rather unhappy one. Sidney was passed over by Team Canada’s Olympic team selection committee. He had his heart set on helping his country defend its gold medal in 2006, and although he said all the right things, there was no masking his dismay. Sidney had been counting on Lemieux to pull some strings, but when the veteran center was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat, he withdrew his name from Canada’s list. Lemieux would later announce his retirement from the NHL and his intention to sell his share of the Penguins, too—making Sidney the team’s undisputed center of attention.


Darryl Sittler, 2002 OPC Archives
     
 

In the meantime, there were more lessons to be learned. In a January game against the Atlanta Thrashers, Sidney was mugged by fellow superstar Ilya Kovalchuk away from the officials’ eyes. Again, he was whistled when he fought back. Kovalchuk scored the game-winner while Sidney was in the box. The Atlanta All-Star gestured in his direction after lighting the lamp.

Over the next few months, the Penguins drifted out of playoff contention and played most of their games from behind, giving up far too many early goals. Sidney did all he could do get them back, going on a scoring binge in the season’s final months.

In an April game against the New York Islanders, he set up Pittsburgh goals twice in a 25-second span to surpass the 100-point mark—becoming the youngest player in NHL history to do so. He also tied Lemieux’s team mark for rookies. The game was stopped for five minutes as Penguin fans showered the ice with caps, t-shirts and other objects.

Sidney finished the season with 39 goals and 63 assists, good for 102 points—the sixth-best total in the league. Alas, Pittsburgh won just 22 of 82 games.

The Penguins were supposed to be a much better team, and soon they would be. Their underachieving 2005-06 season had many causes, including injuries and lack of production on the part of some key veterans. Fans took some satisfaction in the fact that their teenage star managed to score 100 points on the second-worst team in hockey.

The 2006-07 edition of the Penguins began to fulfill their destiny, as Sidney was joined by more young stars. Evgeni Malkin found the net in each of his first six NHL games, matching a record that dated back to the NHL’s Stone Age. Jordan Staal, at 18, became the youngest player in league history to score a hat trick.

Not to be outdone, Sidney grabbed the NHL scoring lead in December and never let it go. He seemed to get an assist almost every night, while his goal-scoring remained rock steady. With each stellar performance, Sidney’s teammates began to look to him as a leader. Their respect for his skills and his work ethic convinced the team to offer him the captaincy. Sidney turned it down. He did not want to consider the offer until after the season was done.

By then, Sidney had 36 goals and 84 assists for a league-leading total of 120 points. No one his age had ever reached triple digits in two consecutive seasons. In fact, Sidney was the youngest player to win the scoring title in the history of major American sports.

More important, the Penguins had found the winning formula.  They won 47 times and rose from the Eastern Conference cellar to finish in fifth place. Sidney netted a goal in his first playoff game, against the Ottawa Senators. The Sens, however, simply had too much for Pittsburgh, defeating them in five games. Sidney had five points in the series. Penguins fans took some solace in the fact that Ottawa went on to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.


Sidney Crosby, Reebok ad
     
 

When the NHL’s award were announced in June of 2007, Sidney accomplished a rare “triple”—besides the Art Ross Trophy as the league's top scorer, he won the Hart Trophy as MVP and the Lester Pearson Award, which honors the top hockey player as voted by his peers. He was also named as a First Team All-Star—the youngest player ever to make the final team.

As the 2007–08 campaign got under way, the Penguins ensured that Sidney would remain in the black and gold until 2013, inking him to a five-year contract extension worth $43.5 million. Sidney picked up where he left off the previous season, averaging three points every two games and earning a starting nod in the All-Star Game.

Unlike most NHL scoring stars, who are protected by their teammates, Sidney wasn't afraid to drop the gloves. In a game against the Bruins, he recorded a goal, an assist, and was penalized for punching out a Bruin. It was the first "Gordie Howe Hat Trick" of his career.

Sidney actually missed the mid-season festivities after he sprained his ankle in mid-January. The injury took longer to heal that expected, and he was sidelined the better part of 10 weeks. The Penguins, however, passed an important test in his absence. With their young captain gone, Pittsburgh’s second-line stars were asked to step up. Malkin blossomed into a fantastically productive player, making a run at both the Ross and Hart Trophies. The entire team flourished while Sidney was gone, and by the time he returned in late March, Pittsburgh had pretty much locked up the Atlantic Division title.

With Sidney and trade-deadline pickup Marian Hossa leading the charge, the Penguins went into the playoffs looking to take home the Stanley Cup. They swept the injury-riddled Senators in the first round and disposed of the New York Rangers and then the Flyers in five-game triumphs. That left the Detroit Red Wings as the final hurdle on the way to the Cup.

The Penguins seemed a little awestruck when the series began. They had not met the Red Wings during the regular season, and the team could not find its rhythm. Detroit blanked Pittsburgh in the first two contests in the Motor City, 4–0 and 3–0. Sidney got the Penguins on the board in Game 3 with two goals. Adam Hall netted the game-winner as Pittsburgh held on for a 3–2 victory.

The Penguins came close to tying the series in Game 4 but failed to convert a 5-on-3 advantage. With score knotted 1–1, Sidney had an open crack at the goal, but Henrik Zetterberg tied him up before he could get a shot away. Detroit scored in the third period to win 2–1. Pittsburgh ’s great run nearly ended two nights later when the Red Wings held a 3–2 lead with less than a minute left. But Maxime Talbot tied the game and Petr Sykora won it in triple-overtime. Heading back home for Game 6, the Penguins felt confident, but in a wild contest Detroit prevailed 3–2.

Sidney missed what he considered to be several easy shots during the series and drew some minor criticism. However, no one in Pittsburgh could quibble with the job he did as team captain. The TV networks had little to complain about Sidney’s performance as well. Both NBC and Versus saw their ratings for the Stanley Cup Finals soar with Sid the Kid in the spotlight.

MAKING HIS MARK

Sidney’s 2008–09 season was relatively injury-free. He scored 33 goals and added 70 assists to finish third in the NHL scoring race behind Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin. Overall, the Penguins struggled to find a consistent level of play. At mid-season, the club replaced coach Michel Therrien with Dan Bylsma. The Penguins pulled together, going 18–3–4 under their new coach. They finished with 45 wins, good for second in the division.

Round One of the playoffs found the Pens facing their cross-state rivals, the Flyers. Sidney got the team off to a good start with a first-period goal in Game 1 on the way to a 4–1 victory. After splitting the next two contests, Sidney netted the game-winner in Game 4. In Game 6, the Penguins erased a 3–0 deficit to win 5–3. Sidney scored twice during the offensive explosion.


Sidney Crosby,
2008 The Sporting News Hockey Guide
     
 

Washington was up next, with the marquee match-up of Ovechkin and Crosby. Both players were on fire throughout the series, which went the full seven games. Each had a hat trick in Game 2, which the Caps won 4–3. The Penguins responded by winning three straight, including an overtime victory in Game 5. Sidney scored twice in the decisive Game 7 to move Pittsburgh into the conference finals.

There they met the surprising Hurricanes, but the outcome was no surprise. The Penguins destroyed them, outscoring Carolina 20–9 in four games. That set up a rematch with Red Wings for the Stanley Cup.

It was deja vu for Penguins fans, as Detroit took the first two games of the series at home in Joe Louis Arena. The Wings did a superb job of neutralizing Sidney, whose name did not appear on the scoring sheet until Game 3, when he assisted on Sergei Gonchar’s game-winning goal.

Sidney finally made an impact in Game 4, as the Penguins tied the series. With the score even at 2–2, he netted a goal on a 2-on-1 break with Malkin. A few minutes later, Sidney slid a beautiful pass to Tyler Kennedy who provided an insurance goal in Pittsburgh’s 4–2 win.

The Red Wings took Game 5, spurred by the return to the ice of Pavel Datsyuk, who had been sidelined by a foot injury. In Game 6, Sidney and his teammates launched a relentless assault on the Detroit net, but Chris Osgood kept turning them back. Marc-Andre Fleury was just as good for Pittsburgh. The Penguins scored once in the second period and once in the third to win 2–1 and force Game 7 on Detroit’s home ice. Pittsburgh triumphed again 2–1, hanging on for dear life in the wild final moments. Sidney had to watch the mayhem from the bench, as a second-period check from Johan Franzen caused a painful knee sprain.

Although Sidney was not a factor in the scoring, for the second year in a row he helped generate big numbers on television. Game 7 drew the most American viewers for a hockey game since the 1973 Stanley Cup Finals.

Sidney focused more on goal scoring in 2009–10 and the results were sensational. After 61 games, when the Olympics started, he was neck-and-neck with Ovechkin for the league lead with 42 goals. The Penguins were playing well, fighting New Jersey for the division lead.

Sidney arrived at the Winter Games in Vancouver as an alternate captain for a team of NHL all-stars, which included a dozen players who were 25 or younger. Some questioned the squad’s makeup, especially after a narrow shootout victory over the Swiss and a loss to the upstart Americans in the preliminary rounds. Canada made the Final 8, but had to beat Germany in a qualification playoff to do so.

Team Canada—seeded in the opposite half of the draw from the United States—opened the medal round with a 7-3 blowout of Russia 7–3. Next, the Canadians slipped by Slovakia to set up a rematch with the Americans in the gold medal game. Sidney didn’t contribute much in the scoring department, but with sharpshooters like Jarome Iginla and Dany Heatley on the ice, there was no lack of scoring punch for Canada.

The Olympic finale saw Canada open a two-goal lead in the second period, but the U.S. scored to cut the lead in half. Late in an exciting and well-played third period, Zach Parise slipped behind the defense and banged in a loose puck to tie the score and force overtime.


Sidney Crosby, 2009 poster
     
 

Sidney ultimately took matters into his own hands, challenging three U.S. defenders and sliding a shot toward Ryan Miller. The American goalie redirected the puck to the side, but Sidney beat everyone to the boards and nudged the puck toward Iginla. As Iginla was shoved to the ice, Sidney twirled toward the net and shouted, “Iggy! Iggy!” Iginla shoveled the puck back to him. Sidney smacked it between Miller and the left post for the winning score.

When the Olympics began, more than a few pundits observed that all Sidney Crosby needed to ascend to the pantheon of Canadian hockey gods was to deliver a gold medal to his home country. He did just that—literally. One is tempted to observe that the golden goal marks the crowning achievement of his career. But with Sid the Kid you have to be careful. If there is a way to top that shot, he'll probably find it.

SIDNEY THE PLAYER

Like most young scorers, Sidney has three gears—fast, faster and fastest. What distinguishes him from his peers, however, is that the details of his game are not diminished when he is at maximum warp. When the play is wide open, he is a sneaky, dangerous player. When the game is a physical, tight-checking affair, Sidney does not disappear. He is assertive and aggressive along the boards and in the open ice. Only a handful of NHL stars can play both styles as effectively.

Sidney reads the ice very intelligently and plays with great poise. He “uses” all the players on the ice, often letting the flow of play determine his next move. This makes him very unpredictable.

Sidney can leap on opportunities, but is also patient enough to allow them to develop. His legs give him a tremendous (he’s got a great first step) and keep him going (he’s got legs like tiny tree trunks). Ultimately, what makes Sidney a winner is the combination of his skill, instincts, experience and off-the-charts desire.

Although there is less fighting in the NHL than in years past, young guns like Sidney still need teammates watching their backs. Unfortunately, no one in Pittsburgh appears ready to fill this role. The result was that Sidney took some big hits as a rookie. Unlike teen sensations Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman, Paul Kariya and Mike Modano, there is no enforcer looming on the blue line to bring down the thunder when opponents target Sidney. How long he can continue fending for himself will be something Penguin fans watch very carefully.


Sidney Crosby, 2010 Daily News

 

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