Text: Christine McMahon Tumpson • Photos: Mimi Murphy
See the exclusive video with Crosby here
Sidney Crosby is no longer “SID The Kid.” The 31-year-old has been the Pittsburgh Penguins’ team captain for 12 years. Crosby has long been the leading figure of the National hockey league, a quintessential player, grounded leader, and inspirational man with a passion for the sport.
At the team’s annual Open Skate, children from Allegheny County’s public schools scramble on the stairs and squirm in their seats for a chance to see the hockey legend at his best. With no pressures to compete, Sidney Crosby soars along the blazing white ice with flair and confidence. The kids feel it. That kind of energy raises up everyone so that soon after settling in to their assigned sections, the elementary and middle-school students become transfixed upon the gliding, sliding, and exuberance that radiates from the rink. The sheer joy of the Pittsburgh Penguin teammates to practice freely, to skate in huge figure eights that leave their marks on the frozen floor, is an eyeful of wonderment.
That rapt interest catches the attention of the thousands of Pittsburgh children, making their own nervous systems activate with enthusiasm that manifests as a huge wall of loud sound. Yelling, screaming, and laughing are the notes that bounce off of the walls of the PPG Paints Arena, making it all of the way to the ice.
“Oh, I think they were just excited about being off of school,” Crosby laughs off the sound machine. “But they are fortunate-I didn’t have an NHL hockey team in my hometown.” Well aware of the high costs associated with hockey, both as a player and a spectator, Crosby emphasizes this Pittsburgh privilege when interviewed on the ice earlier, when all of those screaming voices silence just long enough to hear him say, “This is an honor, and you are lucky to be able to watch this!” With that, the crowd of adolescent bodies erupts, sending bombs of sound onto the players below, making them all break into laughter.
A Leo born in early August in the magical year of 1987 (his “87”), Crosby gives great consideration to what it takes to be a leader, who is one, and why. “I think everyone leads in their own way, especially when you’re talking about a team. You need so many different types of leaders. You can’t have one person specifically. You need to have a group. I really believe that everybody on a team leads in their own way. Some guys are a little more energetic, they’re emotional. Emotional leaders are vocal. Other guys lead by example. Other guys are just really funny, they can keep a group loose, and that’s their way of leading.”
“I think there are a lot of different ways to lead, but I think for me, I was always the younger kid growing up. I was always looking up to the older guys as one of the younger ones, but I think as a player you evolve, as a captain, or an assistant captain, or as a teammate, and that’s something I’m still trying to do at 31. That’s the fun part, that’s the challenge of being a professional hockey player.”
His answer exemplifies his role as a true leader. That, and the fact that at the end of Open Skate, Crosby is the last person off the ice. The team captain retrieves hockey pucks for his young fans and stops to have photos taken, making lifelong hockey fans along the way.
Afterwards, in the quiet of Suite 66 next to the famous tunnel from which the players enter and exit, Crosby reflects on it. “Looking back on my childhood and playing the game, the friends I made, and the experiences I had, obviously my dream was to play in the NHL. But if I didn’t, I still feel like I would look back with some great memories as a lot of my friends still do.” He continues, “It’s a great opportunity to meet people, and learn a lot about others, and yourself, and play a great game at the same time.”
The game of hockey has changed in recent years as well. Crosby has taken more than his share of brutal hits that have taken him out of the game for weeks on end. The head blows are off-limits now, but the game still has rough plays, and players. Not one to call out any particular player, Crosby’s take on the issue asserts responsibility
He explains, “Ten years ago it was legal to deliver a hit to the head as long as it was your shoulder that was the first point of contact, then that was accepted as a clean hit. Knowing what we know now, and after so many things have happened, we learned that you don’t necessarily need that hit anymore in order for it to be a legal check. It’s got to be either through the body, or shoulder-to-shoulder. Basically just not targeting the head and so we have to adapt. And that’s just the reality of the sport, and the reality of the world we live in.”
He continues, “I think we need to adjust and adapt, and as players that’s what we do. It would be easy to me to say ‘Oh, that’s a clean hit’, because at one point, it was a clean hit. But the reality is that it’s not anymore. It’s probably for the better, and we all have to make sure that we go with that.”
A sentimentality for home is often a huge side effect for those whose professions take them on the road for long periods of time. The little things that are taken for granted for home-based citizens can be dearly missed, and made all the more sweeter when one is on one’s own turf. That rootedness is clear in Crosby. Not just in the fact that he has been here for 14 years, but that this is where he chooses to stay, and that he has a personal life here as well. But it is his desire to maintain normal citizenship that garners such deep respect from residents here.
Crosby is a fan of the city too. His keen observations on the community’s evolvement reveal his steady intellect and ability for retrospection. “It’s amazing how much it has changed since I first came here. I feel like every year it just gets better and better.” He smiles, “The people here are amazing, too. Everywhere you go, people are so friendly, and so supportive. I am really grateful and thankful that I ended up here. It is an amazing place.”
But in the end, it is all about hockey. Crosby is remarkably buff, noticeably stronger and more muscle-bound in his upper body. His strength is in his demeanor too. No longer shy, his confidence is quiet, kind; just a really nice regular guy. He is perfectly poised for any pivet in his professional life.
Not that any hockey fan wants it, but the question has to asked as to what his interests might be upon retiring from the sport. The answer in one word? “Hockey.”
Crosby elaborates. “It’s interesting because you don’t think about that five years ago. But you think about it a little more when your friends start to retire and they talk about what they’re doing, and it comes up a little more, and you think about it a little more.”
“I love the game, and part of me goes right to the fact of how can I still be involved in hockey, and not playing? It would be hard for anything to ever match, as far as profession, what I do and what I love right now. But I would love to be involved in the game in some capacity. Whether it’s coaching, or some facet, we’ll see. But I definitely can’t see myself venturing too far from hockey.”