When Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin walk into a room, you stand up a little taller. The striking aura of hockey greatness that surrounds them silently commands respect. Guiding the Pittsburgh Penguins, the standouts bring a fierce competitiveness and unmatched skill to the team. Their individual names are linked to unofficial, yet inarguable, titles like “best in the National Hockey League.” Together, they morph into the awesomely appropriate “Two-headed Monster.” It’s a rare occurrence to have two players of such supremacy on the same squad. It’s even rarer to have both of these teammates grace the same magazine cover. Luckily, we are able to be a part of history.
By Rachel Jones
Photographs by Michael Fornataro
Art Direction by Jason Solak
Once the new, retro jerseys are off the hangers and on the players, WHIRL Art Director Jason Solak helps Crosby line up perfectly with the camera. After he gets a thumbs up from WHIRL Photographer Michael Fornataro, Malkin is asked to stand just off Crosby’s right shoulder. Instead, he slides behind his teammate, leaning forward and nailing the prom pose. “Like this?” he asks, smiling at us. Crosby laughs, as he obviously does a lot when Malkin is near. And, we find comfort knowing that they play well together when they’re off the ice, too.
Their friendship formed quickly in 2006. Crosby recalls their first game together that season, just before the team left the locker room. “My first year here, I used to go out last,” he explains. “Geno used to go out last whenever he played in Russia. In our first game together, we were both used to going out last. We got to that spot where it was time to go out on the ice, and we were both looking at each other. It was funny and awkward because he didn’t speak a lot of English. I was trying to talk it out with him. He just looked at me and said, ‘Three years [in the Russian] Super League.’” Now, Crosby goes out second-to-last.
That’s what started it all. A mutual appreciation for one another, a shared quest to score the most goals, and a joint goal of reliving Malkin’s favorite memory with Crosby — winning The Stanley Cup together — has kept the prominent pair going. Their bond makes a dream team for the Penguins and an awful nightmare for any opponent. Internally, the wicked combination of both personalities is ideal for the team’s spirit.
With Malkin’s sense of humor and Crosby’s charisma joining forces, the centers have been quite the welcoming committee for the “new” Pittsburgh Penguins. With grace, guts, and genuine love for the game, they have sparked a revolution and brought new meaning to the phrase “follow the leader.” By elevating the team, they challenge its members to rise to the occasion. The team stands together as the united skates of Pittsburgh — all under the guidance of Crosby and Malkin, the two constants during an ever-changing year.
The summer before the 2014-2015 season started, seven players were added to the Pittsburgh Penguins roster and six people added their nameplates to the hockey operations offices. As the outside world got caught up in the chaotic changes, the players embraced the regrouping with an open mind. “I think a fresh start is what we needed,” Malkin says. “It didn’t take long for the team to get close together.”
With Crosby and Malkin stirring the gumbo of old and new faces into consistency, the team came together with ease. Seamlessly transitioning into the new year, ready to focus on the coveted cup. “I think it has been impressive to throw that many new faces together with a new coaching staff and so many new changes,” Crosby reflects. “It’s not that easy to gel this quickly. I think a lot of teams go through changes, and it doesn’t always work out that well, especially with so many new players.” Those other teams didn’t have Crosby and Malkin, though — balancing the chemistry and uniting the bench.
It’s impossible to discuss the dominant contributors to the Penguins without giving a nod to veterans like goalie Marc Andre Fleury, right wing Craig Adams, and left wing and alternate captain Chris Kunitz. The strong core of the team has set the foundation, while still allowing room for growth and improvement. “The way we approach games and our focus have changed,” Malkin says. “The mentality we have both on and off the ice has also changed for the better.” From a game standpoint, Crosby dubs the defense as the most improved section so far this season. With the coaches emphasizing getting the defense to join the play, the group responded by keeping the pucks alive offensively. The newfound aggressiveness, exuded by Kris Letang and Paul Martin, tremendously boosts the morale and opportunities for goals.
When the skates are unlaced, the bond between the players stays intact. The harmless pranks that the crew is known for are less frequent — even though Crosby “saw Flower get the shaving cream pie.” Still, the sense of brotherhood remains. There’s a reciprocated and undeniable admiration between the players, which Crosby wanted to established before the season started. “Guys care about each other here,” Crosby says. “When new guys come in, you try to make them fit in right away. You want them to feel like they have been here for a long time, even if it has only been a week.” With Malkin referring to his team as a family, we think the mission is accomplished.
Supportive and inspiring, Nos. 87 and 71 have been the glue of the unit, bettering the team’s dynamic and creating an unparalleled depth. “When you are looking for small things throughout a season, that is something we can look at as a real positive,” Crosby says. “Hopefully, we can build off of that.”
Pittsburgh Penguins, penguins.nhl.com.
Click here for an exclusive behind-the-scenes glance at our photo shoot with Crosby and Malkin.
new year, new crew
Joining the Pittsburgh Penguins this year:
- Left Wing Blake Comeau
- Right Wing Steve Downie
- Right Wing Patric Hornqvist
- Center Rob Klinkhammer
- Center Nick Spaling
- Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff
- Goalie Thomas Greiss
- Executive Vice President and General Manager Jim Rutherford
- Head Coach Mike Johnston
- Assistant General Manager Bill Guerin
- Assistant Coaches Rick Tocchet and Gary Agnew
- VP of Hockey Operations Jason Karmanos
- Jason Botterill and Tom Fitzgerald are enjoying their new roles as associate general manager and assistant general manager, respectively.