VANCOUVER, British Columbia
Yes, things are nuts when Sidney Crosby and the Penguins go to Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa and were especially so during his first trip to those cities as a rookie in 2005-06.
Even so, those in Pittsburgh and across the United States might not fully grasp the scope of Crosby's hold on Canada.
Let his first jaunt through the three Western Canadian stops on the NHL circuit serve as an indication. Because of the NHL's unbalanced schedule, people in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver had to wait until Crosby's third season to get a live glimpse, after he had won a scoring title and MVP award and, apparently, the hearts of all in his native Canada.
"In Canada, it's different," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said.
In Canada, where they loyally sing along with their national anthem, obey crossing signals and refrain from littering, they take their sports stars seriously.
TSN, a Canadian sports cable network, likened Crosby's five days in Alberta and British Columbia last week to Beatlemania. Other media outlets said he was making the most famous westward trek since Lewis and Clark.
Crosby was reluctant to go out to eat or be seen in public, used side doors, was followed by cameras and reporters and was inundated by autograph seekers.
There was at least one crowded news conference with Crosby every day of the trip, often two.
Videographers scrambled to record his every move -- his first time entering each venue, his first time walking out of each locker room for practice, his first spins around each rink. At one point, a Penguins executive had to ask a group of cameramen circled around Crosby in the Calgary locker room to please stop filming when Crosby was ready to take off his hockey pants.
Through it all, Crosby was the calm at the center of the storm.
"I try to manage it the best I can and try not to let anything interfere with what I need to do," he said after one of the several times he was asked about the demands on his time and patience.
If he was jaded by the attention, he didn't show it.
If he was jumpy about constantly being encircled, he didn't show it.
If he was jolted by the news that his father, Troy, was in a cab that slid off an icy road after his flight to Edmonton Tuesday night was delayed until after midnight, he didn't show it.
Crosby sets things in motion on the ice, but he has learned to go with the flow off the ice.
"He's used to those things," Therrien said. "And it's demanding for him. But when it comes to game time, he prepares himself really well. He's such a great athlete. He's strong physically and mentally. He's able to handle those situations at such a young age. It's amazing."
Although the Penguins swept the three games, Crosby's best show came Wednesday in Edmonton, where his three third-period assists helped produce a 4-2 win. He had no points in a 3-2 shootout win Thursday in Calgary or a 2-1 shootout win Saturday against the Canucks.
His teammates seemed to take the attention on Crosby in stride while admiring his ability to deal with it.
Opposing players had various views.
"I think it's a little crazy," Flames defenseman Cory Sarich told the Calgary Herald. "You're seeing car bombings somewhere else and it's not even a blurb on the news these days because of Sidney Crosby."
Flames captain Jarome Iginla, considered an elite player, had a different take.
"It's nice to see the fans get extra excited," Iginla said. "It's well deserved. It's a lot of hype, there's no question about that. But at the same time, you look at what he's accomplished already -- the youngest ever of all the great players who played to score 200 points and win the scoring title last year. It's deserved hype, and I think it's good for hockey."
Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo, another upper-echelon player, wasn't surprised by the hype.
"He only comes here once every three years, so I think it's a bit normal that things are a bit more than what he's used to and it's going to be a bit more high-volume," Luongo said.
Penguins winger Petr Sykora, a Czech, said recently that former Penguins winger Jaromir Jagr, now the New York Rangers' captain, is the most popular person -- not just the most popular athlete -- in the Czech Republic.
Crosby just might have the same status in Canada.
In each of the three cities, there was an angle to cover.
In Edmonton, there were the constant comparisons with Wayne Gretzky.
In Calgary, there were the questions about Crosby's physical play against defenseman Dion Phaneuf, even when they were Team Canada junior squad teammates.
In Vancouver -- on the opposite coast from Crosby's hometown of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia -- everyone wanted to revisit 2005, when Crosby skipped a Top Prospects game and a draft evaluation camp here.
Crosby will get back to Western Canada a bit more often, usually every other season, when the NHL's revamped scheduling takes effect next season.
He was asked during one news conference about the prospect of getting back to Western Canada more often under the NHL's new, more balanced schedule starting next season.
"If it's like this, I don't know," Crosby said.
Don't worry, Canada. He was smiling when he said it.
Shelly Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1721.