Sidney Crosby: The Kid who walks softly but carries a big stick
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Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Sidney Crosby is as much at home in jeans as he is on hockey's grandest stages.
Mature for his age -- maybe for someone twice his age -- and in his second season in the NHL, Sidney Crosby has every reason to be living in a plush condo, enjoying life on his own.
That's not how Crosby is built.
The 19-year-old Penguins All-Star center is happily spending another winter living with the family of retired Hall of Fame player and team owner Mario Lemieux.
"I know I heard him talking, something about locking into a long-term contract over at Mario's," Penguins winger Colby Armstrong deadpanned last week.
Crosby doesn't mind the jokes.
Other than an occasional official or opponent on the ice, nothing much ruffles Crosby.
His only bad experience since moving into a wing of the Lemieux home in Sewickley Heights came fairly recently.
"It was at the mall during Christmas," Crosby said. "I don't think I've sweat that much going shopping. It was shoulder to shoulder. I did all my shopping in an hour and a half, speed-walking through that crowd. It was a stressful bunch in the mall that day. Everybody was last-minute like me.
"That's the only experience I had where I said, 'I've got to get out of here.' I was looking for a couple of teammates to set a couple good picks for me."
Oh, there have been a few other minor frustrations, mostly in trying to navigate Pittsburgh area streets.
"You ask any person on the team, I'm the worst directional person there is," Crosby said. "I don't know how to get anywhere. They give us directions for places, and I still can't figure out how to get anywhere."
It must be all those yellow lines and white dashes because Crosby has little difficulty getting where he wants among the red and blues lines on a hockey rink.
He had a six-point night Dec. 13 against Philadelphia to become the second teen-ager in NHL history to lead the league in points. The first was the legendary Wayne Gretzky. Crosby hasn't let go of that scoring lead. He entered the weekend with 23 goals and 46 assists for 69 points in 42 games.
Anyone who thinks Pittsburgh might have fallen off the hockey map since the Penguins stopped making the playoffs and Lemieux retired should know that Crosby led all players in online All-Star balloting with 825,783 votes and will start for the Eastern Conference Wednesday in Dallas.
He's the youngest player voted to a starting spot since fan balloting began in 1986. He most likely would have set the bar higher -- or would that be lower? -- last season if there had been an All-Star game instead of an Olympic break.
"Youngest" and "teen-ager" are words that cling to Crosby like the puck sticks to his blade.
He defies the terms.
As he prepares to start in his first NHL All-Star Game, the Penguins Sidney Crosby spoke with the media in a conference call on Friday:
Is he excited for his first All-Star Game?
Is he comfortable being the young face of the NHL?
Can he break Mario Lemieux's All-Star goal records?
Playing on an All-Star line with Alex Ovechkin
What are his All-Star Game memories?
On playing with teammate Evgeni Malkin
Are comparisons to Wayne Gretzky valid?
Crosby is one of the Penguins' three alternate captains. They haven't had a captain since Lemieux retired midway through last season, and it would be a whopping upset if Crosby doesn't ascend to that role.
"He's very mature," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said. "In teams of leadership, he really drives our team with his emotion and, obviously, with his play."
At heart, Crosby is just one of the guys, laughing and playing around with teammates in the locker room.
"You would never know in talking to him that he's leading the league in scoring," Armstrong said. "It's pretty cool."
That might be one of the best compliments Crosby could receive.
If Crosby has attained some of his hockey objectives, he also is doing pretty well in meeting some personal goals.
"Sometimes it's not always easy, but I think it's important to live life the same way," said Crosby, a native of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, who was identified as the next great player by the time he was 14 or 15.
"Some things are altered a little bit, but I don't think you can let what you do or how much money you make affect the way you handle things. That's always been the way I've approached things."
He has a base salary of $850,000, as prescribed by the NHL's collective bargaining agreement for three-year entry contracts, but his take should rise to significantly more than that with performance bonuses.
Crosby swears his wealth hasn't changed him.
"I don't think so, besides the fact that I'm able to buy things that you weren't able to buy before," he said. "I don't think I spend my money unnecessarily or anything like that. I still get gift certificates from my grandmothers every Christmas."
That would be for places such as Subway or Tim Horton's, the ubiquitous Canadian doughnut chain.
He'll take a similar low-key approach to his All-Star experience, although with the relaxed physical nature of those games, there's no telling what kind of offense Crosby might produce.
"Obviously, the All-Star game is a big deal, and it will be watched by a lot of people, but I don't see it changing a whole lot [for me]," he said. "I'm just looking forward to meeting and playing with some guys I grew up watching. It's just a great thing that celebrates hockey. You want to enjoy it, and you want to play well."
Crosby is a hockey fan, a hockey student, even a hockey nut. Last month, he knew the anniversary date of Wayne Gretzky setting the astounding record of getting his 50th goal in 39 games to start the season.
But Crosby makes sure his life isn't too one dimensional, even if he avoids the fast lane away from the ice.
Cars? "I like fast cars, but not too fast," he said. "I don't want to get myself in trouble."
Nights off? "There's not one thing in particular. I like to go to movies. Sometimes the guys go out to dinner. It's nice to stay in once in a while and relax. Nothing too crazy."
Discussions with Lemieux? "We don't really talk hockey that much at all."
Crosby doesn't shy from attention but handles it with poise. Nearly every day, he accommodates interview requests. Nearly every time he's in public around Western Pennsylvania, he gets recognized.
"Usually, they come up and say 'Hi' or ask for an autograph, but some people are too shy, so they just kind of point," he said.
"It's great. The people are really friendly. I think if you ask Mario, it's the same thing, and other guys, they say the same thing. They support you, they say hello, but they also respect your free time. I love it here. I enjoy going out. There's no bad experience or anything like that. You have a comfort level."
It's the same at the Lemieux household, where Crosby plays with Lemieux's children and sometimes eats dinner with the family.
"It's awesome there," he said. "I've become pretty close with the family. It's a perfect environment. It's nice to get away and be in that family atmosphere. When there's four kids running around, it's pretty easy to get your mind away from the rink.
"They've got a great setup. I don't have my own entrance, but I have my own wing, so there's privacy. The kids are great. I hang out with them when the time is there, and then when I need some time to get away, they're not knocking on my door or anything like that. They're good kids."
Maybe Armstrong was closer to the truth than he thought. Maybe the Lemieux family should start thinking about adoption procedures.
First Published January 21, 2007 12:00 am