Cook: Amazing Crosby, 19, handles ceaseless pressure
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The Pirates' clubhouse might seem like a strange place to go for a little good hockey talk, but, hey, there are Penguins fans in there, too.
"How old is Sid? 19?" Jason Bay was asking the other day. "I can't believe that. I think I was a sophomore in junior college when I was 19 and here he is, the best hockey player in the world. That's just amazing."
"He's only 19 ... I don't think I even had hair on my face yet," Bay said, shaking his head.
I'm guessing that makes it pretty much official.
Everybody is talking about Sid the Kid these days.
Bay is a Canadian, born and bred, and understands the hockey craze here better than most, but even he would be shocked at the scrutiny Sidney Crosby is getting as the Penguins prepare for Game 2 today of their Stanley Cup playoff series against the Ottawa Senators. Penguins winger Mark Recchi expected it to be intense, not just because Crosby is the face of the new NHL, but also because there is no Toronto or Montreal team in the playoffs to divert media attention. But he didn't expect this.
"I can't even begin to imagine what it's like to be in his shoes," Recchi said. "I played with Mario"-- that would be Mr. Lemieux -- "and he didn't have to go through anything like it. Not even Wayne" -- that would be Mr. Gretzky -- "had to deal with this. No one ever has and no one probably ever will again."
It starts for Crosby in the morning, after the Penguins' practice or game-day skate, when he's summoned to the media interview room, a place normally reserved for the two coaches. No other player is invited. Not goalie Marc-Andre Fleury or soon-to-be NHL Rookie of the Year Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins. Not captain Daniel Alfredsson or 50-goal-scorer Dany Heatley of the Senators. Only Crosby, who is interrogated first in English, then in French, for anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour.
This happens every day.
Suddenly, the five minutes a week Big Ben Roethlisberger gives the Pittsburgh media during the NFL season doesn't seem like such an imposition on him.
Crosby will be the only player hauled back to the interview room after the game this afternoon, just as he was after Game 1 Wednesday night. That wasn't much fun for him; his NHL playoff debut couldn't have gone more badly. He was banged around pretty good by Ottawa's top defensive pairing of Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov, didn't get his first shot off until midway through the game and picked up his only point when he scored a meaningless power-play goal in the final minute. Even worse, the Penguins were humiliated, 6-3. Try explaining that in two languages.
"We're not angry. There's no reason to be angry," Crosby said. "We just expect more of ourselves. We all realize we have a lot better in us."
That's the same message Crosby delivered to his teammates. That made-for-TV moment the other night when he, Recchi and veteran winger Gary Roberts were huddled on the Penguins' bench together late in the game? "He was lecturing us," Roberts said, only half-kidding. Added Recchi, "Sid is our leader. He knows he has to lead the way. He knows everyone in the room is watching to see how he reacts, how he practices, how he works. He accepts that responsibility. The kid is unbelievable."
Recchi and Roberts know the extraordinary pressure on Crosby. They know much of Canada -- not to mention all of Pittsburgh -- is expecting Sid the Kid to carry the Penguins past the Senators. It's not fair, they say -- "Even the best player in the world needs good people around him," Roberts said -- but since when did life become fair?
"It's not me vs. the Senators, it's our team vs. their team," Crosby said. "Maybe some people don't realize that, but that's the way it is. If we're going to do this, we're going to do it together as a group."
Good luck to Crosby with that.
Good luck to him trying to convince the masses looking at this series and seeing only No. 87 in the Penguins' uniform.
"My god, he's 19," Recchi said, sounding a lot like Bay now. "I think people forget that. I know they talk about it, but do they really realize what it means? They have to ask themselves: What were they doing when they were 19?"
Go ahead and ask yourself.
And try to remember if you had hair on your face.
First Published April 13, 2007 10:59 pm