June 21, 2024

Ahead of Sidney Crosby‘s rookie debut in 2005, he felt the weight of the NHL on his shoulders. The league was coming off a yearlong lockout. The team that drafted him No. 1, the Pittsburgh Penguins, was in such peril that it was exploring relocation. The hype surrounding the 18-year-old Crosby was insane; he was already a hockey icon before stepping on NHL ice.

Crosby returned home from his first NHL morning skate and did something he rarely does: He botched his pregame nap.

“I didn’t sleep at all,” Crosby said in an interview last month at the NHL media tour in Las Vegas. “It’s just like, you’re almost there, and you’re so excited, anxious, nervous. There’s all these different emotions you’re feeling. Nothing can prepare you for that. You have no idea what to expect. The [media] scrums, the buildup and all the stuff leading up to it, and you still haven’t played a game. So you almost felt like you shouldn’t be talking about it because you haven’t played yet. And knowing your family’s going to be there, and everything that led up to playing your first game, you have all these snapshots going through your mind.”

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Game 1 didn’t go as Crosby imagined. The Devils won 5-1. Crosby assisted on the lone Pittsburgh goal, the first of 102 points in his rookie season — which kick-started a career that somehow exceeded expectations. Now, at 36 — with three Stanley Cups and two Hart Trophies and on the cusp of breaking into the NHL’s top 10 scoring list — he’s able to reminisce.

“Trying to manage all that, you’re young, and you haven’t gone through stuff like that,” Crosby said. “Looking back at it, I look at it as a fun experience. It wasn’t something that was bad. It’s just very unique.”


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CROSBY’S 19th SEASON in the league will begin with the same level of fanfare — for his opponent. The Penguins open on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN+) against the Chicago Blackhawks, featuring No. 1 pick Connor Bedard, anointed as the next face of the league. Sid the Kid aged into a role where he now plays against the kids who grew up idolizing him.

Crosby feels comfortable enough in himself to take on the role of mentor. In Las Vegas, Crosby agreed to do the first portion of media interviews alongside Bedard — dispensing some insight, while also allowing the teenager to learn from example.

Crosby had two pieces of advice: Try to enjoy the experience. And learn when to say no.

“The new stuff is what comes off the ice, whether it’s media or just commitments that come with that. And I think he’ll figure it out, but it’s hard to say no early on. You’re trying to balance so much, and at some point, you might get tired, or it might be taking away from things,” Crosby said. “There’s going to be a lot of demands off the ice. There’s high enough expectations when it comes to on the ice.”

It’s already been eye-opening to Bedard, who — before he even got to training camp — told ESPN: “I mean, I’d be so sick of myself if I was a fan. I think there’s been so much stuff on me.”

But the rookie is taking notes from Crosby on how to handle the extra attention.

“He talks to everyone he passes by and takes his time with everyone,” Bedard said. “He’s the pinnacle of that, of carrying himself. Of course, on the ice everyone knows how great he is. But I think off the ice and how he handles things there is just as special.

“I mean, of course I want to ask him a lot of questions. But you don’t want to be too annoying. And [so I asked him] just kinda some simple stuff about the league. Nothing really that wild.”

Aspects of Bedard’s game impress Crosby, beginning with the teenager’s shot. Crosby also noted the Blackhawks rookie’s competitiveness. “You can see when the stakes are high,” Crosby said. “He’s always raised his game.”

Crosby kept his advice strictly off-ice. Because if there’s one thing you need to know about Crosby in this iteration: He’s never been hungrier to win.


THE PENGUINS MISSED the playoffs last season for the first time in 17 years, and it absolutely grated at Crosby. Those close to the Penguins captain said he never talked about the silver lining of having a long summer and more time for recovery. It was only about finding ways to improve.

“When it comes to a lot of different skills, that’s just constantly learning,” Crosby said. “Things that you do well one year maybe don’t come as easy the next year for whatever reason, whether it’s you or just the way things have kind of happened. So, identifying those things, not being too hard on yourself when things don’t go well, knowing that’s the process. It’s a long season. And that just comes with experience.”

As with the advice he gave Bedard, Crosby has figured out over the years what works for him. The NHL’s annual player media tour was in part created because of Crosby. He wanted to do less off-ice stuff during camp, so the league and Crosby’s camp brainstormed a one-stop event to be more economical with his time.

It was a collaboration between the league and Crosby’s camp, and the star Crosby has attended the event for 16 consecutive Septembers, whereas it’s not uncommon for other star players to pass in any given year.

For several years, Crosby also held an invitation-only end-of-offseason training camp for a handful of players in Vail. Crosby loved the ramp-up in Colorado, where he could test himself at altitude. Although Crosby now attends BioSteel Camp instead, because that’s where his longtime trainer Andy O’Brien is, he’s considering reviving the Vail camp in the future.

Since his rookie season, Crosby has been nothing but consistent. He’s been a point-per-game player in every season of his 18-year career. His faceoff percentage over his first two seasons (51.36%) is nearly identical to that of the past two seasons (52.73%). And last season Crosby took more faceoffs than any other player in the NHL.

In some ways he’s getting better with age. Crosby scored more game-winning goals over the past two seasons (18) than in any other two-year span in his career.

But Crosby has also been forced to adapt, as he has lost some of his quickness with age. Over the past several years, Crosby has relied more on his hockey IQ — finding the “quiet spaces” of where the puck is going to be. But he doesn’t cheat for his offense. Instead, Crosby has focused on becoming even more defensively responsible. The center got his first top-five Selke Trophy finish in his age-31 season.

Crosby has two seasons remaining on his contract. Those close to Crosby say that although he is curious about many things, he never talks beyond vague terms of what he’d like to do when he retires. He’s too dialed in on what’s right in front of him.

“I think when you stop having fun, it’s probably time,” Crosby said. “So, I’m still having fun, and there’s different challenges, different motivations. When that spark isn’t there, that fire isn’t burning, then it’s probably time to put ’em away.”

One thing Crosby is sure of: how he’d like to be remembered.

“Just that I competed hard, that I was a good teammate, dependable every night, someone that didn’t take it for granted,” Crosby said. “And I think you want to be known as a winner. Someone that, when stakes were high, you showed up and were at your best.”

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