|Sidney Crosby has done an impecable job of handling all of the responsibilities and pressures that come along with being the face of the NHL.
And he’s done it all while being the center of many League marketing campaigns. Crosby’s face the face of the NHL.
If Reggie Jackson was the straw that stirred the drink, Crosby is the stick that moves the ice.
How has he held up? Well, scan the sports pages. Ever seen a bad word written about him? Flip on the television. Ever hear major criticism?
“He comes every day and is prepared to push his teammates,” veteran teammate Gary Roberts told the Calgary Sun. “It's pretty easy to follow when your best player is your hardest worker."
Crosby leads the NHL with 40 assists, and is fourth with 57 points. He’s not quite scoring at last season’s remarkable pace, when he became the first teenager to lead the NHL in scoring, with 120 points. But even if he stays right where he is, a 113-point campaign is nothing to sneeze at.
And the fans are flocking to see him. Crosby and the Penguins are the biggest road draw in the League; an astounding 20,748 fans see the Crosby Road Show per road game, more than 3,000 ahead of the second-place Toronto Maple Leafs.
Crosby also equals TV viewership. Penguins games on NBC last season drew ratings 36 percent higher than other broadcasts. And with Crosby prominently featured in the build-up and coverage of the Winter Classic, NBC garnered the highest-rated NHL broadcast in over a decade.
Off the ice, though, is where Crosby might be his most impressive. The demands on his time are endless. He has sponsorship deals with, among others, Reebok, Pepsi, Upper Deck and Frito-Lay. There are press conferences wherever he goes -- he did three in his first four days while on his first NHL swing through Western Canada in early December -- and there are constant requests for one more interview, one more photo shoot, one more commercial idea.
But if any of the attention is bothering him, he certainly doesn’t show it. Crosby is renowned for handling everything thrown his way with a level of class and character not often seen in the average 20-year-old.
“I think a lot of us look at him and we envy him,” said teammate Erik Christensen. “We’d all love to be Sidney Crosby, but some of the stuff he has to go through, we’d all get a little sick of it. That’s how any normal person would feel. But he just seems to handle it so well. He’s the ambassador to the game, so he takes it all in stride.”
“Whoever it is we have to thank for helping him understand the realities of life as a mega-star, we owe that person or people a profound debt of gratitude,” Frank Brown, NHL Vice President of Communications, recently told The Hockey News.
While the attention focused on Crosby dominates the NHL, it’s not like it’s new to him. Crosby has been squarely in the spotlight since he was a 15-year-old playing at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, the famed prep school in Faribault, Minn. The clamor grew louder as Crosby became a bona fide star for the Rimouski Oceanic in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Now the Crosby Hype Machine is covering the width and breadth of the NHL.
“He’s 20 now,” said Christensen. “He’s used to it. He wasn’t just doing this at this level, he was doing it at major junior. He was hounded like you guys (the media) always do.”
Case in point was the Penguins’ first trip to Western Canada since Crosby came into the League. Media attention at stops in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver was beyond anything previously seen; newspapers and television cameras followed Crosby like he was Britney Spears on holiday in Las Vegas.
"I wasn't sure if the president was in town or Sidney Crosby when we arrived at the hotel in Edmonton,” Roberts said. “But he does a great job handling it well.”
Another thing he’s handling is the captaincy of the Penguins. While veterans like Roberts, Darryl Sydor, Georges Laraque and Sergei Gonchar provide veteran voices, there’s little doubt that it’s Crosby’s team.
“He wants us to be prepared and he wants us to be focused,” teammate Ryan Whitney said. “On the ice, he’s always going 100 percent every game. He always shows up. He doesn’t take any practice lightly. He looks to improve every day. That’s something you can take from him and want to work on yourself.”
“His leadership is just watching him on the ice and seeing how hard he works,” Christensen said. “Every time he jumps over the boards it’s like he’s shot out of a cannon. He really goes out and never takes a shift off.
“He just has supreme confidence in himself. When the game is on the line and the team needs a goal, he wants to be the guy that’s out there and leading the charge.”
Leading that charge can get difficult, though, with the off-ice demands on Crosby’s time. The Penguins’ public relations staff tries to make sure the avalanche of requests don’t get in the way of his on-ice responsibilities, but as the face of the NHL, there is a lot riding on Crosby’s success.
To his credit, Crosby understands his role in helping grow the game. But at the same time, he says he is learning one very important word.
“There's a bit of a balancing act there,” he said. “I certainly feel a little bit of responsibility of helping in that area. But also, if it becomes mentally draining or too much, there's got to be a time where you manage it and maybe sometimes say no, too.
“I’ve got to make sure that I worry about playing and try to stay fresh mentally.”
The attention focused on him during the swing through Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver seemed to sap him slightly. After posting three assists against the Oilers, he was scoreless against the Flames and Canucks, and had just one goal and two assists over his next four games, and was a minus-3.
But he’s rebounded in spectacular form, riding a seven-game scoring streak through Jan. 3, during which he’s potted just one goal but set up 11. And he memorably scored the game-winning goal in the snowy shootout to beat the Sabres in the NHL Winter Classic.
As always, “Sid the Kid” was the center of attention New Year’s Day in Buffalo. He was interviewed before the show, during the show, and of course, afterward.
“He’s got 100 interviews every day and he does a great job staying one of the guys and staying focused and being a good captain,” Whitney said. “And he’s done a great job this year.”
Added Christensen, “Everything Sid does is pretty much amazing.”
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.