MONTREAL - The banners. The Stanley Cups. The tradition. Any NHL player's first visit to Montreal is a special occasion, but for Sidney Crosby and his dad Troy, No. 87's Bell Centre debut meant much more than that.
Growing up in Cole Harbour, N.S., Sidney may have been a long way from the Montreal Forum or the Bell Centre, but you wouldn't think so once you stepped foot in the Crosby home.
"It definitely started with me," admitted the elder Crosby, who openly admits to having steered his son towards the NHL's most storied franchise. "But then Sidney took it to a whole other level. He wanted everything to be Canadiens, pyjamas, posters, you name it. Even his room is painted in the Canadiens' blue and covered with Habs wallpaper."
Although little Sidney was only two months shy of his sixth birthday when the Canadiens last won the Stanley Cup, a certain key member of that 1993 squad made quite the impression on him.
"Sidney's favorite player was Kirk Muller and he's had that poster up on the wall in his bedroom for as long as I can remember," said Crosby.
A former player in his own right, Troy tended goal for the Verdun Junior Canadiens before being drafted 240th overall by the Canadiens in the summer of 1984. As if hearing his name called in the 12th round didn't make his road to the NHL tough enough, he was understandably overshadowed by another goalie also drafted by the Canadiens that same day - Patrick Roy.
While Troy never went on to reach the NHL, let alone play for the Canadiens, his name and No. 29 from his on-ice days did end up on the back of a Habs jersey after all.
"Sidney's Canadiens jersey had Crosby on the back with my No. 29 on it," said Crosby. "He wore that thing everywhere."
Sidney made no secret about how much he always dreamed of one day playing for his beloved Canadiens and when the NHL lottery finally did roll around this past summer, his dream almost came true. With every team in the league having a mathematical chance of being drawn first, the Canadiens remained a relative longshot with only one ball out of 48, while some teams had as many as three, including the Penguins.
"On the day of the lottery, there were cameras and reporters all over our house," said Crosby. "There were so many TV trucks outside our driveway that they had to close our street!"
One-by-one, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman read out the names of the teams that would not be stitching the No. 87 on the back of their jersey. Once the teams in the running were pared down to the final 10, father and son could hardly contain themselves.
"I remember Sidney kept looking over at me whenever Gary opened another envelope and the Canadiens crest wasn't on it," recalled Crosby. "Once they were down to only five teams left I knew exactly what Sidney was thinking, but we wouldn't dare say anything because we didn't want to jinx it."
Much like Canadiens fans from coast-to-coast, Sidney's heart sunk once the 26th envelope drawn was opened to reveal the CH.
"We did our best to contain our disappointment, but to have it come down to the wire like that was unbelievable," said Crosby. "We really thought it was going to happen there for a minute."
While Sidney failed to end up in Montreal, you would hardly know it judging from his room back home.
"He hasn't changed a thing," laughed Crosby. "His room is still the same color and the Habs wallpaper is still up there!"
A self proclaimed Habs fanatic, Sidney had to wait until he was 10 years old before finally seeing his Canadiens in person.
"We were in town for a tournament and the Canadiens were playing the Sabres during the 1998 playoffs on one of our nights off," recalled Crosby. "Needless to say, it was a tough ticket to get, but I managed to find something and that was the first time Sidney saw the Canadiens play. Unfortunately Dominik Hasek stole the show that night, but I will never forget how excited Sidney was to finally see a game live."
The Crosby boys may have been stuck way up in the blues that night but Sidney still had to almost be pinched when he left the building.
"That was a special night even though the Canadiens didn't come out on top," said Crosby. "I was sitting in a little better seat tonight though and Sidney was about as close to the action as you can get this time around."
Despite all the accolades and praise showered on his son, Sidney didn't have to reach to the NHL to make his dad proud.
"Seeing him succeed the way he has so early in his career is wonderful, but it's the person that he's become that makes us the most proud as parents," admitted Crosby. "You won't ever meet anyone as humble or as grounded as Sidney. I think it all stems back to how he has never forgotten where he came from."
And if Sidney ever does forget, he just has to follow the trail of Bleu, Blanc, Rouge back to his old room in Cole Harbour.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com