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No Brotherly Love for Crosby

by Bill Fleischman / Philadelphia Flyers
He’s “Sid the Kid,” one of the bright new stars in the National Hockey League. Fans in Pittsburgh love Sidney Crosby. The feelings are mutual around much of the NHL for the Penguins’ No. 87, but not in Philadelphia. In Philly, Crosby is No. “Hatey-seven.”

Evidence of dislike for Crosby includes a “Sidney Crosby Sucks Forum” on the Internet. And on a young woman tells why she “hates” Sidney Crosby.

Crosby’s debut against the Flyers, in November 2005, was filled with hostility. Many Flyers fans immediately disliked Crosby’s attitude. And then, there was last season’s Crosby-led Pittsburgh sweep of the Flyers. An 0-8 record vs. the Penguins frustrated Philly fans. This season, the revived Flyers have won four of five meetings with Pittsburgh, leading up to their nationally televised game on NBC on Sunday, March 16 at noon at Mellon Arena.

Here’s what a recent survey of some Flyers fans produced.

Standing outside the Wachovia Center prior to a game earlier this season, Rich Raynor, who lives in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia, said, “It’s such a rivalry and he’s such a cry baby. He complains a lot. (But) he’s an absolutely incredible player. I wish he played for the Flyers. He does what (Montreal’s) Guy Lafleur and Steve Shutt did (in the 1970s): he murders us.”
Sidney Crosby lays on the ice after getting hit by the Flyers' Derian Hatcher during his first game in Philadelphia on November 5, 2005. (Getty Images)

Raemie Miceli was standing in the Wachovia Center concourse between periods with Len Bachman. Both live in Downington, Pennsylvania. Raemie, who was wearing a Flyers sweater, is originally from Pittsburgh. She said her family thinks Crosby is “wonderful.” Then she added, “He does have an arrogant air about him.”

Referring to Crosby’s complaining to NHL game officials, a smiling Bachman said, “Crosby is the John McEnroe of hockey.”

Matt Steinmetz, a mid-20s Center City resident, said, “I think Philadelphia fans are naturally inclined to dislike rivals’ star players, but Crosby is probably the target of more ill feelings than most. He’s a phenom, for sure, but his tendency to flop and flail and to take bad penalties and mouth off to refs doesn’t play well in Philly. And he seems to play particularly well against the Flyers, which doesn’t help his approval ratings here either.”

Rob Kalesse, another young Flyers fan who works and lives in Delaware, recalls Crosby’s debut against the Flyers when he scored two goals and assisted on another in a 3-2 victory. Early in the game, Flyers defenseman Derian Hatcher whacked Crosby in the mouth with his stick, chipping two of Crosby’s teeth.

“Contempt for Crosby, for me, started in his first game against the Flyers,” Kalesse said. “A month or so later, he followed up with his first six-point performance against the Flyers. Since then, he’s been a real thorn in the side of the Flyers and their fans.

“There’s also the in-state rivalry. But I think what Flyers fans see in Crosby is a third consecutive generation of likely Hall of Famers (following Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr). Meanwhile, Flyers fans have watched Peter Forsberg slip away and seen Eric Lindros succumb to concussions. Crosby is a potential sign that the Penguins will win another Stanley Cup before the Flyers do, and that just doesn’t sit well with us.”
Crosby is greeted by a Flyers fan before hitting the ice for warmups during a game last season. (Getty Images)

We found at least one Flyers fan who isn’t critical of Crosby. John Chomiszewski, of Sewell, New Jersey, said, “He’s extremely talented. He’ll be one of the best, if not the best, ever to play in the NHL. Maybe he’ll be better than Gretzky.”

Regarding Crosby’s on-ice complaints, Chomiszewski said, “He probably has good reasons.”

In that regard, see Crosby’s debut against the Flyers on November 16, 2005 at the Wachovia Center. His relationship with the Flyers and their fans rates a separate chapter in “The Rookie,” the account of Crosby’s first NHL season.

No penalty was called on Hatcher’s woodworking of Crosby. After Flyers doctors applied four stitches to Crosby’s gashed lip, he returned to the game a few minutes later. According to “Rookie” author Shawna Richer, Hatcher hit Crosby in the throat with his stick. Crosby shoved Hatcher and said something to the referee. For his verbal outburst, Crosby was assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

As Richer described it, “Enraged and in disbelief, his mouth swollen and his teeth broken, Crosby skated to the penalty box and slammed his helmet against the boards as the crowd cheered wildly.” Flyers fans had an instant villain.

During the game, Crosby was wearing a microphone for the OLN (now Versus) network telecast. According to Richer, during the third period he ripped off the microphone, presumably because he didn’t want viewers to hear him swearing.

After assisting on a Ryan Malone goal, Crosby scored twice in the Penguins victory. Afterward, he said, “Hatcher got away with one, then the next shift I come out and get another one. I was surprised he got away with two. Obviously (the official) didn’t like what I said, so I got two minutes. My emotions got the best of me. It’s not something I’m going to make a habit of.”

Richer writes that the next day, the Philadelphia newspaper accounts of the game “were filled with snide and vitriolic words about Crosby.” He was labeled a diver, a player who fakes getting hit to draw penalties. Then-Flyers head coach Ken Hitchcock is quoted saying, “Other than the breakaway, I didn’t notice him.”

Back in Pittsburgh, then-Penguins coach Ed Olczyk was annoyed by Hitchcock’s comment. “I can’t accept when Hitch mentions about Sid, not noticing him except on a couple shifts. That shows a lack of respect, not only to Crosby but to me and our team.”

Do we sense a rivalry being born?
Crosby looks at his hand after getting whacked by Jason Smith during a game at the Wachovia Center on November 10, 2007. (Getty Images)

During the next Flyers-Penguins game in Pittsburgh, defenseman Mike Rathje slashed Crosby in the skates with his stick, knocking him off balance. As Rathje skated to the penalty box, Richer writes that Flyers center Peter Forsberg “started yapping at Crosby and made a diving gesture at him.” Stunned by Forsberg’s comments, Crosby swore at him. Forsberg was a player that Crosby admired – until then.

Richer notes that when Crosby was in elementary school in Nova Scotia, he was delighted when he received autographed hockey cards and photographs from the Flyers. Crosby had written to the Flyers as part of a school project.

“As a kid, it was amazing to get them and really nice of them,” Crosby told Richer. When the author suggested that “it was probably the last good experience he would ever have with the Flyers,” Crosby laughed and said, “I think you might be right about that.”

Those who observe Crosby on a regular basis with the Penguins say his complaints to officials have subsided. One veteran hockey writer said, “(Crosby) began to get over (excessive complaining) last season, although in light of the treatment he routinely receives from opponents, he is entitled to speak up more often than he does.”

He adds, “His off-ice maturity has impressed me since I first met him, which was the year before he was drafted (by the Penguins). He has done a remarkable job of embracing the responsibilities that go along with being the face of the league.”

There’s no doubt that as an opponent Crosby is annoying, primarily because he is so talented. He has a touch for the dramatic, as he proved when he scored the game-winning goal against the Sabres in the NHL Winter Classic on January 1 in Buffalo. Maybe Flyers fans should try backing off their harassment of Crosby: it only makes him play better.

Then again, maybe not.

Please note that the views expressed in this column are not necessarily the views expressed by the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club.

Bill Fleischman is a veteran Philadelphia Daily News sports writer. He was the Flyers' beat reporter for the Daily News in the 1970s, and continued to cover games in later years. A former president of the Professional Hockey Writers and the Philadelphia Sports Writers Associations, Fleischman is co-author of "Bernie, Bernie," the autobiography of Bernie Parent. Fleischman also is co-author of "The Unauthorized NASCAR Fan Guide." Since 1981, he has been an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware journalism program.

He is a graduate of Germantown High School and Gettysburg College.
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