As great a player as he is, Sidney Crosby
is equally renowned for his off-ice superstitions as he is for on-ice excellence. Crosby has a set routine he goes through to get ready to play, and doesn't do well when someone takes him off his plan.
Like delaying his arrival at the rink, touching his sticks after he tapes them, or even wearing a new hat.
Exceptions to Crosby's routine are indeed rare, but in mid-February, he made one. It's a small one to be sure, but anyone who's seen a post-practice or post-game interview with the Penguins' captain since then certainly has seen it.
It's a regular Penguins hat, same as anyone can buy in a sporting-goods store or online at shop.NHL.com. The difference, though, is this particular model has "BRYCE" stitched on one side, and "MAKE-A-WISH" on the other. The hat looked to be black at one point, but through constant wear, it's faded and now features blondish-brown sweat stains.
The hat was a present from 10-year-old Bryce Cunningham. Cunningham was supposed to bowl with Crosby at a team-sponsored charity bowling event, "Pens and Pins," to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Pennsylvania and Southern West Virginia.
Penguins players were paired with a child for a day of fun at the lanes, and every player on the roster participated -- except for Crosby, who had to skip the event due to a case of strep throat.
All the kids were disappointed at not being able to meet Crosby, but none more than young Bryce.
When he was 8, Bryce was found to have a Spitz nevus mole on his back, which had the same characteristics as a melanoma. The cancer had spread to the lymph nodes under his arms; the nodes were removed and he needed a year of treatment, but according to his father, Don, Bryce will celebrate two years of being cancer-free in June.
Bryce bowled that day with Marc-Andre Fleury
, which was fun, but he really was hoping to throw a few frames with his favorite player, Crosby.
"We've got posters and bobbleheads," Bryce told NHL.com of the Crosby decorations in his room. "We have a gold coin of Sidney Crosby
Bryce was doubly disappointed because he also had a present for Crosby. It's a fan's right to criticize a player for how he performs on the ice, but that's not what bothered Bryce.
Don Cunningham told NHL.com his son's interests were a bit more esoteric: "We happened to notice on some of the interviews that Sid was doing after the games, and my son said, 'Look at that hat, it's terrible; a guy with all his money, why wouldn't he get a new hat?' I said I don't know."
Don said the decision was made to get Crosby a new hat. When Crosby couldn't attend the event, Don said he approached Dan Potash, a reporter for FSN Pittsburgh, and asked if he would give the hat to Crosby the next night in Toronto.
"Usually I just have a hat a year kind of thing and stick with it," Crosby told NHL.com. "I had been wearing one a lot until two months before the season ended, then he gave me this one and said the other one was a little too dirty, so I switched it up. We started to win some games and it worked out pretty good."
Crosby said he's received a number of gifts from fans, but this one was different.
"I don't usually switch things up, but I really appreciated it," Crosby said. "I've gotten a few hats over the course of a few years, but for whatever reason I just thought it was the least I could do. I felt bad I wasn't able to go. I appreciate it. He made the effort to get a good hat, so I'm wearing it."
"Usually I just have a hat a year kind of thing and stick with it. I had been wearing one a lot until two months before the season ended, then he gave me this one and said the other one was a little too dirty, so I switched it up. We started to win some games and it worked out pretty good."
-- Sidney Crosby
The Cunningham family lives in Butler, Pa., about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh, and Don said the whole family roots for the Penguins. His two oldest boys play hockey, while Bryce is more into lacrosse. He said Bryce is as normal as any other 10-year-old boy -- he turns 11 on April 27 -- and nothing stops him from cheering for his beloved Penguins.
Don said Bryce sometimes is too active to watch a whole Pens game on TV, but always checks in on the post-game interviews to see Sid wearing his hat.
"When they do the interviews with Sid after the game he'll pop in and out, but he won't watch the whole game," Don said. "When they're interviewing Sid, I'll yell that Sid's on, and he'll come in. For me, it's the coolest thing. To Bryce, he'll come in and say 'Yup, he's wearing my hat.' I think someday he'll feel the gravity of it. Right now it's just a neat thing."
Knowing he wouldn't be able to attend the bowling event, Crosby had written a note to Bryce and another young girl he was supposed to bowl with. The little girl got to keep the note, but Bryce said that's OK.
"I feel pretty excited about the hat just because a lot of people don't get to see him live and in person," Bryce told NHL.com, "but we always see his hat."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.