Crosby recalls pivotal moment of inaugural Classic
PITTSBURGH -- He stood at center ice, which was really the center of the Buffalo Bills' football field. It might as well have been the center of the hockey world for that one moment in time.
More than 71,000 freezing, snow-covered, screaming fans had their eyes on him.
This was the moment. This was his moment.
Sidney Crosby at the inaugural NHL Winter Classic with a blizzard in the background, the puck on his stick, the game in his control.
Not even HBO could have scripted this.
Amp Energy NHL Winter Classic 2008 (Getty Images)
So what was he thinking, at that moment, on that memorable afternoon in Orchard Park, N.Y.?
"Believe it or not, just find a way to control the puck, because I couldn't see it when I was going down," Crosby said, barely struggling to go back in time to talk about the memory he created on Jan. 1, 2008. "There was snow pouring over top of it and I just didn't want to lose it. There wasn't any question that I was going to shoot, but I just wanted to make sure I kept control and waited until the last second until I made my decision."
His decision was to wait for Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller to make the first move. The goalie tried a poke check, but Crosby eluded it. He somehow saw the smallest of openings in Miller's pads and used his forehand to tuck the puck right through.
Penguins 2, Sabres 1. The NHL had its dream moment on its dream day. Crosby had his as well.
This was arguably the first defining national moment in No. 87's career. He was 20 years old.
"Maybe it was the start of something special," Crosby's teammate and dressing room neighbor, Maxime Talbot, told NHL.com. "He definitely scored a lot of game-winning goals before that, but this one was really special. It was in front of a big crowd, a big TV audience, so it was like, 'OK, he's meant for these special occasions.' "
Crosby, of course, doesn't see it like that, or at least doesn't publicly talk about it that way. He's too humble to notice that his type of greatness is in fact meant for moments such as the one at Ralph Wilson Stadium, or in overtime of the gold-medal game in the Winter Olympics.
As Talbot pointed out, standing at center ice in that moment at the Winter Classic with that atmosphere surrounding him probably didn't affect Crosby at all.
"You know what, I think he was just like, 'I want the two points,' " Talbot said. "Knowing him … obviously Sid always has things to prove if he wants to be the best player in the world, but I think in his own head there was no crowd and no special moment, he just wanted the win. He wanted the puck and he wanted to be the guy, but that's what winners do, and that's what he did."
Crosby isn't a robot, though. He used to dream about being in those types of moments when he was firing pucks at the family dryer in the basement of his parents' home in Cole Harbour, N.S.
"But I don't think you ever think that's automatic or you're going to get that chance because it doesn't always happen that way," he said. "If it does work out that way you want to make the most of the opportunities. I happened to shoot third."
Michel Therrien, then the Penguins coach, chose Erik Christensen and Kris Letang to go ahead of Crosby in the snowy shootout. Maybe he had a crystal ball. Maybe he was just playing the percentages of having his best shooter go in what could wind up being the victory round.
Christensen missed. Letang scored, but that only tied the shootout because Ales Kotalik had already converted for Buffalo in the first round.
He could have missed or Miller could have stopped him to send the shootout into a sudden death, but c'mon, did anyone really think Crosby wasn't going to step up and turn the moment into a made-for-TV special?
"My goal was to get inside the hash marks just controlling it," Crosby said. "I saw guys go before and you could see the snow, but when I started to go the front part of the red line to the blue line, I was like, 'Wow, this is tough, so just hold onto the puck and make your move at the last second.' "
He waited, made his move and he scored. Crosby curled around and headed toward his teammates piling over the boards.
The Winter Classic had its iconic frozen-in-time moment.
"He was part of a perfect scenario for hockey," Talbot said. "That's why he is a special player."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl