Sidney Crosby heard the verbal hounding from a vocal fan for more than two periods at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, and the Pittsburgh Penguins center responded with the classiest of gestures.
Following the Penguins' 7-2 win against the New York Rangers, when Crosby had a goal and an assist to extend his streak of multiple-point games to an NHL career-high five, he had a team trainer deliver a signed and personalized stick to Nick Lipeika, a 31-year-old firefighter from Norwalk, Connecticut. Lipeika sat by the glass near the penalty box in Section 11W, Row AA and heckled Crosby throughout the game.
"GOOD CHIRPS TAKE IT EASY ON ME NEXT TIME!" Crosby wrote on the stick.
"It was a unique, New York experience," Crosby said. "He got the section going and it was all in good taste. It doesn't happen too often like that and it gave me a good laugh. I thought I'd let him know I appreciated his efforts."
Lipeika, who was at the game with three of his friends, said he was blown away by Crosby's gesture and it gave him a new appreciation for the Penguins captain.
"Oh God, a hundred percent," Lipeika said. "His hope is that the Penguins fans do the same to whoever comes into their building, their arena. It's easy to hate the good players that aren't on your team, so I have never been a Crosby fan mainly because he plays really well and he plays really well against us. It's hard to like him, but talk about a class act, a real just ambassador to the sport. It was such a great experience and I'm just the lucky guy that was on the right end of the stick, no pun intended, I guess."
Lipeika said his heckling was all in good fun. He was happy that Crosby took it that way too.
"We like heckling with each other, so being a good Ranger fan you just want to heckle anyone on their team," Lipeika said.
It started when Crosby went to the penalty box for tripping 2:55 into the first period.
"He's there and it's like, what do you say to him now?" Lipeika said. "I just wanted to hit him with anything he's never heard before."
He said he told Crosby that Penguins center Evgeni Malkin would have more Stanley Cup championship rings if he had a better supporting cast.
"Everyone asked me, 'Did you write these down?' " Lipeika said. "I'm like, 'I don't have time to write these down,' but the only thing I knew is Malkin had the Calder Memorial Trophy and Crosby didn't, so as he was sitting there I was just like, 'Hey, how does it feel knowing Malkin has a Calder Trophy and you don't. Just asking for a friend. He wants to know where yours is.'
"You don't even know if they can hear you really. But when he got out, the guy in the box, the NHL official, was like, 'Oh yeah, loud and clear.'"
Lipeika said he kept on it even as the Penguins built their lead in the second period. It wasn't until after the final buzzer, when he and his friends were waiting for the crowd to dissipate, that Lipeika got the gift from Crosby.
"Players are off the ice and a [trainer] for the Penguins comes over," Lipeika said. "He had the Penguins track suit on and he comes across the ice and he's got a stick in his hand. I'm not thinking two things about it. He comes over and he starts putting it over the glass. I'm thinking there must be a real good Penguins fan behind me and that's who he is giving it to. Everyone reached over me. I didn't even go for it. I just kind of sat there. He pulls it back and knocks on the glass in front of me, points and says, 'No, this is for you.' I'm like, 'For me?'
Lipeika said his head was spinning because he couldn't believe it was happening to him. Then he read what Crosby wrote.
"I was like, wow, that's a power move," he said. "I mean, talk about a one up. Not only did he have a great game against us, but then he one ups you by giving you a stick and gets the last word in. That's why he's so good."
Lipeika said one of his friends asked if he could use the stick in a men's league game. He shot that down quickly.
"I'll tell you, Sidney Crosby definitely earned a big fan last night, that's for sure," Lipeika said.
More than one.
Michael Gross, a 32-year-old Rangers season ticket holder who sat next to Lipeika and watched him get the stick, tweeted the picture of the stick that made the story go viral. He said he too now has a different appreciation for Crosby because of the gesture.
"The coolest part was getting to like a guy I've grown to hate as a Rangers fan," Gross said. "He was having fun with us and shot back a few times. It was unreal to interact with one of the best players in the history of the game in such a cool and unique way. When the stick came over, it was a cool shock. But the guy earned it. He had our entire row in stitches."