It’s been over three years since Sidney Crosby’s “golden goal” for Team Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics, but it sure doesn’t feel like it’s been that long.
“It's gone by really fast,” he admitted. “And obviously with injuries and stuff like that, too, it wasn’t like there were three full hockey seasons to kind of look back on. It's definitely gone by quick.”
Now the Penguins captain can officially look ahead to the 2014 Winter Olympics, as it was announced Friday that NHL players will be going to Sochi, Russia to participate in the Games.
The NHL will break from the 2013-14 regular season schedule on Feb. 9 and return to play Feb. 26 to allow for participation in the Games. Pittsburgh’s last game before the Olympic break will be Feb. 7 vs. New York Rangers, and their first game back will be Feb. 27 vs. Montreal.
“It’s exciting,” Crosby said. “You start to kind of think about it, and obviously with it being announced that we're going and knowing there's going to be an Olympic training camp and you're going to begin that process with the schedule too, usually you find out pretty quickly that an Olympic year schedule is a little more condensed, a little more intense than a typical year. I think there's always a lot of anticipation for it.”
Taking a moment to reflect back on his experience in 2010, what was his favorite part of taking a break from being an NHL player to become an Olympic athlete?
“I would say just I think the people you meet, meeting different athletes,” he mused. “And I think the biggest thing is representing your country. I think anybody who gets a chance to do that, there's a lot of pride that comes with that. And being Canadian and playing hockey, that's a dream come true. So I think that’s the big part of it.”
Crosby led Team Canada to the gold medal in dramatic, spectacular, storybook fashion (there really aren’t enough adjectives to describe what happened) that year, scoring the game-winning goal in overtime against Team USA in the gold-medal game.
It may have played out like a fairytale, but to Crosby and everyone representing Canada, that was just the fulfillment of an expectation. In addition to dreaming of one day hoisting the Stanley Cup, little boys in Canada also hope to someday wear a red and white maple leaf across their chest and represent their country. They live and breathe hockey.
So going into Russia and repeating as gold medalists? It’s not just a hope or a dream, it’s the expectation for Canada. It’s what Crosby has wanted to do since he won the last one.
And while it was sweet to win on home soil in Vancouver, winning in Russia would be special in its own way, reflecting back on the history between the teams.
“I think when you play for Canada, that's the expectation,” he said. “I have never been to Russia, (but) obviously everyone knows the history with Canada-Russia in ’72 and ’87 and the list goes on and on. I think that right there, having the opportunity to play hockey in Russia is pretty special. But with the Olympics in general, I think that just being Canadian, you realize pretty quickly that people come together at that time of year especially. When it’s hockey, even more so. So I think yeah, you want to go there and find a way to win gold.”
He’ll have to go through familiar faces first.
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma is head coach of Team USA (arguably Canada’s biggest rival and who will surely be looking for redemption after the way 2010 ended in silver for them), which will likely return Brooks Orpik and perhaps feature Paul Martin on defense. Then, of course, fellow superstar Evgeni Malkin will be playing for his native Russia, another rival of Canada.
“I’m sure it’ll be brought up,” Crosby laughed of the Penguins teammates turning into rivals in Russia. “Either by us or someone else. If there’s any uncomfortable situation, it seems to be brought up pretty quickly and (we) make a joke about it.
“So I think that having gone through it with playing against ‘Geno’ previously and even playing against ‘Orps’ with Team USA, that’s just something we understand. It’s all part of it. It’s a little different when you’re walking in the athletes’ village and you’re looking at your teammate walking by and he’s on a different team. It’s a little weird, but that being said, we all know that’s part of it and try to have some fun with it through the year. But when we get there, we all know we’ve got to represent our team.”
MORE FROM CROSBY...
Is it nice to have this finalized and know for sure you get to go represent Canada again?
Yeah, definitely. I think like everyone, thought it was just a matter of time working out logistics. With it being a little further in Russia, I’m sure there was a little bit more work to do. Glad that we’re going and obviously excited to kind of start the process.
The rinks in Sochi are going to be larger than the ones in Vancouver. How do you foresee that impacting how the tournament plays out and how your game goes?
Well, it’s definitely a different game. I think that it’s a little bit more of a puck possession game. There’s a lot more time with the puck. So I think making decisions and things like that, the way you play your systems, there’s definitely going to be an adjustment there. I think speed will be even more important with that big ice. Obviously physical play is always important, but I think with the bigger ice it’s probably going to be a little bit tougher to establish that. So I think speed and skill is really going to be a big part of that game.
What experiences can you draw from 2010 to make you more prepared for what that condensed schedule is going to be like this season?
You know what, you just have to take advantage of your days off because it is condensed. And playing that condensed schedule then going right into basically a pretty intense playoff atmosphere, every game is like a Game 7. Then obviously coming back from that, too, you basically go from being at that level of intensity to regular-season games. Regular-season games are always easy to get up for, but there’s definitely a period of time when you come back and you’ve played those intense games, (so) you’ve got to find a way to keep going and maintain that same level through the rest of the season and hopefully the playoffs.
How did you find out you were going back to the Olympics and how are you health-wise?
It wasn’t anything too official. I just remember (someone from) our team just texted me and said it was official today, that they were announcing that we’re going. I think like most people, we just thought it was a matter of time. Glad it’s over and we can kind of start figuring out the camps and training camps and what things like that are going to look like. Health-wise, I feel really good. It’s actually a pretty short offseason this year with everything being pushed back because of the lockout, so trying to make the most of the summer and get ready for next season.
How do you see Team Canada shaping up for this tournament as far as changes from four years ago at this point?
I have no idea, to be honest with you. I think there’s definitely been some young guys who have had some great years. Got a guy like (John) Tavares this year who’s had a great year. A lot of other young guys, too. That being said, I think a lot has to do with the first half of this year. I mean, that’s going to dictate a lot. Everybody always talks about different combinations and the possibilities, and with Canada there’s so many guys who could play for that team. I think the first half of the season will obviously have a big bearing on that and we’ll see who kind of starts well and gets those opportunities.