Tuesday is an off-day for the Pittsburgh Penguins following their early-morning flight into Calgary. Well, it is an off-day for most players, but Sidney Crosby
will have to punch the time card to meet the demands of the Canadian media as he makes only the second stop of his NHL career in Western Canada, and his first since December 5-8, 2007.
|Sidney Crosby addressed the Canadian media at the hotel on Tuesday. |
Hockey in Canada is like football in the United States. Crosby is the equivalent to the New England Patriots Tom Brady or the Indianapolis Colts Peyton Manning – i.e. the face of the sport. Fans and media north of the border live and breathe with each word the Penguins superstar says.
Problem is, while Canadian cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa receive visits twice annually from Crosby, Western Conference destinations such as Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver get to see Crosby only once every other year. When you combine Crosby’s popularity with the media demands of the 21st century, it makes for an unprecedented experience for the young phenom.
“I remember being there with (Penguins owner) Mario (Lemieux) the first year he went in ’84-85,” Penguins vice president of communications Tom McMillan said. “I remember being amazed when Mario came there because I had never seen the media come to a hotel. There were two writers and one camera there to see Mario. I thought ‘Wow this is a big deal.’
“When we went there with Sid we had to reserve a room ahead of time because there was so many media. We walked into the room an there were 70 media members and 21 cameras.”
It was quite the scene two years ago when the five-day “Crosby Tour” made its first stop in the Pacific Time zone. Although by that point Crosby was two months into his third National Hockey League season and was the reigning Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner, he had yet to visit Western Canada.
Following the lockout the league used an imbalanced schedule which saw teams play their four divisional opponents eight times per year and the other 10 teams in their conference four times apiece – with the final 10 games of the schedule versus teams from the opposite conference. This meant intra-conference cities only saw teams once every three years.
All that added up to quite the experience for the then-20-year-old Crosby, although, in his typical classy manner, he handled everything with his usual grace and eloquence.
“Mostly it was what I expected – probably a little bit more,” he said. “I expected it to be a little busy. I had played in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal before that but it still wasn’t what I expected. It was a little bit more.”
A trip to Western Canada is a beast in its own right – the miles logged just to get there, the time zone changes and, most importantly, the fact that three tough teams await their visitors. When you throw in the playoff atmosphere which greeted Crosby you are yet again left marveling at how well such a young man handles the bright spotlight.
During his five-day stop Crosby did an astounding eight press conferences, including one at the team hotel upon the team’s arrival. The Penguins had to put him in a press conference setting not only after games, but also after the team’s morning skates.
|Quite a crowd greeted Sidney Crosby when he met with reporters in Calgary on Tuesday. |
Press conferences for anybody other than head coaches typically occur only in the Stanley Cup playoffs. An exception had to be made for Crosby, however, because if the Penguins would have allowed him to do his usual media scrum at his locker, there would not have been room for the rest of the team.
Crosby said all of the extra attention devoted to his every move might have been a little burdensome, but he knows it is part of the job.
“It was something that I expected,” Crosby said. “There are the extra things that you do. I would say by the end of the trip it’s a little bit more draining than a typical road trip would be, but that is to be expected. It is something that is part of it.
“I think if anything, it is just something you deal with. I think sometimes after that trip you always kind of feel it when you get back. That is a tiring trip and there is a lot of travel and good hockey teams.”
With adoring fans greeting him at the hotel and the rink every time he stepped out of his room, Crosby played under possibly the biggest microscope of his NHL career. In what comes as no surprise to his fans in Pittsburgh, Crosby thrived under the intense pressure.
The Penguins were down, 2-0, entering the third period against Edmonton in the first game of the trip. Crosby helped the Penguins erase that deficit by setting up a Kris Letang
tally 21 seconds after Maxime Talbot had gotten the Penguins on the board.
Later in the period Crosby assisted on goals by Colby Armstrong and Ryan Whitney as they Penguins used a four-goal explosion in the final frame to walk away with a 4-2 victory – led by Crosby’s three assists, which earned him the game’s No. 1 star.
Calgary and Vancouver might have been able to hold him without a point in the final two games, but the Penguins also came away victorious in those contests, as the 3-0 run through Western Canada paved the way for the Penguins journey to the Stanley Cup Final. Crosby hopes for more of the same from this trip.
“We know we are playing some tough teams when we go on that trip,” he said. “It is always a good test with the travel and the strengths of the teams and things like that. Certainly when you are on the road you are playing some good hockey teams and hopefully it forces you to get the best out of yourself.
“That was what we had happen to us the last time. We played some really good hockey and won some big games so we’ll hope to do the same thing on this trip.”
|Sidney Crosby picked up three third-period assists in the Penguins' 4-2 victory in Edmonton on Dec. 5, 2007. |
Photo Credit - Getty Images
While Crosby hopes this trip brings the best out of his team, fans in Western Canada should be excited to know the first two games of this five-game odyssey have brought out another level to his game.
Crosby netted a goal and an assist against Toronto in a 4-1 win on Saturday and then added two more tallies versus the Minnesota Wild on Monday to jump into a tie with San Jose’s Patrick Marleau for the NHL goal-scoring lead with 29. His 56 points rank third in the league, seven behind Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin.
With the Olympics now just one short month away and Crosby playing perhaps the best hockey of his still young career, he knows the media frenzy is going to be quite similar to his last visit. Maybe it’s the wisdom he has gained in five years, but Crosby believes dealing with the fanfare will be easier for him this time.
“I would say yes,” Crosby said. “I probably thought that the last time I went there too. Especially with the Olympics it will be pretty similar to what it was. It is just something that you just get used to.”