SOCHI -- Sidney Crosby stepped on the ice for Canada's practice at the Bolshoy Ice Dome on Tuesday and made a beeline for Mike Babcock.
The coach immediately put his arm around his captain and the two began skating around the rink together, discussing the defensive systems work Babcock had just gone over with the team on video. Babcock pointed to areas on the ice where Crosby had to be in certain situations and Crosby asked more questions. By the time they separated as Babcock prepared to start practice, about 10 minutes had passed, or about 15 laps around the ice.
It was a sign the Pittsburgh Penguins star center is 100 percent dialed in on his second Olympic tournament, but it was also a subtle hint Crosby is ready to thrive in his new role as Captain Canada.
Most people think leadership means being vocal in the dressing room, motivating the team, rallying the players together and making sure everyone feels involved. But it can also come in the form of one of the world's best players not being afraid to ask questions if he doesn't understand something, showing others they should do the same while also making sure everyone is pulling in the right direction.
"Sid doesn't say a lot, but what he says makes sense," Canada assistant coach Ken Hitchcock said. "And I think he's got similar personalities in support. Jonathan [Toews] is the same way. He's a quiet guy, very sincere. What these guys do is they bring a seriousness to the way we go about our business. So they're the ones asking all the questions at practice. They're asking all the questions post-practice. They want all the details in place before we play. That's what brings a seriousness to our business and makes it really professional."
Babcock was able to lay the groundwork for his system at the Canadian orientation camp last August, but that was nearly six months ago and the work done in Calgary was demonstrated with the players running around in sneakers and using a ball instead of a puck.
It's only natural some things look different now that Canada is actually on the ice, and Babcock wants to make sure every player feels comfortable doing exactly what Crosby did Tuesday.
"We're a work in progress," Babcock said. "If there's something as a player that you don't know, we encourage you to talk. The idea is to get everyone comfortable and on the same page so we can play the game fast. When you're thinking, you don't go fast."
In addition to all Crosby has learned as a player on the ice, he's had some tremendous role models to follow on his way to becoming a leader. He entered the NHL during Mario Lemieux's final season with the Penguins, and he watched as Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Niedermayer led Canada to the gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Both had a stoic leadership style, showing the way largely through example but also speaking when necessary, and having those words carry tremendous weight because they learned how to pick their spots.
It is something Crosby would love to emulate here.
"The biggest thing I learned from a guy like Scotty is that he didn't really say that much, he just said the right thing at the right time," Crosby said. "The way he carried himself and his whole demeanor that he had, his quiet confidence, it was really something that was felt throughout the whole room.
"The other thing here is that we've got a lot of guys who have played together not just the last Olympics but going back a ways, I think there's some trust there. And for the new guys coming in, you try to make them feel as comfortable as possible. We're trying to do that. That's the strength of Canada, guys always come together pretty quick. That's instilled in us at an early age. I like that side of things for sure."
Crosby is just 26, but he's already had enough coming of age moments to last a lifetime. He won the Stanley Cup. He scored the goal that won Canada an Olympic gold medal. He's overcome injuries and matured while growing up in the public eye nearly his entire life.
But wearing the "C" next to the Canadian maple leaf on his jersey is a brand new challenge for Crosby to conquer.
Considering how he handled all the other tests he's faced in his life, chances are good Crosby will come out of this one just as well as he has the others.
"Has he been around as long as Scott Niedermayer was in the last Olympics? No," Babcock said. "But he's been around a lot of success and a lot of good things, and we think he's more than capable."
Author: Arpon Basu | Managing Editor LNH.com