DETROIT – There’s no shortage of leadership in the Penguins’ locker room.
From Sergei Gonchar and Gary Roberts to Darryl Sydor and Ryan Malone – players have stepped forward to lead this young Penguins squad. And, as a result, the aforementioned players have served as alternate captains this season.
But, when it really comes down to it, the Penguins follow the guy with the “C” on his jersey – Sidney Crosby, their captain.
Despite all his individual accomplishments – scoring title, MVP, various other distinctions – perhaps Crosby’s most-important achievement is his leadership ability at only 20 years old.
“Sid’s got a terrific start in the NHL. He is the youngest guy in NHL history to get 100 points; the youngest captain to bring his team to the playoffs; the youngest player to win the scoring title. There were some expectations when he got to the league at 18,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “Right now, he is doing a fabulous job about his achievements. Now, he’s our leader and there’s a reason why he’s our captain. He is a true leader and we like his leadership.”
However, Crosby knows it takes more than one person to lead the way to the Stanley Cup. He’s supported by a tremendous group of players.
“I am looking forward to the opportunity, but we’re going there together. I don’t feel like I am carrying the weight on my shoulders at all,” he said. “We got this far playing strong together. If we’re going to win, that’s what it’s going to take. I feel like we’re going there a confident group and one that’s ready to go and compete.”
Roberts, the oldest Penguins player at 42 and one of the most-respected, is happy to see Crosby develop into a solid leader.
“Well, it’s always an honor when you’re recognized as being a leader,” he said. “On this team, we have a lot of those leaders, along with a lot of young players who are learning to be good pros every day. They are pretty easy guys to push. Obviously, on this team, everybody follows Sid’s lead and when your best player is your hardest worker, it’s pretty easy for everybody else to fall in line.”
Roberts was happy to return to the Penguins this year for his 19th NHL season. He was delighted to see the young squad benefit from veterans like Petr Sykora, Jarkko Ruutu, Sydor and Gonchar, among others. The experience they bring enhances the family environment in the Penguins’ locker room.
“It is and when you have good people, I think that’s the key. You want your young players to be around good people who come to the rink and work hard every day and work on their game,” Roberts said. “I have been very impressed with our young guys. We have a lot of young players who are major, key contributors to our team winning, starting from our goaltender on out. It’s a fun group to be part of. We have a lot of work to do, obviously, but I definitely like our group.”
Going against the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final, some people believe Crosby is doing for the Penguins what Steve Yzerman did in Detroit. The Red Wings were usually among the league’s top teams during Yzerman’s 22-year career. He led Detroit to three Stanley Cup championships and retired as the longest-serving captain of any team in North American major league sports history as he wore the “C” for nearly 20 years with the Red Wings.
“There's no doubt Yzerman was one of the youngest captains in the NHL. Sidney, he is right now. And they learned through experience. Even though Sidney's only 20 years old, he's a true leader – really a true leader,” Therrien said. “And the way that he's going to handle himself on the ice, the way he's going to handle himself off the ice, that's why he's such a good leader for our group. Yzerman did the same thing. It took him a few years to win the Stanley Cup, there's no doubt. But any team, they rely on their captain. And I believe right now Sidney Crosby is doing a fantastic job first of all as a captain. He's doing a fantastic job leading our team. And if you have comparison between those two – yes, yes.
“But time will tell with their respective careers. We know the career of Steve Yzerman, but right now Sidney's having a pretty good start with his career. But there's no doubt Yzerman was a great leader for the Red Wings, and Crosby right now is a great leader for our club.”
Crosby believes he becomes more of a complete hockey player with each season.
“I'd like to think so. I still have a lot to learn,” he said. “But I think with each year you play you try to improve everything and you realize how important every detail of the game is and what a difference it makes when you're playing. It might not always show up on the scoresheet, but those are little things that help your team win and are important to show and lead by example with.
“So, I like to worry about detail things,” he continued. “This playoffs, personally, I've had some good games and had some OK ones. But I've been pretty happy overall.”
Crosby certainly leads by example on the ice. He is tied for the playoff scoring lead. However, his impact goes way beyond that. Just watch him play. His feet never stop moving. He’s giving everything he has on every shift. That has become a common theme among the Penguins.
“I think all the guys are what make our team so special. Me, personally, I think I've always tried to lead by example,” he said. “I think we have a lot of personalities, and the main thing is the guys' attitudes. If you have a bunch of guys like we have with the right attitude, we're going to push each other to be better. We're going to push ourselves to win, and we're going to be better for that. And I think you've seen throughout the year we've faced a lot of adversity and the attitude of our guys is a big reason why we've had success. So, personally, I try to lead by example, but it takes everyone.”