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Sidney Crosby: An Intimate Portrait (Native Son)

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

Sidney Crosby: An Intimate Portrait is a 5-part series that takes a look at the Pens' captain through the eyes of his closest friends, family, coaches and community in his hometown of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. 

COLE HARBOUR, Nova Scotia - Sidney Crosby is an international superstar.

Crosby has achieved so many personal accomplishments that it's difficult to keep track. There are those three Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals, 12 individual NHL awards, World Cup of Hockey gold, IIHF World Championship gold and the list goes on and on and on.

Crosby has reached legendary status in the hockey world, and all before the age of 30. He's been the face of the National Hockey League for the past decade, his visage appearing on posters, magazine covers, website, newspapers and television sets.

But regardless of his fame and stature, at heart he's still just a kid from the middle-class town of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.

"It's certainly clear that he is the best. It's nice to see somebody remember where he came from," said Cole Harbour native Jerry Thibeault. "It didn't all go to his head. He still calls this home."

Cole Harbour wasn't just home for Crosby during his youth. It's still home. The 29-year-old could have lived anywhere in the world during the off-season, but opted to build his permanent residence in his hometown.

Every summer Crosby returns to Nova Scotia to live, train, relax and enjoy his time away from the game.

"I really enjoy coming back here. My friends and family are all back here," Crosby said. "It's nice to stay put for a little bit and enjoy the summer here. It just feels right."

That sentiment is shared by many of those who grew up on Canada's eastern coastline.

"He's like the rest of us. We're Maritimers. You can't take that away from us," said Amherst, Nova Scotia native Robert Bird. "I have friends that are away for 10 years, but when they come back they say, 'we're going home.' It's always back to Nova Scotia.

"Sid has that in him, the small town, small Province, humble upbringing. It means a lot to us here that he still remembers his roots."

Crosby's roots were planted in a small family home in Cole Harbour where he lived with his parents, Troy and Trina, and little sister, Taylor. His parents still live in the same home.

The Crosbys are a stereotypical Cole Harbour family: modest, hard working, honest, down-to-earth.

Cole Harbour, a suburb of Halifax, is typical of any small town across North America. Drive through the neighborhood and you'll pass simple homes with pristine, green lawns. The Ma-and-Pa businesses still stand next to the Walmarts and Sobeys. Gas stations and Tim Hortons coffee shops litter most corners.

But Cole Harbour does have its distinguishable traits as well. Bodies of water emerge to encompass swaths of land. Boats and ships line up along the harbor's docks, rising and falling in submission to the undulating demands of the tide. The smell of the Atlantic Ocean blows along the boardwalk on a chilly afternoon's day.

Cole Harbour Road serves as the main thoroughfare of the port town, the economic and communal hotbed. Steering along the roadway you are greeted with a "Welcome" sign to Cole Harbour: "Home of Sidney Crosby."

 

Crosby emerged from a town of 25,000 residents to be the greatest player of his generation.

"To think that somebody from a small town could be the best player in the world, it's hard to believe," said Keith McNamara of Halifax.

McNamara is sitting beside his 5-year-old son Jack, at The Big Leagues Sports Bar and Eatery, a local watering hole for sports fans in Cole Harbour. The bar is jam packed anytime Crosby is playing, especially when he is representing Team Canada on the international stage.

Behind Keith and Jack hang multiple autographed Crosby jerseys: two Penguins, two Team Canada and even one Rimouski, where Crosby played during his junior career in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. An action shot of Crosby can be seen in the entryway, and even inside the menu. Above the bar hang plaques dedicated to the native son's triumphs.

"We all rally behind Sidney and what he does for the community," McNamara, 42, said. "Not only is he an amazing hockey player, but how he carries himself off the ice. … He is a strong family guy. He's got a great network of friends and family. Sometimes the foundation starts when you're born."

If the foundation starts at birth, then the strongest pillars are erected during a child's earliest years. Just as children today are molded by Crosby's influence, he had his own idols while growing up in the Maritime.

"I remember looking up to different players, Al MacInnis, Glen Murray, Cam Russell," Crosby said. "You look up to them. You think if this guy made it from here then I can do the same thing.

"You need to have role models, you need to have people you can look up to, whether it's an NHL player or a teacher."

Now that torch has been past to Crosby, and he's embraced his role. He established the Sidney Crosby Foundation, which donated $50,000 to KidSport Nova Scotia on July 11, to help kids participate in a variety of sports. The foundation also partners with a various charities throughout the province.

Crosby also initiated the Sidney Crosby Hockey School, a weeklong camp in Cole Harbour for 160 kids aged 9-12 from across the world. Kids attended from as far as Hong Kong and Israel.

One of those in attendance is 10-year-old MacKenzie Paris, the grandson of Robert, 62, and Raelene Bird.

"(Paris) is a huge Sidney Crosby fan," Raelene said. "He had a wonderful week. It's so exciting for him. An experience he'll never forget."

 

Crosby could have held the hockey school anywhere in North America. But it was never a question for Crosby, who wanted the camp at Cole Harbour Place, a multi-purpose facility with two sheets of ice, swimming pools, a library and outside fields for soccer, tennis and baseball.

Cole Harbour Place is also where Crosby, himself, learned to play the sport as a neophyte.

"That tells you who Sidney Crosby is right there. He could have done (the camp) anywhere. He gives all the money away here," said Thibeault, 60, whose grandson Logan Wells took part in this year's camp. "Everything he does tells you who he is. You can't help but admire the guy. Everybody in Cole Harbour appreciates the guy for what he's doing."

Everybody includes those impressionable youths. You can't go a day in Halifax without running into a kid wearing a jersey or shirt with "87" emblazoned on the backside. In road hockey games, the kids all pretend to be Crosby. The innocence of adulation.

Young Jack's face lit up with an ear-to-ear smile at the opportunity to talk about his favorite player - Crosby - and favorite team - the Penguins. When asked why Crosby was his favorite player, he responded: "Because he won three Stanley Cups."

Unprompted, Jack later added: "I like that he's willing to help any kid that is sick."

These are the values that Crosby is instilling in the next generation of youth hockey players from Cole Harbour to Israel to Hong Kong.

"He's just a great ambassador for hockey, a great role model," Keith said. "It's how he treats other people with respect, how he works hard, how he practices. It's about life skills that he teaches everybody."

 

After winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 and '16, Crosby brought the historic chalice home to Cole Harbour. It made appearances at schools, hospitals, Cole Harbour Place, his hockey camp and even Tim Hortons.

Both years culminated with a parade. Among the thousands in the crowd in 2016 was Jack. "It was very awesome. It was very exciting," he exclaimed.

When Keith asked his son if he wanted to attend this year's parade, Jack responded with an enthusiastic head nod. They'll both have that opportunity in a couple of weeks.

On August 7th the Cup will return to Nova Scotia for the Natal Day Parade, which celebrates Halifax's birthday. As if guided by fate, that day also happens to be Sidney Crosby's 30th birthday.

The city estimated that over 60,000 people will attend the parade, faithfully making a pilgrimage to honor the dual births of their city and the grand marshal of the parade. The streets will be filled with an ocean of people in a hero's welcome for someone who considers himself just another guy from Halifax.

The Halifax community may be small, but it has an unbreakable bond among its citizenry. Being from the area comes with a certain sense of pride and unity. So it only makes sense that Crosby would want to share his greatest accomplishments with the rest of his Halifax family.

"I just want to get as many people as possible to see it," Crosby said.

Looking on, amongst the many heads in the crowd that day, could be the next Sidney Crosby. The next pride of Cole Harbour. The next hometown hero. The next generational player. The next international superstar.

But before the next Crosby can arrive, the current one still has plenty of good years and big dreams left to fulfill.

"He's not done yet. We'll have another parade in (Halifax) this year and there's more to come," Keith said. "He turns 30 in August. The history book is not written yet."

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