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The Consummate Teammate, Captain and Ambassador

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

There have been many players who have skated in 1,000 NHL games. But no one has reached that milestone with the kind of pressure, expectations, obligations and scrutiny that Sidney Crosby has dealt with from a young age.

And not only has Crosby has exceeded all of the hype placed upon him as a generational talent, accomplishing everything imaginable on the ice while becoming one of the top-five all-time greats and the first player in Penguins history to appear in 1,000 games with the franchise - he has done it while being the consummate teammate, captain and ambassador for the sport despite dealing with a level of celebrity and exposure that is unprecedented in hockey history.

As a player and a person, the Penguins and the entire hockey world truly couldn't ask for more.

"Sid is one of those really rare guys in sports who understands his place in the game," Bill Guerin said. "He just understands his responsibility to the game and his position in the game and that he is more than just a player. The way he handles his responsibility with fans, with media, with his teammates, with the staff - he gets it. And not every great player does, either."

As the face of the league since he entered it in 2005, Crosby has grown the game locally, nationally and globally - inspiring new generations of hockey players while being an incredible role model the entire time.

As the captain of the Penguins, he is a natural leader who sets the standard with his work ethic and character and whose thoughtfulness is truly unmatched as he ensures everyone around him feels welcome, comfortable and respected. 

And through it all, Crosby is pulled in a multitude of directions, dealing with a staggering number of demands placed upon him while constantly being under a microscope in today's modern media age. 

It is and has been a lot to handle, but Crosby continues to shoulder the load year after year with the utmost professionalism while maintaining an elite level of on-ice play the entire time and delivering so much success to his adopted city of Pittsburgh and his country as the ultimate winner and champion. 

"To go about his business with such grace and integrity and humility, for me, just makes this milestone that much more impressive," Mike Sullivan said.

It's a testament to the native of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia native and his father Troy, and mother Trina, who raised Sidney and his younger sister Taylor with strong family values. They taught their kids to respect everyone around them, not to take anything for granted and never forget where they came from.

"I'm proud of just how good of a person he is and he's stayed," said Crosby's childhood friend Mike Chiasson. "He's still the exact same guy. It's pretty incredible to see a kid come in the league and basically have the hockey world in his hands from the time he was 18, and how he's handled it. I think any time you play professional sports, it can go different ways, but he's been the poster guy for the league on and off the ice. That's what he should be just as proud of in addition to 1,000 games on the ice. 

"It's one thing to play 1,000 games. You see it kind of sneak up on different guys in the league and you're like geez, I didn't realize they played that many, which is a great accomplishment for anybody. But I think when you put in perspective what Sid has done in 1,000 games, it makes you think of the broader picture of what he's done away from the game as well."

Paul Mason, Crosby's coach in both youth hockey and baseball that remains close with the family to this day, used a unique phrase to describe the 33-year-old superstar: duende.

It's a word that the late George Frazier, a Boston sports columnist, liked to use when describing athletes. It is loosely translated to class and grace under pressure; a special force that not many people possess.

"It is so difficult to define," Frazier wrote. "But when it is there it is unmistakable, inspiring our awe…to observe someone who has it is to feel icy fingers running up and down our spine.''

Mason told a story of the first time that CBC reporter Bruce Rainnie, who is also from Nova Scotia, took his father to a Penguins game in Montreal for his birthday and met Crosby briefly after the game. Years later, Rainnie and his father traveled to Pittsburgh to watch Crosby play, and were in the vicinity while he was doing a media scrum.

"He said Sid walked away from the reporters, came over to Bruce's father - who was an older man - shook his hand, and said, 'Mr. Rainnie, it's good to see you again,'" Mason said. "And Bruce said, that is duende to its finest. That is Sidney Crosby. It's so true. It's just…that's who he is."


The headline in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the day Crosby landed in the city on Aug. 11, 2005 - just days after the Penguins selected him first overall in the NHL Draft after literally winning the lottery - said it all.

"Crosby arrives in Pittsburgh for the first time and draws more attention than Mario Lemieux, or even Ben Roethlisberger," it read.

At that point, the Penguins were coming off three straight dismal seasons - some of the worst in team history - and a lockout that wiped out the entire 2004-05 campaign. The future of the team was up in the air, as there was no Collective Bargaining Agreement, no new arena deal and colossal financial struggles.

"And now, finally, here was this kid coming down the escalator at Pittsburgh International Airport who might - if we got really lucky - help us make the playoffs," recalled Tom McMillan, the Penguins' vice president of communications at the time.

Crosby had been surrounded by hype and buildup ever since he was a kid. Mason remembers when their team went to the Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament for the first time, and Crosby got 10 points in the first game. When they returned to Cole Harbour, Mason was shocked to receive a call from someone in the Czech Republic asking about Sidney.

But the reception that Crosby faced starting that moment he reached the baggage claim is something he still remembers to this day. He was greeted by a swarm of reporters and photographers before doing his first interview with the local media in an area that the team had set up off to the side. 

"We had what was a media scrum mob scene," said McMillan, now the Penguins' senior advisor of communications. "I think Sid was a little taken back, but it introduced him to the craze that he was going to face in Pittsburgh as well."

Despite Crosby having turned 18 years old just a few days before, from the moment he answered the first question, it was evident that the teenager would be more than capable of handling what was in store for him.

"He was so composed that you knew immediately, as soon as you met him, that he was going to be able to handle this," McMillan said. "He would handle it differently than most, and he did."

Media is something Crosby has been dealing with since he was 7, which is when he did his first interview for an article published in the local paper - the Halifax Daily News - as the attention and buzz continued to grow around the young prodigy.

The reporter who first interviewed Crosby described him as polite and thoughtful with his answers, even as a child. He still possesses those qualities today despite the huge volume of requests he has dealt with on a daily basis since he entered the league - particularly during that rookie season.

Two decades earlier, three reporters waiting at the team hotel for Lemieux in his first trip to Edmonton was considered an unprecedented amount of coverage. But when Crosby made the trek to Western Canada, the team had to set up a press conference in what turned out to be a packed ballroom with about a dozen cameras. It wasn't just a testament to his greatness as a player, it was a testament to how much the media world had changed as well. But Crosby has taken it all in stride.

"His patience and humble nature are like nothing I've ever witnessed in all of my years in this business," said Josh Yohe, who covers the Penguins for the Athletic. "There isn't an entitled bone in his body. I've literally never seen him be rude or mistreat anyone, let alone certain media members who probably deserved it. Pittsburgh and the Penguins are lucky to have him and, from the standpoint of a media member, dealing with him has been a treat from Day 1."

Like McMillan, Jen Bullano Ridgley has been around for the entirety of Crosby's tenure. She interned with the communications department during his rookie season before earning the promotion to vice president of communications in the summer of 2019.

Bullano Ridgley has worked closely with Crosby for years to manage his never-ending stream of off-ice obligations. It's about finding a balancing act between what Crosby is required to do, what he personally loves to do, and whatever else might pop up along the way. For example, these days, everyone wants to sit down and do a podcast with him. But the challenge is that the longer one interview goes, the less time Crosby has for others.

"He hasn't slowed down on the ice, and the requests off the ice haven't slowed down either," she said. "If anything, he does more." 

Crosby has been arguably the most accessible superstar in professional sports throughout his career. Before the pandemic, whenever the doors to the Penguins dressing room opened, reporters - home, visiting and national - either gathered around his stall before he got off the ice or beelined there once he walked into the room. And every single time, Crosby sat down, donned the Penguins baseball cap hanging in his stall, and fielded questions from the media without complaints.

"There was one day I remember talking to Sid after practice and I said, hey, look - you don't have to do this every day," Guerin recalled. "Why don't you let us talk to the media? Let some guys give you a break. And he said, no, that's okay. They expect to talk to me and it's my responsibility. I was like, holy smokes. This kid really gets it. And it's win, lose or draw, he's there."

And as the face of the league for so long, Crosby doesn't just answer questions about matters concerning the Penguins - he is asked about matters around the entire league and the entire world, for that matter. Anything newsworthy or noteworthy in hockey and beyond usually results in someone wanting Crosby's opinion on it. 

That has continued even with young superstars like Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and fellow Cole Harbour native Nathan MacKinnon now in the league. And while Crosby wants them to have their due, his words continue to carry so much weight because of his stature. That's never more evident during All-Star weekends, where even his peers are in awe of Crosby with everything he has accomplished.

But no matter what he's asked, whether it's about something serious or silly, Crosby always gives an appropriate response.

"He's the interview I can walk away from 99.9 percent of the time, because I know he's going to say the right thing," Bullano Ridgley said. "I have no doubt he can handle any situation."

It's easy for some people outside of the room to say those things don't matter, that they don't care whether Crosby talks to the media or not. But it actually does matter, especially to the players inside the room who aren't as comfortable dealing with it. 

"I think that's one of the things about Sid that's so valuable to his team and his teammates, is he just absorbs all that stuff," McMillan said. "Fans don't see this, but he takes so much pressure off the rest of his team with all the media stuff that he does. He just does it. You have to give him a break, sure, but those other guys really know that Sid shoulders a lot of that burden, and that's one of the things that makes our team go."

It's not just media requests. It's charity requests as well. Crosby does so much in the community that people don't know about, which is by design, as none of it is for attention. It's because he truly cares.

And when Crosby does something like visiting patients at UPMC Childrens Hospital of Pittsburgh, which he does constantly, he doesn't just meet them briefly and then walk away. He always ensures that he has enough time to get to know the kids and their families, listening to their stories and keeping in touch with them afterwards. They leave just as much of an impression on Crosby as he does on them.

"To see him shoulder all that, do it without complaining or telling many people - whether it's a hospital visit or commercial shoot or shouldering all the interviews and facetime that the captain of a team has to take - it's incredible," said Colby Armstrong, his teammate from 2005-08.


Even when the TV cameras turn off, Crosby understands that he's still under constant scrutiny. As Mason said, the pressure is to be on at all times - and he is.

"You try to go online and find something negative about Sidney Crosby - it's not there," said Max Talbot, his teammate from 2005-11. "And that's because he lives his life as a superstar the right way. Thinking about all the consequences, thinking about making the right choices."

Which is impressive in itself, but even more so in the age of social media. Back when the NHL's other all-time greats like Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe all played, apps like Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok certainly didn't exist, and computers and cell phones were a rarity. 

Players didn't have to constantly think about the possibility of being filmed, photographed and posted on the Internet while just trying to go about their everyday lives. But Crosby does, and despite the microscope he is constantly under - both literally and figuratively - he is incredibly cognizant of his surroundings and possesses an awareness that amazes even the people who have known him longest.

"One summer, we were all at a wedding," Mason said. "We're at my cottage. Sid's there, I think he had a beer. But he wouldn't have the can of beer in his hand, because there were kids around. We weren't thinking of it whatsoever, we didn't care (laughs). But Sid said, can you give me a red cup? He wanted one of those red Solo cups, just so that the kids wouldn't see him or something like that. It's amazing how he carries himself off the ice."

That doesn't mean Crosby doesn't 'let his hair down once in a while,' as Guerin laughingly put it. At the end of the day, Crosby is just one of the guys - he just happens to be a little better at hockey than the rest of them. He's had the same core group of friends since he was a kid and spends plenty of time with them when he returns home to Nova Scotia for the summers, and they typically make a trip to Pittsburgh every year to watch him play.

"I used to make fun of him when he first came in the league and had just the stereotypical answers in interviews, which I get that he has to do," Chiasson said. "But if you know the guy, he's hilarious. What it comes down to is that he's no different than anyone else. We have our group chats with our old junior buddies and he is just one of the guys, but I understand he can't always show that."

They enjoy giving him the gears, and so do Crosby's teammates in Pittsburgh. They'll chirp him for things like his competitiveness, his superstitions, how his elbows are always hanging over the table when he plays beer pong (according to Brian Dumoulin) and how he's always looking for handouts whenever there's food or treats on the plane (according to Bryan Rust).

Armstrong remembers how they would all stay on the ice until the coaches would kick them off, and then sit in the locker room in half gear - skates, shinpads and pants still on - and just hang out.

"Sid truly loves that part of the game," Armstrong said. "Loves being in the room with the guys, loves laughing, loves when we rip on him. He takes a couple shots at us. He got better at that, by the way. By the time I got traded out of there he was carving guys up pretty good (laughs). He loves that camaraderie. We hung around after practice until the trainers said come on, guys. We want to go home to our families; you've got to get your gear off. No joke, that happened all the time."

That's all part of what helps Crosby stay so down-to-earth and grounded.

"I think he's a special kid in the sense that he finds the pure joy of the game," said Hockey Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier, who won six Stanley Cups as a player, including two with Pittsburgh in 1991 and '92. "I think that is the 8-year-old in him that is the consummate rink rat. He's got an extremely level-headed perspective of the game and the media and the whirlwind of all this generation has. It reflects well on his mom and dad. We got to meet some of this family that came in from Nova Scotia when we were doing the Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp one year. We sat in the lobby with them for like an hour before the game and met them again after. They are just wonderful people. And that's kind of Sid's base, his foundation, is that joy."

Crosby is so committed to being the best at the game he loves so much that he's willing to make certain sacrifices and is careful never to put himself in any sort of situation that could be compromised or misconstrued.

"He's smart, and you wish other people could be as smart as him," Guerin said. "When you talk about young players that are having trouble navigating the professional athlete life, I always tell them hey, look, you got to pick your spots. Well, Sid picks his spots. Derek Jeter picked his spots. Tom Brady…"

Guerin paused and laughed, as videos of the quarterback celebrating his seventh Super Bowl win during Tampa Bay's championship boat parade had recently gone viral.

"Look at him now, he's been having a good time," Guerin chuckled. "But he picked his spot. You don't see him like that all the time. That's exactly it. You've never heard of Jeter getting into trouble or anything like that. Because they're smart. And Sid is smart. He puts thought into things. He doesn't just go out. Every day there just seems to be a plan or a thought process."

"I don't know if saying he never lets his guard down is the right way to phrase it, but he's just always aware of what's going on," Chiasson said. "He knows his actions will impact any situation, whether it's how a little kid sees him or anything like that."

And because of that, there are at least 1,000 stories to go along with Crosby's 1,000 games about the positive influence he's had on so many people's lives.

"You hear them all the time," Mason said. "They're just little things that no one would ever hear, but that's what happens. It's funny because Nathan MacKinnon, in his first year, we were going to Quebec tournament and his father reached out to me. He said, 'Paul, Nathan wants to get your team everything. Hats, helmets, gloves, everything.' I said 'no, we've already got gloves and all that.' But he said, 'He really wants to. He never forgets when Sidney did it for his team.'"


He does it for his team now, too. Crosby's constant thoughtfulness would be impressive from anyone, much less someone of his stature.

"Sid always texts me happy birthday, he's always asking me like, how's Russia?" Evgeni Malkin said. "We talk and message all summer. He asks me how my skates are. He knows, like, everything. He follows my Instagram, I think (laughs)."

In addition to having a handle on those little details, Crosby is constantly providing those around him with memories and mementos. If the team is on the road and goes, say, sightseeing or to a sporting event and takes a group photo, Crosby will later send a framed copy to everyone.

When Ron Hextall and Brian Burke watched their first Penguins game in person, a 6-3 win over Washington on Feb. 14, Crosby is the one who approached head equipment manager Dana Heinze and asked for two used game pucks to give to the new GM and president of hockey ops. 

After the Penguins won in 2009, Crosby had jackets made for the three players on the team who had scored a Cup-clinching goal in Game 7: Talbot (Pittsburgh), Ruslan Fedotenko (Tampa Bay) and Mike Rupp (New Jersey).

"They were blue jackets with gold buttons, and each one had a patch on it that said 'GWG Game 7,'" Talbot said. "At one of our first team meals the next season, he presented us with the jackets and did a big ceremony with the music and stuff. We had a private room in the restaurant. I still have the jacket."

Those are just some examples of what Crosby does along with making everyone around him feel like part of the team on a daily basis, which are well-documented.

"He just always includes everyone. I think that's the biggest thing," Dumoulin said. "When you come to a pro hockey team, you have people who have families, different lives. But regardless if you're a first-year rookie or you're a 10-year vet, he's going to include you in the text whether it's dinner, whether it's getting together here in Pittsburgh or on the road. That goes a long way when a guy like that is including you. It makes you gel as a team. It all starts with him."

The two teammates Crosby has been with the longest - Malkin and Kris Letang - both have children now, and he goes out of his way to spend time with their families. Crosby has gone to Malkin's home to play floor hockey with his son Nikita, and accompanied Letang to pick up his son Alex from school.

And down the road, those are the moments that Letang will remember most from all his years spent playing with Crosby. 

"The most important thing is I got a friend who will be my friend forever," Letang said. "There's so many things he does people don't even know. It's just incredible. At the same time, he has all those responsibilities of being the face of the league and the captain for so long. He's just a tremendous athlete, person, leader. It's just incredible what he's done, and he keeps doing it at 33 years old, so it's awesome."

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