Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sid's Back

I was in attendance. December 27, 2000. The Civic Arena. Mario returned. He scored, helped on two others and the Penguins rolled the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-0. I remember having tears in my eyes when Mario hit the ice. That night epitomized the reason I attend sporting events. It sounds silly to call it magical, but that's the best word to describe it, for me.

I was there last night. The Consol Energy Center. Sid returned. Same script, except Sid scored two to Mario's one, while assisting on two more and the Penguins rolled the New York Islanders by the identical 5-0 score.  It was everything that everyone there hoped it would be and more.* A magical night.

*Except, of course, for the Islanders and the poor kid making his NHL debut in the nets. Head coach Jack Capuano certainly didn't do Anders Nilsson any favors. Let's hope for his sake that isn't the most memorable game of his career.

A lot has been written about the game. The highlights are all over the news. Here is his first goal. It doesn't give you a good view of the expletive joy that Sid shares after roofing the backhander, but it captures the moment pretty well. What won't make the story but is in the highlight is Sid creating the turnover deep in his own end that eventually led to the goal. That is Sidney Crosby.

I haven't ever broken a story out of the archives, but I figured today, this one was worth re-posting. If you are a Sid fan, definitely check out some of the highlight that are linked in the piece. Well worth your time.

Sidney Crosby: What We Saw, What We Missed (5/31/2011)

Familiarity is awe's nemesis.

We see something often enough, it loses its magic. When we can no longer be shocked, awe gets locked back in the safe and on we move in search of something else that might line up the tumblers and open the vault once again.

On December 28, 2010 the day I wrote this story, we had become all too familiar with the story of Sidney Crosby.

At 14 he was already a nationally known figure across Canada. At 16 he represented his country in the World Juniors. At 17 he was the first pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

There was nothing new here.

In his first year he was the youngest player in NHL history to score 100 points. The next, at 19, he became the youngest to win the Art Ross Trophy and the first teenager since Wayne Gretzky to lead the league in scoring.

You knew how it went.

At the end of that second season he was named team captain, after turning it down mid-season, again the youngest in league history. He won the Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP) and Lester B. Pearson Award (players' MVP) and became the youngest ever named NHL First Team All-Star.

The accomplishments were so many, they started to blur.

The third year brought his only significant injury, but also his first Stanley Cup Final and a tie for the playoff scoring lead. The next, he became the youngest captain to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup.

We had even started to gloss over some of it.

In his fifth he won the Rocket Richard Trophy, leading the league in goals scored for the first time. He won the Mark Messier Leadership Award for setting a positive example on and off the ice. During a break in the season he was chosen to be a member of the Canadian Olympic team, an alternate captain. In the second game he scored the game winning goal in a shootout. In the gold medal game he again netted the game winner. Against the United States. In overtime.

This is his sixth season.

He has a 22 game scoring streak, tied for the longest since the end of the lockout. He's on pace to score more than 60 goals. His team sits second in the league in points. If they named an MVP at the half way point in the season, the vote would be unanimous.

That's the story.

It's one with which we have become familiar, but it doesn't paint a picture.

Sidney Crosby is in the details.

We know the foundation for the numbers and awards is his legendary work ethic. There is always room for improvement in his game. Each off-season he focuses on a particular facet. One summer, skating--now few are better. Another, faceoffs--has become one of the best. Last year, scoring goals--led the league. This off-season, unpredictability--first in goals, second in assists.

His career arc spans a handful more than 400 regular season games. I've seen most of them. I've seen his game and personality develop. From entering the league and earning a well-deserved reputation as a whiner and, less-deserved, a diver to skating through a season where he has pushed himself to the top of the heap, unquestionably the best player in hockey, playing the best hockey of his life.

I've seen the blind passes, the unbelievable hands, the amazing goals and even the calculated fights. But these last 25 games have been different. This video shows his natural hat trick against Atlanta. As I wrote here, the goals showed off Sid's amazing arsenal, including the best tip you may ever see:

This assist against New Jersey, after receiving a hard pass in his skates, is ridiculously good:

But, it's more than skill. Earlier in the week, from NHL.com Crosby, among the league leaders in faceoff percentage, took advantage of the fact that Vernon Fiddler was kicked out of the right faceoff circle in the Phoenix zone for dropping his stick too early. Crosby duped the less-experienced Lauri Korpikoski, slid the puck forward, lunged and immediately fed a wide-open Malkin...

who buried it.

With familiarity, awe gets discarded.

There are other awards, there is a biography. That he's 23, bears repeating. But, don't ever get used to the level of hockey that Sidney Crosby is playing because you just never know how long it will last.

I was planning to publish this a few days after the Winter Classic. I was waiting to see if Crosby's scoring streak reached 30. It didn't. And then he didn't play again.

Hopefully Sidney Crosby comes back this fall and we see this all again. Again we get to be in awe of his talent. Maybe his missing the second half of the season will make us appreciate him even more, knowing a bad hit could end his career. I sure hope that never happens. I feel like we missed a lot of magic these past five months. I want to be awed again.

Last night, I was.