NHL

Epic Olympic goal cements Crosby's place in Canadian folklore

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Matt Burt, TSN.ca
3/2/2010 9:39:41 AM
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Maybe Sidney Crosby should just retire.

You know, call it a day, head to some tropical beach somewhere, get one of those drinks with a little umbrella in it and just soak up the rays for, oh, the next seventy years or so. Go out on top.

After all, he's already accomplished more by the age of 22 than most athletes do in their entire careers, and considering that he's already got more than a lifetime worth of priceless memories to reflect on (all before he can even grow a truly worthy playoff beard - sorry Sid), early retirement may be the best course of action. After all, what on earth can this guy possibly have planned for his next act?

Actually, it's probably going to be a lot of fun to find out.

Since a premature trip out to pasture does seem highly unlikely, and with NHL hockey already getting started up again after those marvelous 2010 Olympic in Vancouver, it seems as good a time as any to take a look at where Crosby stands at this point in his illustrious young career, and what achievements could still be to come.

Coming off that instantly-famous overtime goal that won Sunday's thrilling Olympic gold medal game against the USA, Crosby has undeniably cemented his place in Canadian folklore, and not just within the confines of the sporting world. Keeping in mind that over 80 per cent of Canada's population watched at least part of that game on Sunday, and keeping in mind that most of them will likely be telling their grandchildren about it at some point, Crosby is now officially embedded in the historical fabric of this country.
 
That storybook ending played out like some kind of hoser fairy tale - the country's most well-known hockey player scores the overtime winner to give Canada the gold medal in hockey over its arch-rival and sends the nation to an Olympic-record 14th gold medal of the Games. Could it be any more perfect?

As evidence of the goal's immediate (and probably lasting) impact, it's being talked about in the same breath as Paul Henderson's legendary tally at the 1972 hockey summit against Russia and the electric Gretzky/Lemieux connection at the 1987 Canada Cup. Those two moments, considered almost religious observances in this country, were in a notoriously exclusive club until Crosby put the puck through the five-hole of Ryan Miller Sunday afternoon.

As for No. 87, he does seem to have this eerie tendency to come through in the clutch, so much so that it's almost as if some otherworldly hockey force has specially selected him to make those big moments happen. At least that's what his peers seem to think.

"When you're such a good player, you always seem to find that goal that's going to last forever," said Maple Leafs goaltender J.S. Giguere after the overtime goal against the Americans. "Everybody that was watching the game is going to remember that goal and Crosby is going to be a legend just for that."

"It's like the hockey gods were watching the game and watching on Sid," said teammate Maxime Talbot. "He's the face of Hockey Canada. It just seems perfect."

It's not hard to find more colleagues who agree with that sentiment.

"That's a big goal for our country, and fittingly, it kind of suits him to score that goal," said Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price. "He's kind of taken Canada and put it on his back."

"He's in the right place at the right time and he knows what to do when he gets there," said former Pens teammate and current Canadiens' defenceman Hal Gill.

"That's Sid for you," said Olympic teammate Ryan Getzlaf. "There's a reason he's the best player in the world. He always shows up in those big moments and scores those big goals."

With all this praise, though, there is at least one person close to Crosby who was extremely disappointed with his performance in overtime. But you can't really blame him.

That would be Crosby's coach with the Pens, Dan Bylsma, a Michigan native who was rooting for the U.S. and said he had a very bad feeling as soon as he saw Crosby get loose from defensive coverage in the extra frame.

"When (he) took a step off the wall and had (U.S. defenceman Brian) Rafalski behind him, it was over," Bylsma said. "I saw it happen, I was like, 'It's over, it's going in'. That was my feeling as soon as he stepped off the wall and beat his man. I thought, 'This is over'."

Needless to say, Canada's entire roster played strong hockey and one player does not make a team. Everyone from captain Scott Niedermayer, who was solid and reliable in those nervous moments in the gold medal game, to Jarome Iginla, who potted a hat trick in the tournament-opening 8-0 win over Norway, pitched in for the victory. It wasn't all Crosby all the time. In fact, some pundits had actually started to wonder aloud where Crosby had been in the latter part of the tournament. After impressing in his first few games, he wasn't making as much of an impact in the contests leading up to the final.

All that meant, though, to a lot of fans, was that Crosby was due for a goal, and as it turned out, he was apparently just saving the best for last, and on a superb feed from Iginla, Crosby banged home the single biggest goal of his career.

"It's a dream come true," Crosby said after the game. "To have a chance to score in overtime, here in Canada, it doesn't get much better than that."

*****

So how exactly did it get to this point? How does a kid from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia (pop. approximately 30,000 and, yes, his name is on the town sign) become the premier player in one of the biggest sporting leagues on the planet?

Already very well known in Canada by the age of 16, Crosby was anointed "the Next One" by the hockey-obsessed media north of the 49th parallel, an honourary nod to the "Great One" mantle that followed this country's biggest hockey superstar (and torch-bearer), Wayne Gretzky, throughout his career. The nickname for Crosby was flattering, but it also brought with it a seemingly insurmountable mountain of expectation.

He was also called "Sid the Kid", though no one has really been using that one as much lately, probably because it just doesn't seem fitting for someone who has proven himself to be a man.

Crosby made it to the Memorial Cup as a member of the QMJHL's Rimouski Oceanic in 2005, where his squad fell to the London Knights. That London team, incidentally, was led by Crosby's future Team Canada teammate Corey Perry.

The Olympic win was not Crosby's first success on an international stage. Back in 2005, he was part of Canada's gold-medal winning World Junior team (also on that squad were fellow 2010 Olympians Shea Weber, Brent Seabrook, Getzlaf and Perry).

He then broke into the National Hockey League in 2005-06 after being drafted No. 1 overall by Mario Lemieux's Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL Entry Draft.

That was coming off the notorious NHL lockout of 2004-05. In February, Commissioner Gary Bettman had announced the season was lost. The spring of '05 had marked the first time the Stanley Cup was not awarded since 1919 (and at least they had a decent excuse that year - a massive outbreak of the flu epidemic). It was a low point for the league.

But by the time the puck dropped to start the next season, the arrival of Crosby (in addition to several rule adjustments intended to make the game more offensively potent, the introduction of a salary cap, and the debut of another talented young up-and-comer named Alex Ovechkin), the 2005-06 season ushered in a breath of fresh air for the league and seemed to bring with it a clean slate.

And Canada was introduced to the Crosby Show.

It wasn't without its doubters. Throughout the long buildup to his time in the NHL, Crosby had constantly been hyped by the league and the media. That had happened before, critics said, and it didn't always pan out (see Daigle, Alexandre).

All of the hype was external - that is, Crosby never came out and declared himself the best hockey player in the world or boasted of his own achievements, yet he was expected to live up to the standards that had been set by others. Incredibly, he did. And has. And will likely continue to do so. And the whole time he has been humble and modest, so typically Canadian.

For someone who was born on August 7, 1987 (8/7/87, hence the uniform No. 87, and the none-too-shabby $8.7 million salary), Crosby already has a ridiculously long list of accolades.

He won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's MVP in 2006-07 (his best year statistically, when he put up 36 goals and 84 assists for 120 points). For his efforts during that season, he also claimed the Lester B. Pearson award (NHL's Most Outstanding Player as selected by the NHLPA) and the Art Ross Trophy (leading the league in points).

His biggest career achievement came when he captained the Penguins to a Stanley Cup championship in 2008-09, beating the Detroit Red Wings in a thrilling seven-game series and avenging the Pens' loss to that same team the year before. At age 21, he was the youngest player ever to captain a team to the ultimate NHL prize.

Not a bad resume.

And it's not as though Crosby is a particularly massive physical presence out on the ice. At 5'11 and listed at 200 pounds, he is of good size but hardly a big, bruising punisher like Eric Lindros, who was arguably the most buzzed-about post-Gretzky Canadian hockey star prior to Crosby's arrival.

Rather, Crosby seems to rely on incredible core strength (watch him push out from a corner and cut to the net with one hand on his stick) and incredible playmaking skills.

History will tell where Crosby fits into the pantheon of Canadian hockey legends, but he has done himself a favour by getting off to such a fantastic start.

And when you consider that this is a player who may not even peak for a few years to come, it must be a frightening prospect for his opponents to think about the accomplishments that lie ahead for the newest member of Canada's distinguished class of icons.



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