Crosby handles draft hoopla like veteran
OTTAWA -- A moment frozen in time: Sidney Crosby, Penguins jersey comfortably on his back, Penguins cap on his head, arms around Mario Lemieux and GM Craig Patrick. The three motionless as a phalanx as video cameras recorded the moment.
|Tidbits on Sid the Kid|
• Chosen No. 1 by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL draft on Saturday.
• Crosby wore No. 87 in two seasons with Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
• Crosby had 66 goals and 102 assists in 62 games last season, after rookie campaign that featured 54 goals and 81 assists in 59 games.
• He was the Canadian major junior player of the year both seasons.
• Crosby started skating when he was 4 and gave first newspaper interview at 7.
• Played at Shattuck-St. Mary's prep school in Minnesota during 2002-03 year and scored 72 goals in 57 games.
• He was No. 1 pick of Rimouski in midget draft.
• Crosby became youngest player to score for Canada's world juniors team when he had a goal at the championships at age 16 years, 4 months, 24 days.
The Penguins jersey with Crosby's favored No. 87 has been ready since the moment Pittsburgh was awarded the first pick in Saturday's NHL Entry Draft more than a week ago.
Still, this was real, the formal starting point of Crosby's NHL career.
In the coming weeks, there will be a host of firsts. First time on the ice when training camp starts in mid-September, first exhibition game, first NHL game on Oct. 5, first goal. And so on and so on.
Saturday marked a threshold crossed.
"I was happy I wasn't sitting there too long. The nerves were starting to come," Crosby said.
Earlier Saturday morning, Crosby and roommate Jack Johnson got up, ate breakfast and went to the hotel gym to work out. Crosby later joined his family as the other prospects' families crowded into a meeting room filled with tables adjacent to the main draft ballroom.
"All the families jammed in that room there and you can tell everyone's nervous," Crosby said.
Moments later, trailing television cameras in the way that wedding cars trail strings of tin cans, Crosby moved from the draft stage to a crowded interview room. From there, passing by Lemieux who waited his own turn in front of reporters, Crosby was off for a series pictures, some of which will end up on the cover of The Hockey News and the Penguins' 2005-06 media guide.
Then there were satellite and telephone interviews with national and Pittsburgh-area broadcasters not on the ground in Ottawa. Earlier, the Penguins had received calls from the Tonight Show and HBO about interviews or appearances, and it's believed Crosby will make his way to Jay Leno's set sooner than later.
As if the various media outlets weren't enough, for more than a week, Crosby's agents at IMG have had a separate crew following him, recording in high-definition television the moments leading up to and following the draft. The crew was the only one allowed in Crosby's home for the draft lottery a week ago. They were also on hand Friday evening when Lemieux flew into town and took Crosby out for dinner.
"I've seen a lot of kids come and go. This kid gets it. He's a special kid, but he gets it," said veteran NHL producer Gord Cutler, who is handling the documentary chores.
He recalled that for more than two hours after the draft lottery, Crosby did conference calls and interviews from across North America.
"He never batted an eye. He never complained. He never had a hiccup," Cutler said.
During Friday night's quiet dinner (if you don't count the camera crews and curious stares from the other patrons), Lemieux spoke with Crosby about what the youngster will face during his rookie season in the NHL -- the bigger, faster, older players, the grind of the 82-game schedule.
"The speed of the game is something he'll have to adjust to," said Lemieux, who also dropped in an open invitation to come and stay at his home.
"If he wants to stay with us, he can," said Lemieux.
Someone started to ask Lemieux about whether there was a chance that Crosby, who is still a week away from his 18th birthday, might end up back playing junior hockey, but Lemieux cut him off in mid-question.
Traditionally, the NHL's entry draft is a celebration of dedication and sacrifice, not just on the part of the players, but families and coaches, as well. It is no different for Crosby. In fact, as with all things Crosby, those issues must be considered exponentially.
"Well, on a day like today you know, you remember the early mornings. Definitely I can remember they had to take on an extra job just so I could keep playing hockey," Crosby said of his parents Troy and Trina. "We did things just like that so I could continue to play a game I love. This is something I guess that makes them realize it was worth it, to see me have the opportunity to play in the NHL."
An article in the Halifax Daily News in early 2003 referred to the family's missing mortgage payments and scrimping on groceries to pay for hockey equipment and other hockey-related costs.
Late Saturday afternoon, while Sidney rested on a nearby hotel couch, Troy Crosby said such sacrifices weren't made in the hopes of yielding a first overall draft position. Instead, they were sacrifices made to ensure that a son was never denied the opportunity to fulfill his potential.
"All this stuff is just like a dream," said Troy Crosby, a former minor-pro goaltender drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 1984. "It's hard to put into words really."
A day earlier, at a clinic attended by Ottawa-area minor hockey players and the top prospects in the draft, Troy Crosby described the impact of having a son like Sidney in the house.
"It's difficult because you get people coming to your house, strangers, knocking on the door. Sometimes it's unnerving you get phone calls from strangers," said Troy, who left his job as a facilities manager at a law firm to help out with his son's off-ice interests.
"We have a daughter, she's nine years old, so you have to watch out," he added. "You just never know. Sometimes people know your whole history about you because of the media, they read about you, they know a lot about your family and things. Our privacy's kind of not there no more, so, it is a little different but we're not complaining about it."
In the days leading up to the draft, if Crosby answered every interview request, he would have been answering questions eight hours a day, said his agent Pat Brisson. But even though the questions have taken on a certain sameness -- are you the savior, are you nervous, how do you handle the pressure, how good can you be -- Crosby's patience never seemed to waver. He answered each question with the same level of thoughtfulness. He never snapped. He never seemed to be either overwhelmed by the attention or bored.
Does he have any idea how many questions he's answered from reporters in the past two years?
"No. Honestly, I couldn't tell you how many interviews I've done. I think I'd drive myself nuts if I started counting," he said.
As for his sunny disposition, Crosby seems to have an unusual grasp of his own special circumstance.
"I think I realize I'm obviously in a bit of a special situation. I think a lot of people would like to be in my shoes so I try not to get frustrated [with the attention]," he said. "Definitely sometimes it gets hectic and busy but I realize I'm very fortunate. I don't look down on it at all."
If there was a moment this weekend during which Crosby looked completely at ease it was during the clinic at the Senators' practice facility, skating around with the other prospects, kibitzing with Ottawa Senators' defenseman and former number-one draft pick Chris Philips and of course the young hockey players.
"That's what I do, I play hockey," Crosby said. "I'm most comfortable definitely when I'm on the ice. I love to play. It's something that I just love to do.
"Definitely it's easier out there."
Scott Burnside is a freelance writer based in Atlanta and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.