Future Is Now. The Next One Is Here.
By IRA BERKOW
Published: October 2, 2005
PITTSBURGH, Sept. 28 - Before arriving in training camp on Sept. 13,
most of the Penguins players had never seen Sidney Crosby.
They did know that Crosby, a center from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia,
was the first pick in the National Hockey League draft on July 30. He
was being hailed as the Next One, in homage to Wayne Gretzky, the
Great One, and as the new face of the league after it went dark for
16 months because of a lockout that wiped out last season.
Yet Craig Patrick, the executive vice president and general manager
of the Penguins, had never seen Crosby play in the flesh before the
"My scouting staff had seen him, and I had seen video clips, but they
don't show everything, like positioning, like heart," Patrick
said. "I was curious, too."
Mario Lemieux, the captain of the Penguins as well as their chairman
and chief executive, said: "It's one thing to have talent. It's
another to develop that talent. I wondered, What kind of work ethic
does he have?"
Patrick said that he had seen enough videotape to appreciate the 18-
year-old Crosby's skill at handling the puck, his vision on the ice
in seeing and setting up teammates for goals, and his dexterity and
strength on skates. "What concerned me," Patrick said, "was, Can
someone this young handle the pressure, all this attention, all these
In less than a month after drafting Crosby, the Penguins sold more
tickets than the 475,080 they did for the 2003-4 season, in which
they averaged 11,877 fans a game and had the lowest attendance in the
league. The Penguins, who finished last in the Atlantic Division in
the previous three seasons, drew news media coverage as never before
to their first day of training camp in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Everyone had
come to see Crosby, a courteous, brown-eyed, boyish-looking player
with dark, cow-licked hair cropped short. At 5 feet 11 inches and 193
pounds, he is put together bountifully, but does not have the
prodigious build expected of someone counted on to be the team's
"Like everyone else, our guys were curious about Sidney, in all this
heightened fever," Coach Ed Olczyk said. "So was I. We all knew he
had torn up the junior hockey leagues the last several years. But we
all wanted to see what he could do here, now."
Indeed, Crosby was the player of the year last season in the top-
caliber Canadian Hockey League, and with career scoring totals in the
league second only to Gretzky and Lemieux, whom the Penguins drafted
first over all in 1984.
"We got our first real look at him in his first preseason game,
against Boston," Olczyk said of the Sept. 21 game in Wilkes-
Barre. "He had looked good in training-camp scrimmages, but this was
his first real game against an N.H.L. opponent."
And so, strapping on his skates, and donning his shoulder pads and
elbow pads and hip pads and knee pads and shin pads and gloves and
helmet as well as his Penguins jersey, No. 87, for his birth date,
8/7/87, Sidney Crosby, with stick in hand and with what appeared to
be little trepidation, skimmed onto the ice.
"There was one play in which he split the defense on a shot from the
middle of the ice in that game," Olczyk said. "It was so quick, like
the two defenders were standing still."
The puck caromed off the goalie's glove, and Mark Recchi, one of a
handful of veteran free agents signed by the Penguins to ease the
transition for Crosby, slapped it in for a score. "All the players
gave each other quick glances when Sid made that play," Olczyk
said. "They knew they had seen something special."
Patrick has been impressed with Crosby's poise, on and off the
ice. "He has a maturity that you don't expect from someone so young,"
he said. "But he's been in the limelight since he's been 13 years
old. So I guess he's accustomed to dealing with it. And he works very
hard on the ice, in the weight room. He's eager to learn."
In the locker room after practice Tuesday, Crosby said that he was
not about to compare himself to Gretzky or Lemieux.
"What they accomplished, they did over a long period of time," he
said. "Right now, my goal is simply to help the team, to be a really
good all-around player, not just scorer."
If Crosby does, he will be deserving of his $850,000 salary for each
of the next three years; he can earn up to $4 million with
Crosby's father, Troy, was a top amateur hockey player. "His advice
to me? Never take anything for granted," Crosby said.
Crosby will make his regular-season debut on the road as the Penguins
open against the Devils on Wednesday, Lemieux's 40th birthday.
There has been a learning curve for Crosby. At the first home
preseason game, on Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, he
received a standing ovation from the crowd of about 8,000 at Mellon
Arena when he entered the game, but he played relatively quietly.
"It wasn't the best he's done in preseason, but I thought he did a
couple of really good things," Olczyk said. "If you were really
watching, he made two or three really good plays that just didn't get
Crosby, who said he had butterflies before his first preseason game,
had his own analysis: "I needed to mix it up a little more. I was too
passive. I had shots and maybe passed up a few chances when I should
He had one assist in the 7-2 victory over Columbus, while Lemieux had
one goal and three assists. Crosby saw what mastery it takes to
succeed in the league.
"He's an unbelievable player," Crosby said of Lemieux, whose family
he is living with this season. "It was fun just to watch him out
there. He knows where to be on the ice, and he finishes his chances."
As for Crosby, Columbus Coach Gerard Gallant, said: "He's a presence
on the ice. He's a dynamic kid to watch. He sees the ice so well.
He'll be an impact player, definitely, and for years to come."