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“We’re creatures of habit. If you like something, you stick with it. You don’t just change for the sake of changing.” - Troy Crosby [ 52 ]

This family never cared much for change. 

This held true for heritage and hearth; for decades, the greater Halifax region of Nova Scotia was home. This was where, in the 1940s, Sidney and Nancy Ball reared their three children, Ralph, Gerry, and Linda [ 122 , 254 ]. 

Years later, Linda would hand down her father’s name to her son, Troy Sidney [ 226 , 40:03].

Years after that, it was passed on to another Sidney. 

Sidney Crosby was born on August 7, 1987, to Troy and Trina Crosby in a small town called Cole Harbour. Situated in the Maritimes (and thus in the “lower end” of the Canadian hockey bubble), Cole Harbour was a community of 30,000 [ 11 , 37 ].  

“Cole Harbour, a suburb of Halifax, is typical of any small town across North America. Drive through the neighborhood and you’ll pass simple homes with pristine, green lawns. The Ma-and-Pa businesses still stand next to the Walmarts and Sobeys. Gas stations and Tim Hortons coffee shops litter most corners.

“But Cole Harbour does have its distinguishable traits as well. Bodies of water emerge to encompass swaths of land. Boats and ships line up along the harbor’s docks, rising and falling in submission to the undulating demands of the tide. The smell of the Atlantic Ocean blows along the boardwalk on a chilly afternoon’s day” [ 67 ].

Tucked away from the enormous metropolitan centers of Ontario and Quebec, the Maritimes have a particular hold on their people. Sid had it in him, the “small town, small Province, humble upbringing” that meant deep down, Cole Harbour would always be home [ 67 ].

The sort of town where “you [made] one phone call home and everybody [would] know within 10 minutes,” Cole Harbour was small enough that Sidney’s midget coach played hockey alongside Troy and went to school with Trina [1, 9:37, 24]. Where Sidney came from, “a good family and the blue-collar Maritimes [...] defined him more than anything else” [The Rookie, p. 55]. For many years after Sidney left the Maritimes, Sidney’s parents still lived in the same split-level house where he grew up, “a few blocks from a shopping plaza where young Sidney would rollerblade if Trina needed him to pick up something for dinner” [52].

Troy and Trina Crosby had both grown up surrounded by hockey. Trina’s large family (7 siblings in total) was especially involved. Her brothers Harry and Robbie Forbes played hockey across Nova Scotia, with 19-year-old Robbie playing alongside a 15-year-old Mario Lemieux on the 1981-82 Laval Voisins [ 245 , Most Valuable, p. 40, The Rookie, p. 286]. 

“I do have these memories of Mario playing as a 15-year-old and he was pretty magical. Even at that age you knew he was destined to be something spectacular and Sidney brings out those same types of emotions. You just know there’s something special about him. They’re two totally different players, but special in their own unique way.” - Robbie Forbes [367]

Robbie had been a “legendary senior hockey player in Newfoundland,” and played several years in the Netherlands and Britain. He went on to become an executive at Tim Hortons for nearly 20 years before launching his own sports marketing company in 2015 [30]. Sidney’s cousin, Forbes MacPherson, bounced from team to team, playing for eight different teams in six leagues—including 10 games with the Baby Leafs—for nearly a decade, ending with the CHL’s Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs in 2003. A different Robbie—this one Robbie Sutherland, a cousin—was the captain of the Halifax Mooseheads before playing with his twin brother Brian at Acadia University. Jeff Sutherland, another cousin, played at Dalhousie University [42]. 

“I played with his uncle, Robbie Forbes, who was one of the smoothest and skilled players ever to play junior and university hockey in the Maritimes. And I coached his dad, Troy, in junior. Troy was probably the most competitive and driven player I ever coached. My first comment was Sidney had all the skill and hockey sense of his Uncle Robbie and all the determination, drive and competitiveness of his dad.” - Darren Cossar, executive director of Hockey Nova Scotia [ The Story of…, p. 7]

“The whole family, on both sides, there’s hockey everywhere you look,” said Sidney. As one of the younger kids in the family, he enjoyed worming his way into pick-up games and earning attention from his uncles and cousins. “We used to give him our old skates and stuff like that,” said Sidney’s cousin Robbie. “When they would come over to our house we would fool around playing knee hockey and games like that. It was funny. When we were younger I always thought he was going to be a fighter because he was pretty scrappy when we’d be playing road hockey or something. We used to always joke around with him and get him going. He always used to throw his gloves off and stuff like that” [367].

“I can remember when I used to go over to see Robbie and Brian when they used to work for the Mooseheads. They were water boys and stick boys and I used to try to get anything off them when I was a kid, like [stick] blades or whatever. I managed to get a few things but I still remember trying to get my hands on anything to do with hockey when I went over there. It was always fun. It made for great family times.” - Sidney Crosby [367]

Troy himself had been the Montreal Canadiens’ last pick (240th overall) in the 1984 draft [ 8 , 42 ]. Sidney grew up a Habs fan— my whole family is Montreal fans,” he said, “so I guess they pretty much brainwashed me.” While the first NHL playoffs game Sidney ever saw in person was a Canadiens game—Montreal vs. Buffalo, at the Molson Centre—the first game he attended was in his hometown. In November of 1993, Troy’s old junior hockey teammate Claude Lemieux rolled into Halifax with the New Jersey Devils to play a neutral-site game against the New York Rangers. Lemieux looked up the Crosby family in the telephone book to invite them to the game personally [ 31 , 346 ].

Troy only played for two years in the Quebec Juniors with Verdun, though he had a few memorable nights. He was a “fierce, aggressive Ron Hextall-type of goalie” [11]. In January of 1984 he played against Mario Lemieux in a “breathtaking” performance, but Mario had the last laugh and scored on Troy during a breakaway [373]. After Verdun, Troy was invited to a single summer training camp with the Canadiens before his career died; he was never offered a contract and returned home to play junior A and senior hockey. By the time he played his last season, he had a baby boy named Sidney. He was 22 [8, 42].

“You’ve got a small window to do something you love... for whatever reason that was instilled pretty early. I think that just to appreciate the opportunity you have, and I love the game, so I know at one point it’s gonna stop, and I wanna make sure that I enjoy every minute of it.” - Sidney Crosby [ 81 ]

I got as high as you can go without getting there. I’ve been through it. So you’ve got to be careful with them. You can’t force them. I think every Canadian child grows up wanting to play in the NHL, but very few do. That was my goal, too.” - Troy Crosby [298]

Troy didn’t take his loss of hockey easily; Troy’s father had walked out on his three kids when Troy was 7, divorced Troy’s mother Linda when Troy was 8, and never came to Troy’s hockey games. Linda and her children lived on welfare . “My way to succeed was in hockey and sports,” Troy believed, “to show we’re not a failure as a family” [ 11 , 49 ].

Around the time Sidney was 16, Troy told him about his biological grandfather; when asked about it by the media later in life, Sidney admitted it wasn’t something he liked to talk about. Trina, who lost her own father to a heart attack when she was 11, said “Troy and I both have learned how difficult it is to lose somebody who’s important to you. We have a very strong idea of being grounded” [ 11 ]. Both Troy and Trina were the youngest children in their families and were essentially raised by their mothers [ Taking the Game…, 40].

After his unfruitful hockey career, Troy worked as an administrative assistant at a law firm; Trina was a cashier at a grocery store [ 7 , 11 ]. Troy would later say he regretted not focusing more on his schoolwork when he played in junior hockey, as he didn’t have much of an education to fall back on [365]. The Crosby family did not have a large income and struggled to make ends meet [ Most Valuable, p. 97]. “Troy and I made sacrifices,” said Trina. “We didn’t go with the best either. We had what we needed and we got by, but we struggled, as a lot of people do” [365]. Sidney’s parents were young when they had him, and they lived with his grandmother Linda Crosby when Sidney was a baby. “There wasn’t a lot of money for extras” [ The Rookie , p. 172] .

“For me, a lot of stuff wasn’t easy. It wasn’t like I had to work five hours a day to get things, but nothing was really given to me. I was treated well as a kid. I got a new pair of skates for Christmas, but I got what I needed and not a lot more. When it came to hockey, I’d get new skates and a stick. But I learned that you get what you need and not so much what you want. My parents instilled in me that you don’t need everything you see. You work hard for what you get, and a lot of things in life don’t come easy. 

“When you’re younger, you don’t even know the difference. Then in junior high when you start seeing kids wearing nicer clothes… I was always more than happy with who I was growing up, but I always felt I had to fight a little hard to keep up.” - Sidney Crosby [The Rookie, p. 172-173]

Sidney was always tight with his father. Trina called them best friends, and Sidney followed Troy around like a shadow. Whatever Troy wanted to do, Sidney wanted to do too. Troy would work out in the house with the thought of becoming a firefighter one day [ 8 ]. Sidney would later say that if he wasn’t a hockey player, he’d like to be a firefighter [ 68 ]. (It likely helped that many of the local firefighters were also often hockey coaches [ 123 ]). 

A significant part of their closeness was sport. “The rink almost became a second home for us,” said Sidney. “As a kid, our team had some 5 a.m. practice times, so I was lucky to have parents who made a lot of sacrifices for me. My bond with my dad was especially strong. He obviously taught me a lot about the game but more so [about] life in general” [ 80 ]. The game was life for the Crosby family. Troy’s dream of hockey lived on in Sidney.

“It’s in his blood. The ones that have it? You know. I have it; I still have it: There’s nothing I’d rather do more than play hockey. And after I stopped playing, it was... him. I didn’t want to miss a game. I just love watching him play.” - Troy Crosby [ 8 ]

Troy was a protective father. “[Troy and Sidney] really are very close...Troy was prepared to go to practically any lengths for his son,” said Carl Fleming, a rival novice hockey coach [ Taking the Game…, p. 33]. Sidney, as a hockey phenom, was “vulnerable to a lot of forces that [most] children could never imagine at the earliest of age” [ 112 , 22:00]. 

“I didn’t see him play, but everything else he did, whether it was fixing a pipe under the house or whatever—he got it done. He wasn’t going to quit on it. If he told me he was going to do something, he did it; if he said, ‘I’m going to bring you to practice today,’ he didn’t call and say, 'I can’t make it.’ He was always there.” - Sidney Crosby [ 8 ]

Troy pushed Sidney to succeed in everything from hockey to academics. Troy, who felt that he and other former major junior players hadn’t been encouraged to seriously pursue an education while in the QMJHL, insisted that Sidney prioritize school. Sidney and his parents had a deal: he could keep playing hockey as long as he stayed on top of his schoolwork. It was never an issue according to Trina. Sidney never missed a game or practice. When it came to school, Troy’s concerns for Sidney were often borne from his past mistakes—Troy had shied away from class presentations as a child and never felt comfortable speaking publicly as an adult. Troy encouraged Sidney to work on his public speaking so he wouldn’t have the same fear [ 40 , 365]. 

Sidney learned to behave and do what was expected of him, and if he was ever in trouble at school, he would be grounded. “I learned pretty quickly at a young age that rules are rules,” said Sidney. “I didn’t miss curfew, and I always was kind of scared of that time when a teacher would have to call home. I tried to be as disciplined as I could” [ 63 ].

The “biggest rule in the Crosby house was to give 100-per-cent effort” to anything. “My dad really pushed him growing up,” said Taylor Crosby, “and I think because part of it was that my dad had no one pushing him when he grew up and he had to do it for himself. So he wanted my brother to have someone to help him along the way.” Troy would insist he wasn’t pushing Sidney; he was instilling accountability [ 49 , 62 ].  

“They [Troy and Trina] are both the same in the way they feel about me as a person and a hockey player. No matter what I was doing, whether it was school or hockey, they told me to get the best out of myself and don’t take shortcuts. Don’t take things for granted was the main thing, that’s something that has always stuck with me.” - Sidney Crosby [ 21 ]

Though Sidney took after his father’s taste for hockey, he claimed to also get his mother’s keen eye for spotting good people. His parents had “strong senses about things,” and Trina had a talent for whittling down a person to find their angle. “My mom, she’s really sharp,” said Sidney. “On people, she always has the right sense. It’s important, especially in my situation. You have to pick your friends carefully” [ The Rookie, p. 94].

“We were lucky. We taught him to be a good person and treat others like he wanted to be treated. It wasn’t complicated. We asked him to treat people with kindness and respect his elders. He’s sensitive to other people. He’s thoughtful.” - Trina Crosby [ 49 ]

In 1996, Sidney’s younger sister Taylor was born. The two got along well despite the 8.5-year age difference. “From the time I was little I always looked up to him,” said Taylor. “He really was my best friend growing up” [ 36 ].

“He’s an older, protective brother, but he’s not Mom or Dad. We’re close, so I can tell him things I can’t tell them. He will always be the person I turn to if I need help. He probably would still get angry at me if I did something wrong, but he’s gonna always have my back.” - Taylor Crosby [ 3 ]

“Our age gap is so big that he was more like a dad to me than a brother. He does have an old soul.” - Taylor Crosby [ 36 ]

Sidney was a typical older brother; he was protective of Taylor, but also warred with her over possession of a single fan the two shared. The Crosby family didn’t have air conditioning, and some nights Taylor would go to bed with the fan in her room only to find it mysteriously in Sidney’s room the next morning. He would race her to the car, and if she was beating him, he’d reach out and grab her arm to stop her. Sidney would also tease Taylor—knowing the scene from The Lion King where Simba’s dad dies upset Taylor, Sidney would reenact it in front of her to provoke a reaction. Despite this, Taylor said they never fought much, mostly because of their age difference [ 36 , 62 , Most Valuable, p. 77].

“He always says it doesn’t matter what people think, and that those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. So that’s kind of the saying that him and our parents put into our heads...” - Taylor Crosby [ 62 ]

The Crosby family was large and tight-knit; Sidney learned to love fishing after two of his uncles started taking him out to the water [ 52 ]. “We’re just very close to our kids,” said Troy [ 49 ]. Being close, consistent, and centered was very important. “We keep him grounded,” said Trina. “We don’t change with him. We don’t treat him differently. He’s Sidney to us. I’m proud of him. He’s a good boy. He’s not perfect, but he’s a really good kid” [ 49 ].

Sidney was a good kid, but he wasn’t an average kid. Not all the time, at least. He liked horsing around and playing like a lot of other kids, but things changed when a hockey stick was put into his hands. He once asked why he was the only one in the family who didn’t have a first name that started with a T. "Because you’re special,” his mother told him [ 37 ].

She was right.


Chapter Text

Sidney first got in skates when he was three years old. Nova Scotia’s Halifax Forum was the local rink, “a warehouse-like venue where the pigeon droppings that rained from the rafters to the ice were scraped off with shovels.” Troy would strap double-runner bob skates to Sidney’s shoes and Sidney would take off. He was a natural; his ankles never bowed and when toys were tossed on the ice for the kids to play with, he always went for the plastic hockey stick. “I didn’t have to teach him to hold it,” said Troy. “He just picked it up naturally. I never had to encourage him to play. You could tell he had talent, a gift. He had a passion for the game too” [ 37 , 374 ].

“He was there for everything. I remember how tight he used to tie my skates. He made them real tight. To this day I still have my skates probably crazy tight because that’s just the way he tied them.” - Sidney Crosby [ 374 ]

Sidney’s passion for hockey leaked into everything. Trina would pick him up from daycare and one of the caretakers would exclaim “I can't play hockey every day!” [270]. His childhood bedroom had Canadiens wallpaper, a Canadiens score clock on his wall, and posters of Lemieux and Gretzky plastered everywhere. Alongside the posters hung a printed quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes, an American Chief Justice. It read: “Make it happen. Greatness is not where we stand but in what direction we are moving. We must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it. But sail we must and not drift. Nor be an anchor” [37, 60].

(Less inspirational, but very cute: Scruffy, the stuffed dog he has had since he was five years old, was usually tossed somewhere in the room. Alongside the posters hung a decorative blue “S” [for Sidney] and a family portrait he scrawled in blue and yellow crayons when he was four [ 60 ].)

“It definitely started with me. But then Sidney took it to a whole other level. He wanted everything to be Canadiens, pyjamas, posters, you name it. Sidney’s favorite player was Kirk Muller and he’s had that poster up on the wall in his bedroom for as long as I can remember. [Sidney’s] Canadiens jersey had Crosby on the back with my No. 29 on it. He wore that thing everywhere.” - Troy Crosby [72]

Troy coached older kids when Sidney was still little; Sidney would tag along and follow Troy around the rink, listening to anything Troy would tell him about hockey. Troy gave Sidney “little lessons” about how to act around teammates, team staff, and trainers. It was the little things like cleaning up after yourself, being polite, and treating your space and other people with respect. It wasn’t just about playing hockey; it was about living hockey, and living hockey well [ 374 ].

Sidney was always watching his father’s old game tapes [ The Rookie, p. 197]. He had a particular interest in Troy’s history with the game—at a young age he developed a fondness for Troy’s binder of old Pro Set hockey cards. While Troy would tell him stories from his time in the Q, Sidney would flip through the pages and seek out Troy’s old teammates in the cards. For Sidney, the hockey cards were a link to the far-off world of the NHL. The Maritimes’ isolation from the league meant the facts on the back of hockey cards were as good as gold to Sidney. Toronto and Montreal “seemed like they were on a different planet,” and checking stats on the back of cards or watching half-hour sports shows on television was how Sidney felt connected to the big leagues [ Hockey Card Stories 2 ].

“My favourite cards were the ones you got at McDonald’s and the ones from Upper Deck. They showed the players out of their uniforms and were somewhat random photos but that’s why I remember them. I remember one of Felix Potvin and his black lab, and Doug Gilmour in his Harley jacket... I remember looking at those cards and thinking I’d never seen pictures of hockey players like that before. Until then, I had only seen pictures of players in action, never out of their gear. So that sticks out from when I was a young kid.” - Sidney Crosby [ Hockey Card Stories 2 ]

Every night after dinner, Sidney would strap on his rollerblades and grab a hockey stick [60]. All he wanted to do was play hockey, and his family indulged him; Troy would set up stickhandling mazes for Sidney to practice in, or would even put Sidney in goal to shoot on him. “He shot pretty hard,” said Sidney. “I don’t know if he was trying to deter me from being a goalie” [374]. Sidney’s grandmother Linda Crosby would play goal while sitting on a chair in the living room (“She was tough to beat,” Sidney would later say, straight-faced). “He shot on anything that would remain still” [Taking the Game…, p. 38, The Rookie, p. 47-48]. 

Everything was about hockey. Even at Christmas, the World Junior Championship received top priority in the Crosby household, and as soon as all the presents were opened, Sidney would turn on the TV to watch [ 48 ].

“Sidney was just Sidney. We didn’t have an explanation as to why God made him like that. He just came to us. He’s competitive and he’s passionate, and that’s the way he is. He loved hockey.” - Trina Crosby [ 49 ]

His favorite season was winter, and nothing was better than the feeling of lake ice under his skates. Troy Crosby had a friend with a four-wheeler who could groom pond ice and Sidney’s ragtag group of friends loved to get out on Bissett Lake in Cole Harbour to skate and play. At age 5, Sidney would play shinny for hours [ The Rookie, p. 211 & 254]. 

“The ice wouldn’t always be completely frozen, so when the puck sailed to the middle of the lake, I had to skate pretty fast so I wouldn’t fall through. When a guy came back without the puck, you knew the ice had cracked. One day I’d pretend to be Gretzky, another day, Lemieux... We’d be freezing, but the next day, we couldn’t wait to get back out there.” - Sidney Crosby [ 60 ]

Sidney started playing organized hockey at 4 [ 21 ]. By the time he was 5 and wearing #8 in Timbits hockey in Dartmouth, he was already considered a “can’t-miss prospect” [ 3 , The Rookie, p. 48]. His Timbits coach, Paul Gallagher, was in disbelief at Sidney’s skill level and went to the program organizers to double-check that Sidney was only 5 [ 24 ]. Troy spoke to Brian Newton, a novice-level coach, over the phone to see if Sidney could be moved up to the 6-year-old novice level [ 9 ].

“When he was five or six, you could tell he had something special. Everything came easy to him. That’s not to say he doesn’t work hard at it, because he does, but he was able to do so much more at such a high level. He loves to play. He loves to practise.” - Troy Crosby [221]

Newton, used to these calls from overenthusiastic parents, told Troy that if Sidney was as good as Troy claimed, Newton would be able to pick him out from the other kids. Newton headed over to the rink the following Saturday, and sure enough, he could tell who Sidney was in an instant [ 9 ].

“I just kind of hid myself from the parents and out these guys came and he just stuck out like a sore thumb. It was just amazing—I’d never seen anyone with that skill level at five years of age.” - Brian Newton, Cole Harbour Red Wings AAA novice coach [ 9 ]

Sidney was moved up to the 6-year-old level, and in the winter of 1993, Sidney started playing rep, “a level reserved for the best players in each age group” [ 9 ]. He was 6, playing with 10-year-olds on the Cole Harbour Novice C's [ Taking the Game …, p. 28, 60 ].

“And I think with Sidney, he always believed that no one cared as much about the game as he did. He believed—and I'm sure he was right—that he always came to the rink more ready to play than anybody else. He had confidence no matter who he was playing against. It didn't matter if they were older, or if they were from other teams and other provinces that had more ice time or whatever. No matter who he was playing against, they hadn't spent as much time practicing and working on their game as he had.” - Tim Spidel, peewee teammate  [ Taking the Game…, p. 34]

Sidney’s age would be a common refrain throughout his childhood; he maintained an elite level of play while usually being significantly younger than his teammates. There was real risk in playing younger children against older children, and as The Daily News sports editor (and rival novice coach) Carl Fleming noted, Sidney was “so much tinier than the rest of the players who were two to three years older than him. It's not a situation that you’d want to put most kids in, but there was no problem for Sidney... no risk that he was going to get hurt or discouraged. Even at that stage he was capable of doing some amazing things on the ice. He could do things with the puck that the older boys just weren’t capable of” [ Taking the Game…, p. 28].

“My whole life, I was kind of the youngest guy on my team. It was kind of unique. I was able to do it and be the youngest, because that was something that was repeated to me a lot. But I was always told that age is just a number.” - Sidney Crosby [ 37 ]

“He was always younger than the other kids and always the smallest kid, but I always told him it’s better to be small and good because if you’re big and good, they’ll always say you’re good because you’re big.” - Troy Crosby [ 40 ]

His skating was superb and his hockey sense was already advanced. Sidney learned very quickly how to make blind passes and how to pass behind his back [ 3 ]. “He was 6 [years old] at the time and he could do things that other kids that age couldn’t do, that 8- or 9-year-olds couldn’t do,” his future hockey coach Paul Mason said. “He could make plays and passes where the other kids had tunnel vision. That stood out the most to me at that point. At the same time he had the skill to score” [ 70 ]. Troy would buy him hockey videos (with titles such as “Gretzky’s Greatest Goals”) and Sidney would watch them on repeat, absorbing as much as he could [ 40 ].

It’s also worth noting that hockey players always have been and always will be gross: “He didn’t like his uniforms to be washed,” Trina said. “I’d just hang ‘em outside on the deck to dry. He loved the smell of those uniforms. He wanted to keep the smell. Everybody else can’t stand the smell, but he and his father, they loved it” [ 40 ].

Troy painted the basement to look like a hockey rink and set up a net at one end, with extra netting behind the goal to protect the basement appliances. Despite Troy’s efforts, Sidney still managed to absolutely trash the dryer, streaking it with puck marks and knocking off all the knobs [ 19 ]. He even damaged the furnace on one memorable occasion. Trina called the fire department, thinking gas was leaking. It was only hot water, as Sidney recounted defensively. “It wasn’t like I was tearing the house apart,” he said. “That was my space” [ 60 ].

“I hit [the dryer] and then I’d hear upstairs, ‘What was that?’ I didn’t say anything. After a while, [my mom] didn’t care. But it took a bad beating.” - Sidney Crosby [ 3 ]

There was a television room off to the side of the hockey equipment that had eaten up much of the basement. Troy would sit and listen to the sound of Sidney’s roller blades on the concrete, or would feed passes to Sidney to work on Sidney’s forehand and backhand. “It was one of those things, that is where we spent a lot of hours. Thousands of pucks have been shot down there, thousands. In some small way, they’re all pieces of the puzzle” [61].

Some thought Sidney’s consuming focus on hockey was the product of Troy’s own obsession. According to Tim Spidel, one of Sidney’s old teammates, Sidney’s desire for things to be all hockey all the time was innate. Sid always wanted to play,” said Spidel. “Always. Every hour that he wasn’t sleeping or in school he’d be doing something with hockey in it.” Sidney didn’t invite friends over to play Nintendo or watch TV; he invited them over to help him tear up the basement or shoot pucks out on the street. “That’s the thing with Sidney when we were coming up. I don’t think that we ever looked at it like it was work or a grind—he just made a game of what we were doing. He ‘played’ hockey like it was play, like it was something to have fun with. And I really think that we did and that's why we never got tired of it” [ Taking the Game…, p. 34].

“People would say I had him shooting 500 pucks and doing 200 pushups. It was ridiculous. He was competitive.” - Troy Crosby [ 49 ]

“You can't really look too far ahead. There's so many things that can happen. Some kids are late bloomers. The worst thing you could probably do is pressure him too much.” - Troy Crosby [298]

Eventually, Troy had to relinquish goaltender duties for Sidney when Sidney was 7—he had started shooting at Troy’s shins [ 3 ]. “He was killing me,” Troy said. “I told him, ‘You don’t need a goaltender, just shoot at the net.’” According to Troy, Sidney had a penchant for taking full wind-up slapshots [ Taking the Game…, p. 38].

“I had a little bit of talent, but talent is nothing without hard work. My dad was supportive and gave me little tips. Along the way, I absorbed everything I could like a sponge.”  - Sidney Crosby [182]

Sidney’s athletic ability wasn’t limited to hockey; Trina said he had the form of a 20-year-old when he threw baseballs, and “when it came to motor skills, he could do everything.” One of the lifeguards at Sidney’s YMCA preschool told Trina “I’ve never seen a four-year-old with developed pecs before” [ 8 ]. When he grew older, he’d eventually play football, baseball and tennis [ 1 , 5:22]. Despite his athleticism, he was still just one of the kids most of the time. “He enjoyed his little box of juice after the game just like all the others” [ 24 ].

When he wasn’t playing hockey, Sidney “enjoyed playing POG, watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and play-wrestling with friends, hurling himself off furniture, like his idol Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart” [ 60 ]. 

“Troy needed the hockey bond with Sidney, so I needed my own thing to be close with him. So I’d take him to puppet shows, the Ice Capades, or we’d put on our raincoats and boots and jump in puddles. Maybe that’s why he’s so balanced, because it wasn’t always about hockey.” - Trina Crosby [ 60 ]

“When he was six, Sidney and I would play hairdresser. One day we were driving to practice, and he said, ‘Dad, I don’t know if I want to play in the NHL or be a hairdresser.’ If you could’ve seen the look on Troy’s face! Shocked, he said, ‘Well, Sid, uh, you don’t have to make any snap decisions just yet.’ We didn’t play hairdresser anymore.” - Trina Crosby [ 60 ]

Sidney attended Colonial John Elementary School, Colby Village Elementary School (whose mascot was a penguin [ 54 ]) and Astral Drive Junior High. He had a “huge circle of friends” according to Astral Drive Junior High Vice Principal Karen Dale [124, 198]. In his own words, he was a “decent” student (though one article claimed he was an honors student [288]), and his parents pressed him to work hard in school. His favorite subjects were history and math, and his least favorite was science [ 68 ]. He was also very strong in family studies [ 61 ].

His love of history came in part due to the hours he would spend volunteering at a local hospital for veterans where his aunt worked. Some of the veterans there loved talking about their service, and Sidney was an avid listener [ 52 ].

He was bad at art, dance, and music, barely passing the recorder unit in school. Despite this, he inexplicably starred in a school play. Trina’s mother, Catherine Forbes, said “He’s so handsome. I betcha he’s going to be on the soap operas one day .” Trina had break it to her mother that “He won’t, because he can’t act” [ 60 ].

“He can't dance. God love him, he's a wonderful boy, but he can't dance a lick.” - Trina Crosby [270]

Even at school,Sidney found a way to focus on hockey. As a part of an elementary school project, he wrote “letters to the Philadelphia Flyers asking for autographed hockey cards and photographs” [ The Rookie, p. 120].

"People at school talked about it—you know, he's always playing hockey. There would be the normal school things that he'd miss because of hockey. Because it was sports, people didn't think it was geeky.” - Tim Spidel, peewee teammate [ Taking the Game…, p. 34]

In novice hockey (typically for players under 9 years of age), Sidney realized he had a “special talent” of some sort, and the media noticed too [ 21 ]. He was interviewed by a newspaper reporter for the first time in 1994, at age 7 in the Cole Harbour community hockey rink just outside of Dartmouth [ 19 , 38 , 39 ].

Charlene Sadler, the reporter, took note of his skill, calling him “nimble and sure-footed,” but also pointed out that he was “noticeably smaller” than the other children on the ice. He was the youngest player there by at least two years. Even so, he “dominated” [ 39 ].

“I interviewed the future star in the changing room. He was so little and was as cute as a bug. His feet didn’t touch the ground and he swung his legs back and forth during the interview.

“I asked him if he hoped to make it to the NHL. He was polite and soft-spoken and thoughtful with his answers. There was no seven-year-old bravado or delusion of greatness.

“‘They say you have to do your best and work hard and things will happen. You can make it if you try,’ he said.” - Charlene Sadler [ 39 ]

“It was very cute. I went out to get the car, and I thought we were going to be, like, five or ten minutes, you know? And I was out in the car, and I was kind of ticked off because they were taking so long and I wanted to get home.” [She went back inside and found Sidney sitting on the bench, yakking away with the reporter.] “It was just so cute. His feet weren’t touching the ground.” - Trina Crosby [ 46 ]

Trina marked novice as a shifting point for her and Sidney’s relationship, implying she was more of an observer, “that the passion Troy and Sidney shared for the game, and their shared competitiveness, set them apart from her at an early age. ‘Probably when Sidney played novice, I lost them. I just made sure he got fed,’ she said” [ 61 ].

As a 7-year-old, Sidney’s team had two practices and one game each week, but hockey was a constant affair for him. Sidney would always be playing road hockey with his friends—according to him, “There weren’t too many days that went by when we didn’t play hockey. We had lots of kids in our neighborhood and we always wanted to play hockey. We played ball hockey a lot and I’d also play hockey in my basement. I tried to play every day because I love the game” [ 91 ].

“Right now, Sidney lives for hockey. This week, it’s the SEDMHA tournament. After that, he joins the Nova Scotia novice AAA select team, travelling around the Maritimes to play the best each province has to offer. Then summer hockey camps start up. For him, hockey is not a seasonal sport: it’s continuous. Hockey in the basement, hockey in the street, in the driveway. Hockey all the time.” - Charlene Sadler [298]

Sidney was intense; he was “consumed by winning. Not just at hockey. Not just in sport... there was something deep-seated, almost needy, about his attitude toward victory and defeat.” According to his former childhood teammate Andrew Gordon, Sidney would be “ruined after a loss—nothing you could say could pick him up” [ Taking the Game…, p. 35]. Any missed chances he had during games would eat at him. “I don’t know if you call it a mistake, or you call it something you wish you could do over again, but yeah, he’s always done that,” said Troy. “For a long time he’s done that, ever since he was a kid. For as long as I can remember” [ 97 ]. He turned everything into a competition, even betting who could finish their meals first. If he lost, he’d bet again: double or nothing [ Taking the Game…, p. 35]. 

“Once when Sidney was very young, we were driving home from a game and he started complaining about a mistake a defenseman had made. Troy turned to him and asked, ‘Do you think you were perfect today?’ Sidney said, ‘No.’ Troy told him to just worry about himself and never mind what others do. Sidney got the message.” - Trina Crosby [270]

Also at age 7, Sidney “began attending a... hockey camp for the top players in the Maritimes” [The Rookie, p. 48]. Held in Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island, the program was a “prominent hockey school” and usually drew older players [ 114 ] . Brad Richards, another future NHLer, was an instructor at the camp and saw Sidney there four or five years in a row [ The Rookie, p. 48]. Even though Sidney was seven years younger than Richards, Richards was impressed by how Sidney was a “sponge” regarding hockey. Sidney talked hockey constantly and played so well that in his later years at the camp—ages 13, 14, and 15—he was selected to play in showcase games with NHL players [ 114 ].

“You see a lot from a lot of kids early, but he was different. Even the way he put his equipment on was different. He was already professional in the way he carried himself. Even at that early age, you could tell he was special, head and shoulders above everyone else his age. He never stopped learning, he just kept going. Kids usually peak. He never did.” - Brad Richards [The Rookie, p. 48]

Sidney’s coach on the Cole Harbour Novice AAA Wings, Brian Newton, said his focus was to make sure the kids had fun, but AAA novice was still a competitive level. The parents acted like it, “booing the refs, jeering the opposing coaches and screaming at the players” [ 39 ].

Newton considered Sidney to be the best player he had ever seen, and that accolade was bringing Sidney attention [ 9 ].  Nova Scotians who lived hours away were hearing about a kid down in Cole Harbour who was “going to be the Next One” [ 70 ]. 

Not all the attention from Sidney’s rising star status was positive. During the provincial playoffs, an 8-year-old Sidney scored five goals in a game. After one of the goals, an adult fan “leaned over the glass and began yelling, ‘Go home Crosby, ya bum! You’ve got no skill!’ On another occasion, young Sidney left the arena in tears after a woman called him a ‘prima donna’ in the arena lobby. His parents had the job of not only driving their son to the rink, but too often consoling him during the ride home” [ 45 ]. Strangers repeatedly talked down to Sidney about his skills and his size [ 49 ]. When Sidney’s coach told Troy that parents were no longer allowed in the locker room, it not only “devastated” Troy, who cherished the time he got to spend helping Sidney suit up; it worried him. Troy could no longer act as a shield for Sidney in the locker room [ 60 ].

“I don’t know if jealousy is the right word, but there was definitely a lot of resentment. Maybe not with the kids, but with the parents. At one point, it was very hard to go to the rink if there had been a big article about Sidney in the newspaper.” - Trina Crosby [ 45 ]

“Sometimes there was nothing said, but you still felt it. Something like that happened every year and it got worse. There were so many comments. People said Troy pushed him too hard. It wasn’t everyone, but there were a lot.” - Trina Crosby [ 49 ]

Former CBC sports broadcaster Bruce Rainnie heard about Sidney in 1995, and though he was skeptical, he decided to see what the buzz was all about when Halifax sports writer Pat Connolly told him to watch Sidney play. The night Rainnie came to watch, Sidney recorded nine goals and two assists in a 13-9 Cole Harbour win over Shearwater [ 9 ].

“I thought if he develops into any sort of average to larger-sized athlete, this is going to be an NHL legend. And it was obvious from, honestly, the age of eight.” - Bruce Rainnie [ 9 ]

It was obvious not because of personal impressions, but because of the numbers Sidney put up. In atom hockey (typically ages 9-10), Sidney scored 159 goals in 55 games and finished the season with 280 points. He was 10 years old [ 43 ].

His success only riled up the crowds more. He heard derisive taunts and cruel words, to the point where he “would go out for the pregame warmup without his hockey jersey to avoid detection from rival fans” [ 45 ].

“It’s nothing new for me—it didn’t just start this season. I’ve been dealing with this since I was 9 or 10, guys shadowing you and saying stuff.” - Sidney Crosby [ 72 ]

Despite this, his love for the game still burned strong. He would wake up before dawn and skate with Troy before other teams rolled in to start their practices. Carl Fleming, a rival novice coach, recalled seeing Troy and Sidney out on the ice before Fleming’s 6 a.m. practices [ Taking the Game…, p. 33]. Another of Sidney’s coaches, Dennis Irwin, remembered having to “beg to get [Sidney] off the ice” [ 24 ].

Hockey was a group activity for Sidney. As much as he hung out in his basement, ruining the family’s dryer, he was always trying to rope friends into playing with him. “With Sid,” his childhood friend Mike Chiasson remarked, “you knew you were always going in his basement to play hockey, have a shootout.” On Saturday mornings, he was known to call his friends’ houses at unreasonable times, asking if they were awake and up to play street hockey [ 8 ]. Sidney always played goalie because he was too good for any other position [ 61 ].

“We’d have practice in the morning, and he’d want to play road hockey in the afternoon. Hockey, hockey, hockey. He was pretty much born on skates.” - Mike Chiasson [ 11 ]

“I always picked him as my goalie or tried to get him. If I had him in my net I knew I had a better chance at winning. We played the World Roller Hockey Championship, which was by no means the ‘World’ Roller Hockey Championship. It was six teams from Cole Harbour. I went with all young guys. He was my goalie. We were the underdogs and pulled off the victory. We picked the right goalie.” - Jeff Kielbratowski, childhood friend [ 71 ]

“Whatever we were doing he always wanted to make it a competition or a sport. It hasn’t changed since the time he was 6 or 7. It was always a series or championship on the line. I guess that’s why he is where he is today.” - Mike Chiasson [ 71 ]

“I played as much as possible. Whether it was organized games in a league or shinny at our local rink. I grew up in Cole Harbour. We were in a row of townhouses and there was a bunch of us who always played together. I’d knock on doors after school and on weekends, trying to get guys to come out to play. And we had a really good bunch of players. We called it ‘our dynasty.’ We won a lot of championships.” - Sidney Crosby [ Most Valuable, p. 96]

Sidney’s friends were a tight-knit group. They played several sports together, from hockey to baseball, so they were teammates year-round. Sidney was involved in a swath of sports, always on the go [60]. He played on the Cole Harbour Cardinals baseball team until he was 14, where was coached by his future hockey coach Paul Mason [69, 70]. He was usually a third baseman and pitcher, though he also liked to play catcher because he enjoyed being constantly involved in gameplay... and he “liked having the game go the way [he] called it” [Taking the Game…, p. 97]. 

In the Mosquito A baseball Atlantic Championship (the Canadian equivalent of Little League Baseball), Sidney was pitching and his friend Mike Chiasson was catching. Sidney pitched 5 of the 6 innings before being pulled— “He ran into some control issues in the sixth. We had to yank him in the sixth and I never let him live that down,” said Chiasson—and the Cardinals just barely held on to win the championship [ 71 ]. The Cardinals won the Atlantic championship in the two seasons Sidney played with Mason and Chiasson [ 70 , 357, 358 ]. Their 1997 season was particularly stunning; their team of 12 Cole Harbour natives won 49 of 56 games and won all 5 Maritime tournaments they entered by winning 25 games straight. That year, Sidney was named Tournament MVP at the PEI Tournament in July and All-Star 3rd baseman at the Atlantic Championship [ 358 ].

“The ball team won every game in provincials by the 10-run rule and went undefeated in all tournament play. It was almost unfair. We lost four games throughout the whole year. That year we had six no-hitters from different pitchers, [Sidney] was one of them.” - Paul Mason, Cole Harbour Cardinals coach [ 70 ]

Sidney was nearly scouted for professional baseball, but was too young and pursuing hockey instead [ 82 ].

“...we had a real shot at playing in the Little League World Series when I was a kid. We were that good. It didn’t happen though. I had to give up [baseball] and concentrate on hockey and I was pretty sad about that—I really loved the game. I still wish I could play.” - Sidney Crosby [Taking the Game…, p. 97]

Outside of sports, Sidney and his friends got into run-of-the-mill childhood trouble like scamming the local mini golf course so they could play the course twice for only a dollar, or boxing on the back of Matthew Foston’s deck until Sidney lost a tooth [ 71 ]. They enjoyed going to flea markets in Cole Harbour, the Penhorn Mall in Dartmouth, and the Civic Centre in Halifax to barter with hockey card dealers. Sidney once got fleeced and traded away his Mario Lemieux rookie card for a set of trophy cards, including a Stanley Cup card [ Hockey Card Stories 2 ]. The Crosbys also hosted Tomáš Sedlák, a teenage Czech hockey player, while he attended a Halifax hockey camp for a summer [ 117 ]. 

“We would have sleepovers at his old spot, Trina making pancakes in the morning.” - Matthew Foston, childhood friend [ 71 ]

In pee-wee hockey (typically ages 11-12), Sidney continued to impress. He joined the Pee-Wee AAA Cole Harbour Red Wings at age 10, and his old baseball coach Paul Mason became his hockey coach. Mason had watched Sidney grow up as a hockey player and claimed that he knew from the moment he first saw Sidney play at 6 years old that Sidney would be an NHL player. Sidney was incredibly competitive, and “hated to lose more than he liked to win” [ 70 ].

“He was underage, but he was the top player... He dominated and every team knew that he was the player you had to stop... We said it jokingly, but we weren’t joking, offensively you almost couldn’t coach him at pee-wee because he saw things that you didn’t see. What he could see live during the play was different than other kids. You could teach him some things defensively or system plays, but you couldn’t restrict someone with that ability at that age.” - Paul Mason, Cole Harbour Red Wings AAA pee-wee coach [ 70 ]

Paul Mason was also a family friend of the Crosbys; he would drive Sidney to and from practices and games, and Sidney’s first car accident occurred during one of these trips. “I lost my eye and it was only a couple weeks after and I pulled out in front of a motorcycle. I remember Sid’s mom was losing her mind,” Mason laughed [ 70 ]. Trina and Mason had a playful relationship that involved the occasional prank, the most memorable of which occurred in Charlottetown, P.E.I. The team was competing for the Atlantic title and was celebrating at a restaurant after making it past the semi-finals. Mason roped a waiter into delivering a bowl of ice cream to Trina. The catch was that the ice cream was topped with Mason’s fake eye [ 380 ]. 

When he wasn’t pulling a fast one on Trina, Mason did his best to coach her prodigious son. Mason points to an instance at Cole Harbour Place on the Scotia 1 rink as proof of Sidney’s skill; Sidney had the puck below the goal line and was trapped without a clear pass to any of his teammates. He banked a pass off of the net to his teammate, Corey Manfield, who was perfectly positioned in the slot. The puck landed right on Manfield’s stick and he put it home. “We looked at each other on the bench. We’ll never forget that,” Mason said. “We talked about that for years. I’ve never seen that done at any other level” [70].

“He had vision beyond vision. My assistant coach and I used to look at each other and say ‘Did he do that on purpose?’” - Paul Mason [24, 54]

Despite his small stature (in comparison to the boys he played against), Sidney was like “an adult playing with kids” according to Darren Cossar, the executive director of Hockey Nova Scotia. He possessed control, vision, and an iron-fisted grip on the concepts of hockey. The puck “seemed to follow him or always be around him” because of his ability to read other players and predict where the puck would be before anyone else. “It was as if he knew where the play was going and what the other kids were thinking” [ The Story of…, p. 8].

His skill was so great that he often found himself stifled by his teammates. Though he was coachable, he would often find himself in a rut when his teammates couldn’t play up to his level. “He’d be frustrated that no one else could think like him and keep up with him,” said Mason. It meant the coaching staff had to find increasingly creative ways to use Sidney on the ice. “I remember telling him—he was getting frustrated once, playing Halifax, on the bench. They had two guys on him, and I said, ‘Sid, skate out in the neutral zone,’ and two guys would follow him out. We had a power play, it was 5-on-4, he’d skate out, and we now had a 4-on-2” [ 380 ].

The Cole Harbour Red Wings attended the Quebec International BSR Pee-Wee tournament, where hype was growing around a kid from northern Quebec. “The people said he was this special kid, so we went to watch him,” Mason said. “I remember saying that we have a kid as good as him, if not better, and he's not even pee-wee age” [ 70 ]. 

“From the time he was a kid, he played up to the competition. I told him to always challenge yourself to be the best. Don’t settle for being ordinary. That was just my philosophy.” - Troy Crosby [ 37 ]

Sidney, once again competing against children two or three years older than him, had a dominant showing at the tournament. In his first game, Sidney put six goals and four assists on the board. The modest media hype around him exploded [ 9 ]. When the team returned to Cole Harbour, Mason fielded calls about Sidney from all over the country and beyond, including one from the Czech Republic [ 167 ].

“Even on a Thursday night in Cole Harbour there might be more people that would show up than would normally be there, to have a look. Everybody’s interested, everybody was inquisitive to try and figure out, y’know, have a look at the kid.” - Trina Crosby [ 228 , 3:50]

Once again, the attention brought negative consequences. By the time he was 11, “he’d sit in the stands during tournaments while waiting for his team’s turn to play, wearing shoulder pads but no sweater; too often parents, seeing the name on his jersey, had jeered him to the point of tears” [ 8 ]. Sidney struggled to understand why it was happening, and his parents struggled to cope with their son being the focus of criticism and bullying. Troy and Trina were still young; “We didn’t have enough life experience to understand that you can’t make everybody like you,” said Trina [365]. 

“But back then to hear people criticizing Sidney, it just felt like it was to be hurtful because you’d think ‘My God, he’s 10 years old, get a life.’ I mean, who knows or who cares if he’s going to be six feet tall, he’s having a ball right now and he’s doing well so why can’t we move forward with that. But lots of times you’d be in the rink and somebody who was standing a foot away from you who didn’t know you from a hole in the wall would start saying things like ‘Wait until he gets to the next level, they’re going to pound him. He’s never going to be anything.’” - Trina Crosby [365]

“In arenas, when he’d watch the game before his, people would recognize him and yell out his name. To be that popular is overwhelming for an 11-year-old. He thought he was a freak. So he stopped wearing his jersey so people don’t recognize him. All that attention was hard on him.” - Troy Crosby [ 60 ]

Around this time, his parents noticed that he was “passing the puck more than usual, not skating as fast, not scoring as often. He was playing down. It dawned on them: Sidney was trying to fit in” [ 60 ].

Even when he tried to fit in, he stood out, and standing out wasn’t something his peers always appreciated. Though the words from the parents hurt, it was the other children that posed a more direct threat to Sidney. “I remember being in pee-wee, a guy trying to break my leg ,” said Sidney. He gestured as if he was swinging a stick. “It wasn’t even during a play: I was going to a face-off, and a guy just two-handed it right at my knee—like a baseball bat” [ 8 ].

“It’s been like that since I can remember, since pee-wee, atom. There’s been a guy shadowing me or guys taking runs.” - Sidney Crosby [ 20 , 10:18]

In 1999, Coach Harry O’Donnell of the Cole Harbour Red Wings AAA bantam team decided to play Sidney in the Joe Lamontagne Memorial March Break tournament. Sidney was 12 years old and “playing up” against boys as old as 15. “Playing up” is a point of debate in youth hockey and rarely does young players much good—it’s often considered more a sign of overly-ambitious parents than proof of extraordinary talent. Sidney, however, had been playing up his entire life, and had just led his own team to the Atlantic Pee-Wee Championship in Fredericton the previous weekend [258, Taking the Game…, p. 41]. 

Sidney, when asked how he was able to advance his game so quickly, shrugged off the idea that his obsessive focus on practice was a hardship. “Yeah, I mean, it’s not like work,” he said. “I’m just observant when I’m watching hockey. I always want to learn new things. It’s something that I absorb quickly.” He equated his ability to pick up hockey skills to how some of his classmates were inherently good at certain subjects in school— “hockey is something that I seem to know.” Sidney would constantly be watching the older players and taking note of their skills and moves. If they were doing it at 16 and he was able to figure it out by 12 or 13, he reasoned he’d be ahead of the game creatively. Better yet was when he’d be able to take what he learned from other players and make something new [357]. His attention to detail and his innate hockey skill meant that he often looked more at home playing against older boys than kids his own age.

“It was Sidney’s goal to be the best. It wasn’t about being a puck hog. It wouldn’t have been fair to ask him to play down to other players.” - Troy Crosby [ 49 ]

“Playing up” starts having material consequences as players get older. When a 6-year-old plays with 9-year-olds in a no-contact league, there’s not much risk. When a 12-year-old plays against 15-year-olds in a bantam tournament that allows body checking, age matters [ Taking the Game…, p. 41]. Sidney was 5’2” and 130 pounds at the time—significantly smaller than many of the bantam players at the Joe Lamontagne Memorial March Break tournament [258]. 

Though he was small, Sidney had a wonderful showing, netting a goal and three assists in the team’s 10-0 win over the TASA minor hockey team. His success brought him attention and then consequences; the Cole Harbour Hockey Association’s age rules prohibited a player as young as Sidney from playing in a bantam tournament. O’Donnell was suspended by the CHHA for the first game of the Irving Oil Challenge Cup, Atlantic Canada's AAA bantam championship, as a punishment for playing Sidney, and Sidney was denied the ability to play in the championship, which would have been a “personal showcase” for him in his hometown of Cole Harbour [258, Most Valuable, p. 43-44].

“I think it’s pretty cheap, because Brent Theriault [another pee-wee-aged player] will be playing for the Halifax Hawks, and I can’t play. I wanted to finish my season this weekend playing in the bantam Atlantics, but now I can’t. It’s just politics, I guess.” - Sidney Crosby [258]

In interviews with local media, Sidney rebuffed the notion that checking and potential injury were serious concerns: “It’s no big deal,” he said. “I played with those same guys most of last year. It wasn’t that hard. After the first period, I was pretty well used to it” [ Taking the Game…, p. 42]. Sidney estimated he’d played around 80 games with checking at this point. His father Troy was rankled by the association’s flat refusal to let Sidney play, arguing that bantam hockey was the best option to continue Sidney’s development as a player. “Everyone should be challenged to play at their best,” said Troy, “otherwise it’s just a waste of time” [258]. 

Questions emerged over the CHHA’s age rules—in the previous season, several boys played up from pee-wee to bantam. In the offseason, the CHHA had tightened their age requirements. That the new rules would hold back Sidney, who had been garnering media attention for years, must have been obvious to league officials. “In fact, some [people made] the case that it was a change in policy made with [Sidney] in mind, and it had to be hard for him not to take it personally” [ Taking the Game…, p. 42].

Troy appealed to the Cole Harbour officials but was denied a meeting. The officials were skeptical of Sidney, overlooking that he’d already played a season of full-contact hockey and racked up over 200 points in 70 games while doing it. Fellow players thought Sidney could handle the pressure: “He was stronger than some of the biggest guys on the team—on his skates he was stronger than practically anyone. Nobody who played against him—no matter how big or how much older— thought that he was easy pickings or anything like that,” said Chad Anderson, who played against Sidney from novice through bantam. The officials were uninterested in what Sidney’s peers thought. Officials didn’t see a plucky prodigy when they looked at Sidney, but rather a boy playing against teens who clocked in at over six feet tall [ Taking the Game…, p. 42-43]. 

“Whenever he was playing up—whether he was 6 or 12 or whatever—he just seemed to know how to act around the older guys and he knew what to say. He didn’t make it seem like he had to try to do that. He just knew and made it seem natural. No one ever objected to having him around—you had to respect his game and you had to respect him just for the way he is.” - Andrew Gordon, former age-group teammate [ Taking the Game…, p. 44]

Despite the Crosby family’s efforts, Sidney was denied entry into the bantam tournament. CHHA officials refused to explain their decision, even though pee-wee-aged players from other Maritime leagues were participating in the championship. The CHHA president declared it an “internal” matter, turned away interviews, and hung up on locals who called to plead Sidney’s case [ Most Valuable, p. 43-44].

The media attention on the family began to grow, particularly on Troy. He was “not always well respected,” and one local columnist said he was “no angel” [ Taking the Game…, p. 44]. Another suggested that “[some] of the criticism directed at [Sidney] might be misplaced anger from those who object to Troy’s behaviour in the stands” [ Most Valuable, p. 43]. 

“Some of the stuff that Troy and Trina had to put up with at the arena was awful. There were lots of awful things that were said to him and his parents by the parents of other players. It had to make them very uncomfortable—it certainly did with Trina. And Troy had to take the role of looking out for Sidney. It wasn’t just Sidney’s playing up. [Troy] looked out for him in a lot of areas—whether it was teams coming after Sidney or agents or whatever. And Troy had to be firm and sometimes tough in looking after Sidney’s interests.” - Ed Spidel, father of teammate Tim Spidel [Taking the Game…, p. 44]

Sidney was hungry for more hockey and more challenges. If he wasn’t careful, though, the hockey world would take a bite out of him too.


Chapter Text

By the start of the 2000-2001 season, Sidney had turned 13 and was eligible to play bantam hockey. Before the Cole Harbour Red Wings AAA bantam team opened their tryouts, though, his focus slid up a level to midget hockey.

The Dartmouth Subways AAA midget team was hosting practices, and coach Brad Crossley invited Sidney out for a test run [287].

Then the hammer came down.

Sidney had been practicing with the Dartmouth Subways at their training camp for only three days (and had scored four goals and an assist during an intrasquad game [288]) before he was ordered off the ice on August 17, 2000. Keith Boutilier, the Dartmouth regional director of the Hockey Nova Scotia Minor Hockey Council, threatened Crossley with disciplinary action if he continued to allow Sidney to play or even practice with the Subways. Crossley had not followed the Nova Scotia Hockey rules, which state that for a player to jump two levels, there must be approval by the minor hockey council [287].

“I’m getting sort of tired of it. I wish they wouldn’t think so much about age. I was taught all my life age is just a number and to always shoot for your best. That’s what I’m doing and they just keep putting me back down.” - Sidney Crosby [288]

Sidney, his parents, and Crossley met with the council in a closed meeting at the Annapolis Valley Inn on September 24. The meeting did not go well: “The reception that we got down there was despicable,” said Trina. “Every one of the people on that board should be ashamed of themselves. We left no rock unturned. But they weren’t even listening to what we were saying. They looked very disinterested. We thought we had a legitimate opportunity for him to be allowed to play. But it was a formality, really. They had absolutely no intention of allowing him to play” [293].

Sure enough, a day later the council informed Sidney that his bid to play midget hockey had been rejected. In its letter to the Crosby family, the provincial council wrote: “[We] recognize that Sidney is a very talented young man, but do not believe that it is in the best interests of his growth and development to approve such a move. Therefore, I regret to inform you that approval was not given to allow Sidney to move from pee-wee AAA to midget AAA” [293]. 

The Crosbys were not so easily deterred— “From the time Sidney started playing minor hockey he’s always been fast-tracked and always played an age level above,” said Trina, who believed the Subways would be a “wonderful stepping stone” for Sidney to grow his hockey: “By Christmas, he would be someone to reckon with,” she said. “We don’t see him riding the bench” [288].

Sidney did not attend the bantam tryouts when they opened, and the Crosbys mounted an appeal to Hockey Nova Scotia. “ [Sidney] wants us to follow every avenue that’s available to us,” said Trina. “That’s what we're going to do” [293]. It escalated to the point that the Crosbys sought a civil court order to allow Sidney to play [ Most Valuable, p. 44-46].

“A bunch of us went to bat for him to make the case that he wasn’t just good enough to play, but he was going to be a dominant player at that level.” - Paul Gallagher, Cole Harbour Red Wings Bantam AAA Coach [ Most Valuable, p. 44-46]

During the court case, Sidney was barred from playing hockey entirely. For six weeks he sat on the sidelines while his parents and community tried to convince Hockey Nova Scotia that he could play midget AAA hockey. “It was cruel what happened to him,” Troy said. “He was treated like a criminal” [ 42 ]. Finally, the decision came: Sidney would not be permitted entry into the midget league, and would instead return to his bantam team to be coached once more by his old Timbits coach Paul Gallagher [ 24 ]. “Our next step would have been the CHA, but we’re not going to bother,” said Troy. “They’re all going to say no. They aren’t going to overturn a decision of one of their branches. It would have been a waste of money and a waste of time” [266].

“I would have been challenged in midget. I'm still going to get better, but I think I would have improved a lot more in midget.” - Sidney Crosby [266]

After a month and a half without playing in a hockey game, Sidney laced up his skates for the Bridgewater bantam tournament. He scored 20 points in 5 games and led his Cole Harbour Red Wings to a tournament victory [266].

“I said ‘All set?’

“[Sidney] said ‘Let’s get ‘er going.’” - Paul Gallagher, Cole Harbour Red Wings Bantam AAA Coach [ 24 ]

His dominant play at Bridgewater seemed like blatant evidence to the Crosbys that Sidney had progressed past bantam-level hockey. “[Bantam is] not bad hockey,” Troy said. “That’s not the point. He has a talent to play at [the midget] level. I don’t think it was fair. We tried our best, that’s all we can do. Politics sometimes interferes” [266].

“The Crosbys lost but the one who seemed to take it best was Sidney. When he showed up for practice [with the bantam team] after the court decision, I took him aside. I wanted to make sure he was in a good place about it. It would have been tough to handle anything like that, and especially if you’re 13. But what I love about Sidney, he just looked at me and said, ‘It’s okay. Let’s just go win the championship.’ And that’s what we did that season. We ended up winning the Atlantic Canada title with him that year, and I’ll never forget the goal in overtime. He set up the goal with a pass between the defenseman’s legs to get the winner. Andrew Newton scored it. Did [the court decision] bother him? I’m sure it did. Did it affect his play? Not for a second.” - Paul Gallagher, Cole Harbour Red Wings Bantam AAA Coach [ Most Valuable, p. 46]

Before bantam, Sidney had only been able to practice twice a week and was largely a local phenomenon. Though locals had started hearing about him and even travelling to watch him play, Halifax wasn’t a hotbed of hockey talent. “[While] he won city, provincial, and Atlantic championships, the larger hockey ecosystem in Canada didn’t know much of him at all.” Some considered his performance “meaningless because the caliber of the Nova Scotia league” was not up to snuff [ 70 , 227 , 37:58, Taking the Game…, p. 43-45].

Sidney was tenacious and made teams better than they should have been. His skill enabled “everyone around him to be better and do better and push harder. With his will to compete, [Sidney made] other players make themselves better” [ Taking the Game…, p. 36]. His talent also drew the attention of opposing teams. Cole Harbour Red Wings coach Paul Gallagher would talk to referees before the games: “I told them that I understand they can’t call everything — if they did, we would have been on the power play all game. I just told them, ‘Look, if you can get the cheap and dangerous stuff, when they go after him with the slashes on the gloves [or] up the arms.’ [The refs] were actually really good about it. They understood that this was a special player. Not like he needed special treatment or protection or anything. Just that other teams shouldn’t be able to get away with things to drag him down to their level” [ Most Valuable, p. 42].

Sidney led his Cole Harbour Red Wings to victory over the Moncton Subways at the Monctonian AAA Challenge hockey tournament on November 19, 2000, scoring one of the winning goals himself [262]. 

“It’s a small city and a small hockey community. Everybody knows everybody. I’ve known Sidney and Troy for years. Sidney soaks up the game like a sponge. It’s not just that he has an incredible work ethic. He wants to learn about things that can make him better. Some great players might be tough to coach or are even uncoachable but Sidney was always prepared to take in whatever a coach or an instructor at hockey school had to offer—a coach’s dream. He was just so positive about the game.” - Rick Bowness, former coach of the Phoenix Coyotes and a Halifax resident [ Taking the Game…, p. 35]

Sidney’s year with the bantam team also enabled him to commit his most rebellious act yet: the Cole Harbour Red Wings bantam players decided to dye their hair red, which was not something Troy and Trina were pleased about. “Mine turned out maroon, something like that, because my hair’s darker,” Sidney said. “It didn’t turn out even the colour it was supposed to turn out. My parents knew I was doing it for a team thing. They understood that. It was important to me at the time. It was only for that reason. Once that season was over, the clippers came out and it was buzzed” [ 63 ].

Sidney met Pat Brisson, his future agent (and a former teammate of Mario Lemieux in the 80s), at a tournament in Toronto [5, 66]. Brisson took Sidney on as an unofficial client of the International Management Group (IMG) and began inviting Sidney to hockey development opportunities, including a Los Angeles summer hockey camp. Brisson would often take 16- and 17-year-old players to this camp, but made an exception for a much-younger Sidney. Accompanied by his father, Sidney scrimmaged for two weeks against older players, including NHL stars Chris Chelios and Luc Robitaille [8, 12].

“He was 13 with his father, and he got on the ice, and I remember him doing a spoon, an amazing move around Chris Chelios, and Chris Chelios tried to turn around and slash him, like who’s this kid? What is he doing here? He just made me look like a fool.” - Max Talbot [168, 8:50]

“He was just a peanut. At 13, he was asking questions like an 18-year-old kid. It’s been going like that from the beginning. It keeps getting better and better because he wants to get better.” - Pat Brisson [ 5 ]

Sidney’s time spent playing with boys who were older and bigger than him led to more punishing physical abuse on the ice. Troy, concerned for his son’s health and physical fitness, started looking for personal trainers [ The Rookie , p. 49]. Andy O’Brien fell into their lap while Sidney was at the elite hockey camp on Prince Edward Island [ 73 , 229 ].

“He was a thirteen-year-old playing against sixteen-year-olds, and they wanted someone who could develop his mind and body so he could continue to compete against older players who were running him. They had identified their kid had a special talent and were willing to do whatever it took to develop it. And Sidney had a determination about wanting to develop as well. It just seemed to come very naturally to him.” - Andy O’Brien [ The Rookie, p. 49]

O’Brien, a 22-year-old student of the University of Western Ontario’s kinesiology program, was a strength and conditioning coach and a guest presenter at the camp. He was somewhat of a radical thinker by hockey standards, much more interested in working specific muscle groups at high speed and striving for perfect form than building up muscle mass [ 229 ].

O’Brien was impressed by how Sidney used his entire body in a physical and aggressive manner. Sidney’s ability to be both a hard-working grinder and an unbelievably skilled player amazed O’Brien, as did Sidney’s awareness of his faults as a player. A “lumbering” skater, Sidney knew he needed to work on his speed and skating. Sidney and O’Brien hit it off, and O’Brien became Sidney’s trainer [ 73 , 229 ].

“We’d been hearing about a player there who was said to be the best 13-year-old in the world. But when I realized that this was the player they were talking about, I thought, ‘Good lord, this kid needs some work.’ He was lumbering around a bit out there.” - Andy O’Brien [ 229 ]

Under O’Brien’s analytical eye, Sidney would do nontraditional workouts, jumping, sprinting, somersaulting, and doing hurdles while O’Brien corrected his form and pointed out mechanical flaws in his movements. Sidney would wobble on a piece of plywood balanced on a length of pipe while O’Brien would “hit him with all the force [he] could to knock him off” or throw a medicine ball at him, all to make Sidney’s movements as mechanically efficient as possible [ 229 ].

At the time, O’Brien was based in P.E.I., and the Crosbys considered moving to the island to continue Sidney’s training. O’Brien was just finishing college and decided to expand his business to Halifax instead, which meant the family could stay in Cole Harbour [ The Rookie , p. 49]. Sidney and O’Brien started training that summer, working four hours a day and then increasing to six, spread over three sessions a day. “Speed work and lower body and then upper body workouts were punctuated by meal breaks to refuel” [ The Rookie , p. 50]. Trina would drop Sidney off at O’Brien’s Halifax home at 8 a.m. and pick him up around 2 p.m. after she was finished with work [ The Rookie , p. 50, 73 ] .

“...we would eat together and I would teach him all about physiology, the names of the muscles and the philosophy behind what we were doing.” - Andy O’Brien [ 73 ]

Sidney and O’Brien trained up and down Citadel Hill in Halifax. “The former military fortress and national historic site sits atop steep slopes and offers uneven footing and inspirational views of the Atlantic Ocean—Mother Nature’s treadmill” [ The Rookie , p. 50].

“It was a great way to throw off his balance and make him aware of his environment. We did a lot of agility work there, a lot of stops and starts. He ran up the hill with a medicine ball, up and down and laterally. It was a big part of his training. We love that hill.” - Andy O’Brien [ The Rookie, p. 50-51].

What O’Brien liked best about training with Sidney was that Sidney was effectively a blank slate; he hadn’t developed any bad habits, so O’Brien was able to teach him how to move his muscles in ways that wouldn’t harm him while he ran, jumped, and stabilized his body. Sidney was such a diligent worker that O’Brien was inspired by him, and they became good friends [ The Rookie , p. 50-51].

“The moment I met him, I was impressed with his maturity. When he walked into a weight room at thirteen, he knew exactly what he was doing and what he was there for. He reminded me of a lawyer entering a courtroom. He was polished and focused and had this gift of vision. He was able to free himself from distractions. He had the greatest amount of maturity of anyone I’d ever worked with. It made me want to work with him.

“So many times you hear about a great young player and then you never hear about them again, but he was very unusual.” - Andy O’Brien [ The Rookie, p. 49]

Also at age 13, Sidney was drafted by the Maritime Junior A Hockey League’s Truro Bearcats on June 16, 2001. He was the fifth pick in the second round, and it was unusual to take a player so young; “They don’t come along very often—this skilled, this young,” said Truro General Manager Steve Crowell. “He’s got the ability to play at our level. Obviously with his size, we’ll have to have lots of protection for him” [260].

Sidney insisted he would be able to play junior A hockey— “I’ve been adapting to each level I’ve gone to each year. It’s no different. It’s a bigger step, but I think I can do it.” — but his tone changed after he attended the training camp for Truro [260]. Though he said the camp was a good learning experience, he admitted “I just wanted to prove I could make the team and, after camp, make my decision. I thought I had a lot more learning to do and I needed to develop a little bit more. I don’t think I was ready for the physical part” [264]. Sidney decided to play midget hockey rather than skip from bantam to junior A. 

In school, Sidney was facing mounting attention from his peers. Though he was a bit of a homebody (“Even when he was 14 and his friends started going out on Friday nights, he never did,” Trina said . “He stayed home and watched movies” [ 60 ]), his classmates sometimes made it hard for him to fit in. Astral Drive Junior High School Principal Tim Schaus recalled a girl grabbing Sidney’s arms in the hallway before announcing, “I’m going to marry Sidney Crosby. He’s going to be a millionaire” [ 54 ].

“He was already a superstar then, in terms of our community, and we knew he was going to be a high achiever. But you would never know it. Sidney, basically, wanted to be just like the other guys. He did not really want all the attention.” - Andrea Rushton, teacher [ 54 ]

Sidney was approved to play midget AAA hockey (typically ages 15-17) as a bantam-aged 14-year-old with the Dartmouth Subways. Though he was considered small (5’8”, 165 lbs.) and was the youngest player on the team, he went on record saying that he was confident in his ability to play [ 12 , Taking the Game…, p. 45]. 

Most of the other players were two or three years older than him, including Sidney’s friend Jeff Kielbratowski. Kielbratowski, age 16, would sometimes chauffeur seventh-grader Sidney to school. Kielbratowski wanted to make sure that Sidney was always included but never overwhelmed by the team [ 75 ].

“He was always younger and would be a listener and always watching what guys were doing. He always wanted to be involved in stuff. Even if he was younger, he still wanted to be a part of everything.

“In the end we wanted to look out for him. The fact that he was 13 and playing with 16- and 17-year-olds, you want the best for your teammates, but also since he was so much younger we wanted to take care of him.” - Jeff Kielbratowski [ 75 ]

In the Nova Scotia AAA Midget Hockey League Icebreaker Tournament, held to help teams evaluate their rosters and make final cuts before the beginning of the regular season, Sidney scored a hat trick to lead the Subways to victory, 5-1 over the Pictou County Weeks in the tournament’s final [264]. It was a sign of what was to come: Sidney absolutely demolished the league, racking up 193 points in 74 games [ 8 , 22 , 137]. He came within four points of the league’s single-season record. His fantastic vision and excellent hockey sense were garnering praise, and he was already considered a possible top pick for the 2005 NHL Entry Draft [ 12 ].

“He has that exceedingly rare skill, that only the great ones possess, of being able to control the pace and tempo of the game whenever he is on the ice. I would liken him to a chess grandmaster in that he’s always plotting things six or seven moves ahead.

“He knows where every piece is on the board and he can envision possibilities within a play that other players could never possibly see. He’s just so imaginative out there; he’s like a hockey savant.” - Kyle Woodlief, Red Line Report publisher and chief scout  [ 12 ]

The Dartmouth Subways were not a deep team; aside from Sidney, they only had a few players who might make it to major junior hockey. That didn’t stop Sidney from taking the team by the reins and leading it to provincial and regional championships [ Most Valuable, p. 46]. He was the first to practice and the last to leave the ice, and before practice even began he’d work on skills in the hallway of the Dartmouth Sportsplex by himself [ The Story of… , p. 11]. When he faced his childhood friend Mike Chiasson, who still played for Cole Harbour, Sidney pulled no punches and scored a hat trick on Chiasson in the third period [ 379 ].

“I’ve never met a person or a player as driven as him. He just wants to be the best in everything. To talk about Sidney Crosby fills your heart. I think he was made to play hockey. He has an innate ability that can’t be taught. He’s a hockey artist. He can do things others can only dream of.” - Brad Crossley, Dartmouth Subways coach [ 37 ]

The Dartmouth Subways played in the Mac's Midget AAA World Invitational Tournament in Calgary over Christmas and New Year’s. The Subways had a rough showing but Sidney still stood out, making it onto the tournament’s all-star team and catching the attention of Shattuck-St. Mary’s coach Tom Ward, whose team won the tournament for the third straight year [ 76 , 272].

Though Sidney had elected to stay in midget hockey instead of advancing to junior A, he did play with the Truro Bearcats three times over the course of the 2001-2002 season: in the initial exhibition game in Truro, and then at two away games—one held in Dartmouth and one held in Halifax [340]. In those games 14-year-old Sidney suited up against 19- and 20-year-olds as an affiliate player [33, 34, 261, Most Valuable, p. 46]. Steve Crowell, GM and coach of the Bearcats, said Sidney was “beyond his years,” commenting that talking to him was like talking to a 25-year-old with Gretzky-like hockey skill [340].

The Truro Bearcats wanted to dress Sidney—in his #9 jersey—for their showing in the Fred Page Cup, but were unable to because the Dartmouth Subways kept winning, and winning, and winning, diving deeper into the AAA midget playoffs [340]. 

“[Sidney] set the standard for work and intensity. He didn’t need to be loud, but other guys could see how he went about things in the dressing room and on the ice. He never did things halfway. His commitment was total. It’s a cliche to talk about a star making everyone on the ice a better player—usually it just means that a star creates scoring chances and some guys bank in some rebounds, or he opens up the ice for others with all the attention that other teams give him. But with Sidney it really was true. He made his teammates want to be better. He made them believe that they could be better. They saw what he was able to do—what he had done with himself with practice and work and imagination—and they wanted to get there too.” - Brad Crossley, Dartmouth Subways coach [Most Valuable, p. 47]

Sidney and his Subways would meet the Pictou County Weeks again in the Nova Scotia AAA Midget Hockey League final in March of 2002. He’d tallied 27 points against Cape Breton West and South Shore on his way there. It was the third year Dartmouth and Pictou County had met in the finals; somewhat of a local rivalry had developed over the years [257]. 

Pictou County was an aggressive team, but Sidney was used to brutal treatment on the ice. “I have to find a way to score,” he said. “I expect them to clutch and grab, talk to me on the ice. They’re going to try anything to get me off my game” [257]. 

“He’s played through slashes that would break any normal person’s arm. It was vicious. But he plays better after he’s hit. It drives him more. There have been and always will be naysayers. But he likes to prove people wrong.” - Brad Crossley, Dartmouth Subways coach [ 37 ]

Pictou County forced Sidney to battle through “ferocious” checking. Sidney scored 6 goals and 10 points to help the Subways win the best-of-five series. “That was a battle the whole way through,” said Sidney. “Coming out on top gave us a lot of confidence going into Atlantics. I don’t know if there are too many teams in Canada that hit and clutch and grab like them, so that really helped prepare us” [294].

The Subways were preparing for their biggest challenge yet: the 2002 Air Canada Cup, Canada's national under-18 ice hockey club championship, held that year in Bathurst, N.B. [257, 22 ].

The Air Canada Cup was Sidney’s “coming-out party,” as coach (and former junior teammate of Troy, and high school classmate of Trina) Brad Crossley put it [ 245 ]. En route to the tournament, Sidney had scored an astounding 217 points (106 goals, 111 assists) in 81 games [ 76 , Most Valuable, p. 47]. The Subways went 61-17-5 that season, with Sidney earning the leading scorer and MVP awards in the Nova Scotia Midget League [ 245 , 269]. His outrageous numbers earned him a feature on a segment of CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada [ 19 ].

“By the time I coached him, he was in charge of his own destiny. The media attention was astronomical. We had TV cameras at practice and great coverage in the papers. It was something we’d never seen before. And he was like a professional. He spoke better than most 25 year olds. He had an amazing amount of maturity.” - Brad Crossley, Dartmouth Subways coach [ 24 ]

The Air Canada Cup was no small feat for the Subways; Darren Cossar of Hockey Nova Scotia described their performance as a “breakthrough” for Nova Scotian hockey. The tournament was broadcast by TSN and had publicity throughout the country with Sidney and the Subways as the fan-favorite narrative. Sidney went from a regional story to national news [ Most Valuable, p. 47].

“Being from a small town, when you go to those international tournaments, it’s not the same. [Nova Scotia] is kind of looked upon as a small place, and you don’t always have the matching equipment teams from bigger cities or bigger teams have.” - Sidney Crosby [ The Rookie, p. 236]

“It’s tough, when you grow up in a small town. It’s hard because you’re doing well in a small town, but then you have to realize ‘Hey, it’s a small place.’” - Sidney Crosby [ 20 , 1:32]

Nova Scotian hockey simply couldn’t keep up with larger programs from Ontario or the West. The best minor hockey programs in Ontario had resources that Haligonians could only dream of. It’s common for Atlantic players to feel “like they were held back by living and growing up in the Maritimes—that they just didn’t have the numbers. Not enough good players to push each other. Not enough teams to compete against.” In Sidney’s case, it also shielded him from the media scrutiny that came along with bigger, richer programs. This was his first step onto the national stage, and as a Maritimer, he was making a statement [137, Taking the Game…, p. 29-31].

“When we would go out of town for tournaments, we’d talk to players from other cities at our hotel and we were always amazed to hear how much ice time and practice time these other teams were getting. We were really lucky to get a third practice in a week every once and a while. Usually it was just two. These other kids had practices or games every day. Sometimes, they said, they were practicing in the morning and having a game later. Plus, they were skating through the summer. We were playing baseball or doing something else... I always wonder how much better Sidney might have been if he had been growing up somewhere with a great hockey program, lots of practice time and all that other stuff.” - Tim Spidel, pee-wee hockey teammate [ Taking the Game…, p. 29-30]

At the Air Canada Cup, Sidney—bleached blond and wearing a puka shell necklace—played “against some of the best players in the country, most of them two or three years older than him” [ 13 ]. Sidney cemented himself as a prodigy at the tournament with his “jaw-dropping, beyond-his-years effort” [ 12 , The Rookie , p. 12]. Teammates acknowledged that he “was dominating the game in a different way than other skilled players” [ 13 ]. 

“Going in, there was pressure from the media and from what I was hearing around me all year, but I just put it to the back of my mind and played. I suppose that bit of extra pressure probably made me play a little more desperate, but I think I thrived on it and ended up coming out pretty good. It was good to prove some people wrong because there were people out there thinking I could do it at the provincial level and Atlantic Canada level, but they were pretty anxious to see what I could do at the national level.” - Sidney Crosby [ 12 ]

He led the tournament in scoring with 11 goals and 13 assists, including the game-winning goal in the last 32 seconds of the semifinal against the first-place Red Deer Chiefs. With that goal, the Subways became the first Nova Scotian team to advance to the Air Canada Cup championship game. The team was ecstatic and “rejuvenated” according to Crossley. “I don’t think they can feel any pain right now,” he said after their win [279].

“We’re not even thinking about the silver. We want to win it all.” - Sidney Crosby [279]

The Subways faced off against the Tisdale Trojans in the final. The Trojans came prepared for Sidney, matching him against tall, big Tyson Strachan. “For a 14-year-old, I can't believe his mental toughness and his physical toughness. Every team here keyed on him all week long,” said Tisdale coach Darrell Mann [ Most Valuable, p. 48]. Sidney was contained for most of the final, only managing a single goal while Myles Zimmer—son of the Mayor of Tisdale—scored a hat trick in the first period [175]. The Subways lost the final 6-2 and settled for silver. Sidney had made his mark regardless. Tisdale Captain Michael Olson told Sidney during the post-game handshake, “You’re a hell of a hockey player and I’ll probably be watching you someday on TV” [ Most Valuable, p. 48]. 

“They definitely caught us by surprise. We were a little nervous at the start and we didn’t get our feet moving. We might have been a little bit tentative playing in front of a national television audience, but we can’t use that as an excuse. They beat us and they’re a great team.” - Sidney Crosby [ Most Valuable, p. 48]

Despite the loss, Sidney stole the show and won the MVP award as the youngest player in the tournament after scoring 24 points in 7 games [12, 51, 269]. He was the youngest player to ever do so [22]. Several of his teammates grabbed tournament signs and banners from around the rink after the Air Canada Cup ended—for some, this was the end of their hockey career [Most Valuable, p. 49].

For Sidney, it was just the beginning.

“I saw a different level of drive and ambition at the national championship [Dartmouth’s loss to Tisdale]. He just felt it was his right to make things happen. Coming from a small town and being so talented, he wanted to prove he wasn’t just a little guy from Nova Scotia. That was really the last year of Sidney truly being a kid.” - Brad Crossley, Dartmouth Subways coach [ The Rookie, p. 27]

“I was trying to antagonize him the whole game. I remember one time I even asked him, ‘Who do you think you are, Wayne Gretzky or something?’

“Of course, four months later, Wayne Gretzky actually said that he [Crosby] was the next Wayne Gretzky. That was a kick in the face.” - Brett Parker, Tisdale forward  [ 13 ]

Four months later, Sidney was attending a summer IMG prospects camp in Los Angeles [ 19 ]. It was there that he met Stan Butler, the head coach of Team Canada at the two previous World Junior tournaments [ Most Valuable, p. 63]. Butler, who ran the camp, was impressed by Sidney’s skill.

“It is the vision thing that’s like Gretzky’s. Maybe more than just seeing where players are at any time on the ice, but a sense of where they are going, what they’re going to do and where the puck is going. It’s awareness-vision, instincts and feel all rolled together. You think, ‘Oh yeah, he guessed right that time.’ But then you realize that he’s not guessing because he’s right practically all the time.” - Stan Butler, coach for IMG summer camp [ Taking the Game …, p. 78]

Butler knew what he was talking about; Wayne Gretzky was at the camp too [ 48 , 20 ].

It was rare for a 14-year-old to be at the IMG prospects camp, but Sidney’s new stardom from the Air Canada Cup had made him a hot commodity across North America; the Antigonish Bulldogs junior A hockey team had gambled their first-round pick on him in May, hoping a new Canadian Hockey League rule prohibiting branch-to-branch transfers for underage midget players would keep Sidney local. There had been a history of junior A teams in Ontario and Saskatchewan poaching players from Maritime teams, and with the new rule Sidney had three options: prep school, continuing in AAA midget hockey in Nova Scotia, or progressing to junior A hockey in Nova Scotia. Antigonish Bulldogs GM Danny Berry had discussed his draft plans with Troy Crosby: “We met for an extended period of time and talked about Sidney’s education, his moving away from home, his age, things like that. He certainly respected our interest” [271].

Respect was all the Bulldogs were going to get. Junior A wouldn’t have been enough of a challenge for Sidney [ Most Valuable, p. 57]. 

Playing with Gretzky, however, was.

IMG had staged this development camp for several seasons, using it as an incentive for elite clients in their teens and early 20s. Sidney, still 14, was the youngest client ever invited and drew Gretzky’s attention [ Taking the Game… , p. 78]. When Gretzky took to the ice, Sidney “cheated his way down the bench” to make sure he’d be able to get a chance to skate with the man; unbeknownst to him, Gretzky was equally interested in getting on the ice with Sidney [ 20 , 3:21].

“The one youngster who caught my eye the most was a kid out there who was only 14 at the time. Honestly I was so impressed by it that the next day I went back and I actually got on the ice to play with him.” - Wayne Gretzky [20, 2:40]

“He has everything. He’s the real deal and he will surprise a lot of people at the World Junior. We need more guys like him to come along. People say Canadians don’t have enough finesse, but he sure does... He will get more and more pressure as he goes along, but he has a love for the game. He says the right things. He’s a good kid. Most importantly at his age, he has good guidance from his parents.”  - Wayne Gretzky [ 48 ]

Sidney was perhaps overly modest when asked about his shifts with Gretzky, telling reporters “It’s not too hard to play with him. All you have to do is keep your stick on the ice” [182]. Gretzky, meanwhile, had nothing but praise to heap on Sidney. He told a writer from The Arizona Republic that Sidney was “the only player he had ever seen who had a shot at breaking his own numerous NHL scoring records” [The Rookie, p. 2]. Gretzky believed Sidney was the best player to come along since Mario Lemieux, with the ability to see the game the same way Gretzky had at 14. Gretzky highlighted Sidney’s “incredible” skills and love of the game. It was apparent to him after only a day that Sidney was willing to do whatever it took to be better [Most Valuable, p. 64]. “From everything that I’ve seen,” he said, “Sidney can handle almost anything that comes along” [Taking the Game…, p. 79]. 

It was a busy summer for Sidney; between drafts and hockey camps, he found the time to join the National Under-20 World Juniors evaluation camp in Halifax. Though he was too young to play (he turned 15 three days before the start of the camp), Stan Butler from the IMG camp put in a good word with Marc Habschied, the newly-named coach of the Canadian team, so Sidney could spend 10 days with the players [ 48 ]. It was an unusual request but not unprecedented, and Butler assured Habschied that Sidney would crack the team within a few years [ Most Valuable, p. 64].

At the evaluation camp, Sidney fetched water, moved tables, helped get food, carried hockey sticks, and passed out towels to the players. As payment, he was able to participate in team activities and even sleep in the team dorm. At one point, Pierre-Marc Bouchard had Sidney buy a fan for Bouchard’s hot dorm room [ 48 , 131]. Though Sidney was able to ingratiate himself with the 40 players in attendance, he couldn’t skate in practices or scrimmages [ Most Valuable, p. 64]. Of course, that didn’t mean they could keep him away from the ice entirely.

“We heard all about how good he was going to be. He didn’t skate with us, but sometimes when we’d be coming back for our afternoon practice, he would have gone on the ice during our lunch break.You could tell he had something special happening. He wasn’t a great big guy, and he had a baby face, I guess. But when we saw him just staying, playing around, well, we all know what it’s like. It was easy to tell that he had some real amazing skill. And then when he came off the ice, you could tell he was in amazing condition, just for a 14- or 15-year old, he was in shape like a pro.” - Jason Spezza, second overall pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft [ Taking the Game…, p. 54]

Sidney got along with everybody, according to camp attendee Jason Spezza, and was good to have a laugh with. Spezza had a unique understanding of the problems Sidney faced; after being drafted by the Ottawa Senators in 2001, Spezza had been ridiculed by Senators coach Jacques Martin as being unready for the NHL at 19 [ Most Valuable, p. 65]. 

“I told him that there are going to be a lot of things said and written about you and you’re going to get pulled in a whole bunch of directions. And I told him that no matter what goes on, have fun. Don’t forget that it’s supposed to be fun.” - Jason Spezza [ Most Valuable, p. 65]

Though Sidney was younger than every other player, the players treated him like another teammate. Even so, “[he] wasn’t like most other kids his age.” Sidney really watched every little thing that went on at camp, in awe of the skill level of the players [272, Most Valuable, p. 65-66, Taking the Game…, p. 55]. “I’m just trying to absorb a lot,” he said. “They’re all good guys. You can tell they’re focused and they want to go somewhere, and they really want to represent their country” [272].

By the end of the month, though, Sidney would leave Canada. He had made his decision months before, having carefully weighed his options for even longer [ 76 ]. Canada wasn’t enough for him anymore.

Sidney was southbound, for the United States of America.


Chapter Text


The cradle of the Maritimes had turned into a microscope over the years; the praise from Wayne Gretzky catapulted Sidney to a level of more intense media attention and scrutiny than he had ever received. 

“It’s one thing to be talented enough to earn a legend’s respect. It's another thing to be burdened by that much expectation and hype. If he doesn’t make it, it’s because he has been saddled with all this baggage.” - Gare Joyce, hockey columnist [Taking the Game…, p. 3]

Off the ice, strangers began driving by the Crosby house. Some knocked on the door and asked for Sidney by name. The family no longer went out to restaurants or theaters [60]. At the rink, “Men in the stands, frustrated at the way Crosby overshadowed their sons, would yell about breaking his neck, how he was going to get killed; come game time, Sidney found himself slashed, punched, hammered from behind” [8]. Sidney’s grandmothers, Linda Crosby and Catherine Forbes, “said they could barely watch him play, and had to cover their eyes with their sweaters, because they were always afraid he would get hurt” [The Rookie, p. 96].

“The last couple of years have been pretty hard on him, on the ice as well as off the ice. As a parent, you try to protect him from the verbal comments, but it’s hard to.” - Troy Crosby [283]

Sidney’s family did their best to keep life normal, but they found themselves in an increasingly impossible position. Troy Crosby had to style himself as the guardian for the family. Gare Joyce, a hockey writer, claimed that someone “only needed to talk to Troy Crosby for a few minutes to come away with a sense of his fierce protectiveness for his son. ” It was a protectiveness so strong that Joyce “had never met any [other parent] who surpassed [Troy’s] intensity” [ Most Valuable, p. 58-59]. 

“It wasn’t healthy for him to play here, physically or emotionally. He was taking a beating on the ice. Grown men and women were yelling at him, wanting to see him harmed. They cheered dirty hits. If he’d come back the following year, he would have been killed.” - Troy Crosby [ 49 ]

Troy was hypersensitive about Sidney’s wellbeing, and when he spoke to a reporter after Sidney’s groundbreaking performance at the Air Canada Cup, he revealed that the environment in Halifax was becoming toxic for Sidney. “[Sidney] gets more support when he goes away than he does here at home,” said Troy. “He doesn’t say much about the crap that goes on around him, but I know he hears it. There’s a lot of good people here, but there’s a lot of animosity” [ Most Valuable, p. 58-59]. Ultimately, Troy and Trina believed that their son was in too much danger to continue playing locally [ 49 , 72 ]. 

“I hated when people would hit him because he was so much smaller. When we were growing up, I was very protective of him; he was my older brother, no one messes with him—they have to mess with me kind of thing... I guess I was in the stands, and I was along the boards, and I would yell at the other players. I was probably four or five, yelling at them, telling them to stop hitting him.” - Taylor Crosby [ 74 ]

“They [Troy and Trina] heard a lot more of it. For me, I was always able to reason that it’s hockey. As personal as it gets, it’s still hockey. If I realize that, it doesn’t bother me so much. If someone says the same thing in a school or real-life atmosphere, you take it a different way. But in a hockey rink, the emotion catches people, even adults. So you have to reason it out and be the better person.” - Sidney Crosby [ The Rookie, p. 189]

Midget hockey was offering diminishing returns—for many of Sidney’s Dartmouth teammates, the previous season had been their last eligible year for minor hockey, meaning the team lacked the depth for another meaningful attempt at the Air Canada Cup [ Most Valuable, p. 57]. Between the weak team and the abuse Sidney was facing, it was time to cast a wider net. At 15 he was ready to compete in major junior hockey, but the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, who owned his territorial rights, was unwilling to relax their age restrictions [ Taking the Game… , p. 50]. 

Age wasn’t the only reason the Q turned Sidney away. Players had played up in major junior hockey before; the Ontario League (OHL) had allowed Jason Spezza to play for his hometown team the Brampton Battalion at age 15, and the Halifax Mooseheads likewise petitioned for Sidney to get a hometown exemption [12, 77]. The QMJHL was not so eager to grant their request, as the Mooseheads—unlike the Halifax minor league teams—were one of the stronger and richer programs [Taking the Game…, p. 50]. 

Though some QMJHL executives voiced concerns over whether Sidney was physically and emotionally mature enough to hack it in major junior, their real motivation was fueled by self-interest; rival teams in the Q weren’t about to bolster the Mooseheads’ roster with a player of Sidney’s caliber, and they were willing to sacrifice the inevitable boosts in marketing and attendance that would have followed Sidney into the league, even if he had played for the Sherbrooke Castors or Moncton Wildcats, who owned the first and second draft picks in 2002 [ Taking the Game… , p. 50, Most Valuable , p. 57]

Sidney was left with a few alternatives, but “[the] closer to home the options were, the worse they became. The Canadian hockey establishment really didn't offer him a place to land for the coming season ” [ Most Valuable, p. 61]. The Maritime Junior A Hockey League—which included the Truro Bearcats Sidney had played three games for—was much weaker than its sister leagues in Central and Western Canada. Though Sidney had been contacted by dozens of Provincial A programs across the country (most notably the Notre Dame Hounds in Saskatchewan and the Georgetown Raiders in Ontario), there would have been institutional resistance kicked up by the Antigonish Bulldogs in Nova Scotia, who had used their first-round pick in the Junior A draft on Sidney. With the new CHL rule prohibiting branch-to-branch transfers, officials likely would have blocked Sidney from moving to another province to play [ 76 , Taking the Game…, p. 51].

They could not, however, block Sidney from moving to another country to play.

Enter Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a coeducational Episcopal-affiliated boarding school in Faribault, Minnesota [25]. 2000 miles away from home, Shattuck could offer Sidney the opportunity to play against “teams the caliber of junior A hockey—effectively the level between midget and major junior,” and the opportunity for sanctuary from the bullying he faced [8, 12].

Shattuck was just emerging as a hockey powerhouse in 2002, and was well-known only to hockey inner circles. Sidney would put Shattuck on the map for the media over the next year. J.P. Parise, who had played for the Minnesota North Stars and the New York Islanders in the 60s and 70s, headed Shattuck’s hockey program and had shepherded several of the school’s bantam players to NCAA Division I schools and NHL drafts. His son Zach, along with several Shattuck players, was “credited with saving USA hockey from budget cuts with its first gold medal in the U18 2002 championship” [ Most Valuable, p. 67-68]. 

If Quebec wouldn’t have Sidney, Minnesota would gladly take him.

Shattuck and Sidney had been on each other’s radars for over a year—in December 2001, Parise and Shattuck coach Tom Ward had seen Sidney play with the Dartmouth Subways at the Mac’s Midget AAA Tournament in Calgary [ Most Valuable, p. 69, 76 ]. Sidney had even been coached by Ward in the All-Star team at the tournament. That week,” Ward said, “ Troy [Crosby] and a couple fathers from our school met, and we got the information that [Sidney] would be interested in looking at our school for the next little part of his adventure” [ 121 ].

Shattuck was known in Halifax; Brent MacLellan, a major junior prospect who had recently moved to Halifax from Toronto, had elected to go to Shattuck instead of playing locally. He enthusiastically recommended Shattuck, and Parise also pitched the school to the Crosby family and Pat Brisson in the spring of 2002 [ Most Valuable, p. 69]. Brisson—who had established himself as the “Quebec league contemporary of Troy Crosby” insofar as protecting Sidney went—and J.P. Barry—one of the most influential agents in hockey—endorsed Shattuck, though they weren’t officially representing Sidney at the time. They called themselves his “advisors,” which was a necessary professional distance if Sidney eventually decided to play NCAA hockey [ Taking the Game…, p. 52]. 

Shattuck wasn’t Sidney’s only option when it came to boarding schools; Upper Canada College, “the Toronto school for the privileged elite,” had received some consideration, but UCC’s hockey program paled in comparison to Shattuck’s, which was drawing in the best players from Minnesota and Canada. Many Canadians, especially those from the West, were attending Shattuck so they could test the waters of NCAA hockey [ Taking the Game…, p. 51].

On June 15, Sidney attended the 2002 QMJHL Draft as a guest of Richard Paquette, another advisor from IMG. He watched the prospect luncheon with visible anticipation; “It was great seeing those guys go up there,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll be there next year. ” He told the media that he hadn’t yet decided where he was going to play the following season, and was at the draft to “meet some people and find out what it’s all about” [286]. 

That was a lie. The very next day, the Crosbys announced Sidney would attend Shattuck [ 76 ]. “I think it will be a good environment for me,” Sidney said. People go there for education and sports. Everything is pretty focused. That’s the way I want to be” [269].

Though he was excited to compete against older players and showcase his talents to some major U.S. colleges, as Shattuck largely competed against U.S. junior A teams and Division 3 college teams, the decision was overlaid with sadness [269]. Troy had, up until this point, never missed one of Sidney’s hockey games [ 65 ]. Taylor was only 6 years old and was “devastated” by Sidney leaving [ 8 , Most Valuable, p. 77].

“I didn’t understand why he had to leave. I think I’m really lucky because some people don’t get along with their brothers. He was actually really excited to have a sister. We’ve always been close—even when we lived far apart.” - Taylor Crosby [ 3 ]

“There comes a time when you’ve gotta do what’s right for him,” said Troy, and both of Sidney’s parents told the media it would have been “selfish” to make him stay in the Maritimes [283, 228 , 4:40]. “It was very difficult. I cried," said Trina. “It was a wonderful opportunity for him to grow as a hockey player, and to mature. That’s the only thing that saw me through” [283].

“...I walked into his bedroom one day and his suitcase was there like it had been, and it just struck me at that moment, and I thought, ‘This is the way I’m going to see my son for the rest of my life.’” - Trina Crosby [ 228 , 5:02]

“It was unbelievably tough. My heart was broken for a couple of weeks after he left.” - Troy Crosby [ 65 ]

Though the Crosbys would miss each other, it was the right decision—things were becoming very difficult for Troy and Trina at the arenas. People made demands of them, said horrible things to them, and another season would have been too much for the family. “I remember Trina just being so relieved that it was over and done with,” said Ed Spidel, the father of one of Sidney’s childhood teammates [ Taking the Game…, p. 53]. 

“He needed an environment where he could just be Sidney. It didn’t come easily. Sidney had just turned 15, and I’ll tell you it wasn’t easy to do. But that’s how strongly we felt that he had to go. He needed it.” - Trina Crosby [ 49 ]

“You just feel like you’re a million miles away,” said Sidney [ 374 ]. It wasn’t easy, but he was willing to go the distance to follow his dream. “Leaving home was a tough decision, but I think it’s one that, when I’m 25, I’ll look back and be confident with the decision and have no regrets,” he said. “I’m very close to my parents and my other relatives, and I’ve a six-year-old sister I love, but it was time to go” [283].

Sidney left for Faribault on August 30, 2002 [272]. It made waves and would prompt more players from the top midget ranks and Provincial A to follow [ Taking the Game…, p. 53] . Down at Shattuck, the players were excited for “The Next One” to arrive. “It was a little bit of a mythical rumor,” said Kevin Deeth, a defenseman on the team. “Why the hell would a kid like that come to a place like this?” [ 121 ].

Shattuck was “to high school hockey what Harvard is to law school,” and Sidney was a straight-A student of hockey [ 19 ]. Shattuck—like Harvard—came with a price tag: around $30,000 at the time. Thankfully Shattuck did offer need-based financial aid, and the Crosby family’s income qualified Sidney for full assistance [ 29 , 269].

“Sidney had a sense of what he was going to do. He told me, ‘Don’t worry. I’m going to pay every cent of that back.’ And he did pay the school back. In spades.” - Tom Ward, Shattuck Sabres coach [ 29 ]

Sidney arrived at Shattuck as “a little boy, just a flat out young kid in a bunch of different ways,"  his coach Tom Ward recalled. He was polite, referring to everyone as “sir” and “ma’am” [ 26 ]. The students and faculty liked him; he was down-to-earth and humble [ 2 ]. Deb Stafford, a teacher at Shattuck and mother of Sidney’s Shattuck teammate Drew, said Sidney was courteous and attentive. He fit right in. He didn’t put on any airs. He was probably more of a B range [student]. He was a good student, but I wouldn’t say he was Mr. Brainiac either” [ 121 ].  

Adjusting, as Sidney found out, was difficult. “It has been lonely,” he admitted. “At the start it was really hard, but once I started playing hockey every day and the guys were really good to me, it got easier” [ Taking the Game…, p. 56]. Shattuck immersed Sidney in hockey; he was able to skate daily, something he’d never been able to do up in Canada [ 26 ]. He moved into the players’ dorm and “had his every waking moment scheduled by the coaching staff. Other kids might have balked. Sidney said he loved it” [ Taking the Game…, p. 57]. 

“It’s just the entire environment. Everything’s hockey. Weekends or nights when you don’t have a game or you don’t have practice and your homework is done, you can just go over to the rink and play pickup hockey—basically pond hockey—for hours. That’s the special thing about that school and the environment. You just go out and play with your classmates and teammates who are all these good hockey players—you just get better without even realizing it. I can’t imagine a much better place to send your kid if he’s serious about being a hockey player.” - Jack Johnson [ 57 ]

As a parting gift, his parents had given him a poster of the film character Rocky running up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Sidney loved the movies and hung the poster in his dorm room, room 303B in Whipple House, which he shared with teammate Ryan Duncan [ 30 , 121 ].

“I loved that, and I identified with that image, those movies. They said it reminded them of how much I loved those movies. But I got a lot out of them. I loved how they portrayed hard work translating into winning.” - Sidney Crosby [ The Rookie , p. 50]

(He also said, in an interview at 16, that he’d pick Sylvester Stallone to play him in a movie, because of the training and dedication of the Rocky character [170]).

Living semi-independently didn’t come entirely naturally to Sidney. His roommate, 17-year-old Ryan Duncan, admitted they “really didn’t know what [they] were doing,” and homesickness hit hard. They were the only two Canadians in the program. Duncan didn’t think he’d make it the full year at Shattuck. Sidney was “better that way” [ 30 ].

“We were lost—completely lost—when it came to cleaning. We didn’t know to hang towels up to dry after we used them. We just sort of threw them on the floor. So our room stank pretty bad. The worst came when my parents came to visit from Calgary and we tried to clean up. Under this pile of towels there was an infestation. It was pretty embarrassing.” - Ryan Duncan [ 30 ]

It was at Shattuck that Sidney met his future friend Jack Johnson. Both sophomores, Jack and Sidney were the only underclassmen to make the Shattuck prep hockey team (Jack had scored 100 points on Shattuck’s bantam team the year before; Sidney was Sidney) [ 16 ]. They were put on opposing teams during tryouts, which kindled a heated rivalry between them before they even knew each other’s names [ 28 , 0:10]. The team had all heard hype about Sidney, but didn’t pay too much attention to it; it wasn’t until they saw Sidney in action that they realized he was truly that good [ 32 ].

Duncan had chatted with Sidney over the summer in preparation for their move-in. Duncan, who was two years older, was skeptical of Sidney’s skill: “My mindset was like, ‘How good could this kid be? I’m going to go down there. I’m going to outscore him. I’m going to go prove that I’m better than this kid’” [ 147 ]. 

His tune changed once tryouts began. Matt Smaby, a defenseman, said You think this [15]-year-old hotshot may not be all he’s cracked up to be. I remember trying to hit him. That didn’t go well for me. Not only did I not hit him, I didn’t get a piece of him.” Other players would bounce off him as he spun and scored. Coach Ward claimed Sidney played similarly to Peter Forsberg, but with more skill [ 121 ]. “He was just heads-and-shoulders better than everybody,” said teammate Drew Stafford. “For a 15-year-old, he already had the body type... that power skating... His legs were enormous. He was built to be a hockey player, and it was pretty cool to see just how skilled he was” [ Most Valuable, p. 74-75].

J.P. Parise himself admitted that Sidney was set apart from the other good players in Shattuck’s program, and his physical qualities were a significant asset [ Taking the Game…, p. 56]. You’d see him and think he was a normal kid,” said Deeth. “Then he’d turn around, and his legs and his ass were like the size of a fucking truck.” The physics teacher would use Sidney as part of class lessons, talking about how Sidney would lower his center of gravity to protect the puck [ 121 ].

Sidney’s grit and dedication were what truly separated him from the rest of the pack. He would practice endlessly, waking up early to get out on the rink and shoot pucks. Eventually his teammates started joining him. Although he was young, he was feisty. “He didn’t take no shit from anybody,” said Coach Ward [ 121 ]. From practicing at dawn to playing water basketball in the pool, Sidney always came to win.

“[Sidney] would not give an inch to you. There’s no playing for fun. He wanted to give it to you. He wanted to rub it in. His competitive juices carried over into everything, whether it was ping-pong or tennis or whatever. At the end of the day, Sidney wanted to be on top. Most of the time, he was.” - Ryan Duncan [ 121 ]

Sidney’s laser focus impressed his teammates. He was willing to sacrifice the “normal prep school shit,” as Deeth put it, in order to squeeze every last drop out of his time at Shattuck. He wasn’t interested in chasing girls or going out late—he’d go to bed early to make it out onto the ice at the first crack of sunlight. He’d turn down party invites and movie tickets so he could go play shinny. If there was a chance someone might get in trouble, he’d make himself scarce [ 11 , 121 , 245 ]. He knew where he was going,” said Duncan, “and he wasn’t going to do anything to jeopardize his future. You could just tell how much of a professional he was at 15 years old. He was just so ahead of the game mentally” [ 147 ].

“He would work on little things, almost like little games, just playing with the puck on his stick. He would practice making it look like he had lost control of the puck—like it bounced up off his stick or dropped back in his skates—but really he was never out of control. He just wanted it to look like that so he could get a defenceman leaning.” - J.P Parise [ Taking the Game…, p. 56]

Though he was competitive, he worked hard to become just another team player. When he overheard teammates on the bench talking smack about another player early on in the season, he said, “Hey, guys. Let’s keep everything positive. Don’t talk about your teammates that way” [ 121 ]. “Sidney made himself part of the program,” said Coach Ward. “He just wanted to fall in with everybody and he did”  [ Taking the Game…, p. 58].

“I think he liked the fact that he didn’t get special treatment. He had to try out like everyone else. And I think at some level he knew this was going to be the last time he was just Sid from Halifax, not Sidney Crosby, Hockey Star.” - Tom Ward, Shattuck Sabres coach [ 4 ]

Many of the Shattuck players had expected him to be cocky, but that wasn’t the case; Sidney was “super nice, super friendly, a little shy” [ 121 ]. It didn’t take long for him to endear himself to his teammates, and their hijinks occasionally spilled over into urban legend: some of them enjoy telling a story about Duncan and Sidney rappelling out of their dorm the night before tryouts to practice their timed mile—Duncan disputes the claim [ 121 ].

[Sidney and Ryan Duncan] were like fucking cartoon characters to me. They were so different. Dunc was just a little shit—very social, super funny, big brother-esque—and picked on Sid despite being much smaller than him. Sid was such a good dude. Incredibly nice. Humble. Goofy.” - Kevin Deeth [ 121 ]

They played as a team and lived as a group of friends. During Easter break, Sidney and Duncan went to Smaby’s house and ended up at a nearby mall, cramming themselves onto the Easter Bunny’s lap for a picture. Sidney got behind the wheel of a car for the first time when his teammate Ken Rowe offered to give him a lesson, even though Sidney didn’t have a learner’s permit [ 121 ]. One day when Sidney was napping in Smaby’s room, the boys pranked him good:

“We all grew up watching ‘Mighty Ducks,’ so we decided to do the shaving cream and feather trick. We put the shaving cream in his hand and started to do the feather. I have never seen this work so well. We did it three or four times. He got [shaving cream] all over his face. Finally, the five or six of us in the room were cracking up so loud that he woke up because of all the noise.

“He took it in stride. He woke up smiling. He thought it was funny. It was nice for us older guys because that was the only time he wasn’t dominating us in practice. That was the one time we had the upper hand on Crosby.” - Kirk Golden [ 121 ]

Older students also enjoyed indoctrinating Sidney into the local ghost lore: the school’s old infirmary building from 1869 was popularly regarded as haunted. Shattuck’s ghost stories were “a big thing” at the school according to Sidney, and while he was living on campus, a TV show about haunted places in the United States mentioned Shattuck [ 302 , 303 ].

Sidney had a slew of makeshift families at Shattuck; his team was one, and the Johnson family (who rented a home a block from the school so Jack wouldn’t have to board at Shattuck) was another [ 58 ]. J.P. Parise also kept a close eye on Sidney.

“Sidney used to come over, and Mrs. Johnson made I don’t know how many dozens of cookies for him. But then all of a sudden, he would be on his hands and knees playing mini-stick hockey with our 7-year-old Kenny. And next thing you know, Sidney and Jack are on the floor playing each other in mini-stick hockey.”  - Jack Johnson Sr. [ 16 ]

“With J.P. and [wife] Donna, the whole Parise family was great to me. Every free weekend, I was away from home, so it was nice J.P. would bring me over to their house and I’d have a home-cooked meal and listen to J.P. tell stories. He just loved the game so much.” - Sidney Crosby [ 79 ]

At Shattuck, Sidney could be just one of the boys in a way he couldn’t in Canada. He was fairly anonymous most of the time—though the girls at the school did like him. He had never been on a date and confessed to assistant coach Eric Soltys he’d never kissed a girl, to which Soltys responded: “Buddy, this is great! Just be yourself” [ 121 ].

(He did end up going with a few girls to the local mall, and was impressed that he could walk around without being recognized [ 121 ].) 

“That was probably the only year he got to just be a normal kid.” - Matthew Ford, Shattuck Sabres teammate [ 121 ]

Though Sidney enjoyed being the best, he liked being able to exist as a normal highschooler. “I think him being able to come to a place like Faribault, Minn., a little farm town, he could lose himself,” said Coach Ward. “Here he wasn’t the savior of hockey Canada. I think he appreciated that. He could just be one of the guys” [134, 121 ]. 

“I think he enjoyed his time away from the limelight in Canada, where he was the next great whoever. No one gave a spit who he was walking down the halls here. He’s not just a big, dumb jock, either. He’s worldly for being a young boy. He’s got his wits about him.” - Tom Ward, Shattuck Sabres coach [ 245 ]

Though he didn’t stand out off the ice, he shone on it. Sidney donned #9 for the team—a number worn by several of Shattuck’s most elite players over the years—and amassed 72 goals and 162 points in 57 games as the team’s leading scorer [ 26 , 4 , 283]. According to Duncan, those numbers could have been even higher. Duncan said that in blowout games, Coach Ward would hardly play Sidney after the initial onslaught of goals ensured a Shattuck victory [ 29 ]. Sidney combined with Jack Johnson to become a dynamic duo, and the Shattuck-St. Mary Sabres began garnering local and national attention.

“Sidney was so dynamic. I’ve never seen a sophomore forward like Crosby—ever. And Jack as a sophomore defenseman in high school, I’ve never seen anyone like him either. Even at that time, they were exceptional. I think people went to Shattuck to watch those two play.” - Billy Powers, Michigan assistant coach  [ 16 ]

“Usually, other teams didn’t know who we were as players—we were just a prep school from Minnesota. So it was funny. We’d get out there on the ice and go, ‘Boy, are these guys in for a surprise.’” - Jack Johnson [ 121 ]

Sidney’s relative anonymity wasn’t perfect; his teammates were bewildered when they rolled into Bozeman, Montana to play a game and a billboard had been erected outside the arena, proclaiming “Come see the next Wayne Gretzky play.” Magazines and news crews came in to interview Sidney, but his team still saw him as very “team-oriented.” Smaby said that playing in Calgary truly opened the team’s eyes as to what Sidney’s life looked like back home [2, 121].

“I was baffled that this humble 15-year-old that was part of helping us win, this kid on a high school team, had to carry that much weight on his shoulders.” - Matthew Ford, Shattuck Sabres teammate  [ 121 ].

Back in Halifax, the Crosby family kept in touch best as they could. Trina would send Sidney cookies, and Sidney was dutiful about calling home [ 121 , 283]. Troy missed his son keenly. It’s been especially tough not seeing him play now,” he said. “It kills me. I know when he plays. I look at the clock, and then I wait for him to call every Friday or Saturday night. Because of the two-hour time difference, I’m waiting up until midnight or 12:30 a.m., waiting for the phone to ring” [283]. 

Sidney ventured north to play Canadian hockey for a brief interlude that year. It was the only special consideration the Crosbys had asked of Shattuck: that Sidney be released to play in the Canada Winter Games [ Taking the Game… , p. 58]. 

The 2003 Canada Winter Games were held in Bathurst-Campbellton, New Brunswick, from February 22 to March 8. Twenty-one sports were on the roster, involving 3,200 athletes and coaches [ 213 ]. The competition would be a good indicator of top prospects’ progress and could be a personal showcase if a player was able to set themselves apart from the rest [ Taking the Game… , p. 58].

Sidney was the youngest player present at 15 years old. He was also named captain of the Nova Scotian team. “It sounds strange, but the truth is Sidney was a natural leader,” said Scott Vanderlinden, who had lost to Sidney and the Dartmouth Subways the past year in regional playoffs and went on to wear the A for Team Nova Scotia during the Winter Games. “Even though he was younger... Sidney just made you want to do whatever you could—if you had it in you, you had to leave it out on the ice. It was all through his example” [ Taking the Game… , p. 59-60].

The Nova Scotian hockey team was incredibly weak. Not a single player had any QMJHL experience—not that it would have mattered, as the Q was regarded as “the softest of the major junior loops.” Against teams like Alberta, whose players competed in the strong Western Hockey League, the Nova Scotians were sorely outmatched [ Taking the Game… , p. 60-61].

Sidney took it personally. When Nova Scotia lost to Alberta 4-1 (with Sidney only tallying one assist), he started running the Albertans to try and spark life into his teammates. He dug in on the corners, throwing checks at bigger and older players, more than half of whom were used to playing against 18- and 19-year-olds. He earned himself a few roughing penalties for his troubles [261].

His teammates were spurred on by his gumption: “He just changes your mindset,” said Chad Anderson, a Team Nova Scotia teammate and former rival from local youth teams. “And it’s something when you’re on the bench or on the ice and you see him. Even if he’s having a bad game or having trouble with someone shadowing him, at some point he just makes up his mind, picks himself up and just makes things happen. He refuses to lose” [ Taking the Game… , p. 60-61].

Against weaker teams like P.E.I. Sidney had a serious impact on the play, scoring four goals and two assists in a single game. “I love having the puck when there’s one minute left and scoring the game-winning goal,” he said. “I like to have this pressure.” Team Nova Scotia had a dominant 9-1 win over P.E.I. [261].

NHL scouts at the tournament were blown away by how Sidney took the reins of Team Nova Scotia. Even though Sidney wasn’t eligible for the NHL Draft until 2005, it didn’t stop the scouts from taking notice. Denis LeBlanc, a regional scout with the Columbus Blue Jackets, was impressed with Sidney’s completeness as a player. Sidney had the ability to skate, a strong hockey sense, good hands... everything it would take to make it in the big leagues. “Even if he’s not big, he’s so quick that I don’t think it’s going to be a problem for him in pro,” said LeBlanc [146, 261].

“The guy’s very smart. He’s going to be the number one draft pick, there’s no question about it. Everybody wants him.” - Johnny Johnson, scout for the QMJHL's Montreal Rocket [146]

Sidney’s raw talent made him hypervisible on the team. It wasn’t wholly The Crosby Show, but it was very close. “I can’t think of one of the top players—not Gretzky, not Mario, not Orr—who was ever put in a situation like that,” said one scout. “Whenever they were in against the best... they weren’t ever with a team that was so far behind everyone else’s. If you look at Crosby’s Nova Scotia team, it would have been hard for any other player besides him to even make the Ontario team” [ Taking the Game… , p. 61].

“If everyone in Canada didn’t know about Sidney yet, then at least everyone in hockey had heard about him.” - Chad Anderson, Team Nova Scotia teammate [ Taking the Game… , p. 59]

Sidney had begun to settle into the scrutiny that accompanied these sort of events. “[The attention is] not a big worry when I come to things like this as much as it used to be,” he said. “I think I’m learning from my experiences. It’s the same game and if I play the same way things should be all right” [146, 261]. 

Though the Nova Scotian team finished sixth, it was a vast improvement on their ninth-place finish at the previous tournament. Sidney led the competition with 16 points in 5 games and took home the Roland Michener Award for outstanding athletic achievement and strong leadership skills. He had finally garnered some respect for Maritime hockey, as Darren Cossar of Hockey Nova Scotia explained: “It used to be that major junior was some far-off dream, something that wasn’t accessible [to kids from Nova Scotia].” Things were changing [ 22 , 23 , 27 , 213 , Taking the Game… , p. 62-63].

Sidney took it all in stride. “I’m just going to have fun playing hockey and at the end I guess I’ll have to figure out what I want to do with my life,” he said [ Taking the Game… , p. 60].

The rest of his life could wait, because he was headed back to Shattuck. 

Shattuck kept Sidney grounded. The team was tight-knit and academically focused. Every bus trip had at least one teacher on board to help tutor students. The players had to keep their dressing room as spotless as their grades— “The locker room is cleaner than any I’ve been in,” said Sidney [ 4 ]. Shattuck had, as Duncan put it, a particular way of doing things. “We all want it that way. We all go into Shattuck different and all come out the same” [ Most Valuable, p. 76]. 

“We never got a class off or any break. One weekend we had an eight-hour bus ride, then we had to get off and play six games in three days. Getting back to Shattuck, we dropped our equipment off at the arena at 4 a.m. and had to be ready for class at 8.” - Jonathan Toews, former Shattuck student and player [ 4 ]

Shattuck provided Sidney with many experiences he would not have had access to otherwise; the hockey team took a ten-day trip to France to play three games, and Sidney “would have never dreamed of going somewhere like that if it wasn’t for hockey” [ 78 ]. When he returned from the trip, he brought with him a jar of sand from the D-Day beaches of Normandy as a gift for a friend back home in Nova Scotia [334].

The friendships Sidney made at Shattuck were deep, none more so than his relationship with Jack Johnson. Their little rivalry during tryouts spiraled into a strong friendship as they bonded over their youth and talent. The two fed off each other; they recognized each other’s talents and used each other to better their skills. Other boys on the team saw, as teammate Mike Mayhew put it , “Jack and Sidney go at it all the time” [ 16 ].

“We were idiot 15-year-olds, the only two 10th-graders on a team that was predominantly seniors. We had all of our classes together, too, so we just hit it off right away. We were inseparable. We know each other’s families really well, because in the summer, I’d go up and stay with him and hang out, work out and skate together.” - Jack Johnson [ 56 ]

Their closeness came as a surprise to some. On the surface, they didn’t seem to have much in common. With the media Sidney was quiet and chose his words carefully; Jack was straightforward and made his opinions known [ 16 ]. Perhaps opposites do attract, because their bond was visible to anyone who watched them play.

“You could tell by the way they interacted with each other and their mannerisms on the ice that they were not only special players but good friends.” - Mel Pearson, Michigan assistant coach [ 16 ]

Jack and Sidney stayed close off the ice as well. “We were able to relate to each other,” said Jack [364]. Their competitive nature was fierce, and they competed at anything, from “who could finish their lunch quicker [to] who could pick corners more accurately while shooting at a target on the tennis court” [ 26 ]. 

They were both recruited for the JV baseball team, as a team activity during the Spring was mandatory at Shattuck [ 57 ]. While playing against the Loyola Catholic School (in Jack’s very first game) Jack took issue with the Loyola pitcher, Zack Kolars [ 121 ]. According to Jack, Kolars was kind of a big mouth” and chirping them from the mound [ 56 ]. The game was not going well for Shattuck; they were down 10-0, and Kolars had heard Sidney was a hockey hotshot.

“On the bus, our coach was telling us, ‘You guys are going to be playing the next Wayne Gretzky.’ We’re like, ‘We don’t give a shit, Andy. We don’t care about hockey.’ I kept calling him Stanley Crosby. I thought that was his name.” - Zack Kolars [ 121 ]

Still, things hadn’t boiled over... until Kolars threw a pitch that came very close to Sidney’s head. The next pitch hit him [ 16 ]. 

“I remember [Kolars] throwing at Sid. So I was like, all right, well the only way I know how to deal with this is the hockey mentality of charging the mound—he probably won’t do it again.” - Jack Johnson [ 121 ]

Sure enough, when Jack stepped up to the plate right after Sidney, he basically planted his elbow over the plate. “I put my feet right on home plate,” said Jack. “He’d either have to throw a ball or hit me. I didn’t know if I’d get up to bat again, so I was like, well, I’d better make this count.” Brian Cornelius, Loyola’s catcher, objected to the umpire, who said he’d call Jack out as soon as Kolars threw his pitch.

The pitch hit Jack. 

Jack charged the mound.

“I remember thinking, What in the world is going on? This is B-squad baseball. Nothing gets this heated in a JV game.” - Andy Oberle, Loyola head coach  [ 121 ]

Kolars was in disbelief that Jack was coming for him. Sidney, on the other hand, jumped off the bench to get involved. He grabbed the catcher—hockey instincts—to stop Cornelius from joining in. Much to the horror of the Loyola parents in attendance, Kolars got a punch to the gut and an elbow to the head. The teams’ benches scattered. The second baseman threw his glove at Jack. Chaos erupted.

The chaos had been planned, as it turned out. 

It didn’t come out until years later that Jack had told nearly the entire hockey team before the game even started that he wanted to rush the mound that day. Many of Jack’s friends showed up, eager to see him do something stupid. “We were there to watch,” said Deeth. “Trust me, the only reason we were at a JV baseball game was because Jack said he was going to rush the mound” [ 121 ]. 

The stunt got both Sidney and Jack kicked off the team by Shattuck’s athletic director—it was the last competitive baseball game Sidney ever played in [ 26 , 56 , 121 , 227 , 40:04].

“I remember telling our guys on the bus after the game, ‘We’ll have to keep an eye on this. If they’re Shattuck hockey players, they might end up somewhere. That will be a really good story at some point.’” - Andy Oberle, Loyola head coach  [ 121 ]

The baseball incident wasn’t the only time the two got into trouble; in their Modern European history class, they would sit in the back and use their school-issued laptops to watch hockey highlights, unaware that their teacher (who was also their baseball coach) could see exactly what they were doing thanks to the reflection on a glass wall behind them [ 26 ].

For all their antics off the ice, Jack was a stalwart friend at the rink. As Mel Pearson, the Michigan assistant coach recounted, “...the local team had assigned two kids to shadow Sidney and take Sidney off his game. He played through it and you could tell he was one of the best players. And that’s how you could tell Jack was one of his buddies, because every time there was a skirmish, Jack was right there to make sure he was helping Sidney out” [ 16 ].

Jack ended up as a more genuine protector for Sidney on the ice; he built up 91 penalty minutes in 21 games, and “his days as an enforcer on the ice began during his season playing with [Sidney]” [ 16 ].

“Prior to [the 2002-2003 season] I was one of the smaller guys on the team. I couldn’t really check the other guys, because they were usually bigger than I was. He was the first time I kept an eye on someone, and because we were such close friends I didn’t want anyone to give him a cheap shot or anything. I enjoyed doing it.” - Jack Johnson [ 16 ]

Sidney, even lacking the notoriety he had up in Canada, still brought enough attention upon himself that he needed a protector or two. He also developed his own ways of curtailing bad behavior from players and fans alike. One story about a woman ( said to be Phil Kessel’s mother ) yelling things at him stands out:

She was sitting in the corner of the rink, right behind the glass, so 15-year-old Sid could hear every word. Before a faceoff in the opponent’s zone, he scrapped the original plan to tap the draw back to Johnson on the blue line.

“I’ll take this,” Crosby said. Then he controlled the puck, skated in, scored, and circled over to the loud mom, putting a hand to his ear. The woman (he won’t say who) didn’t make a peep for the rest of the game [ 11 ] .

The Shattuck Sabres played a commanding season with Sidney at the helm. “He was such a natural leader that nothing he did or said felt forced,” said teammate Brian Salcido [ 121 ]. Though the U.S.’s hockey culture was very different than Canada’s—rivalries between individual players can be much more intense in the U.S.—Sidney helped forge a real team [ Taking the Game…, p. 58] . He gets the point across that he’s competitive and he wants to win, and this is what you have to do,” said Duncan, “But in a subtle way. It’s like we’re all pulling at the same rope” [ 147 ].

He even roped them into a few fun new rituals, including one that apparently still persists at Whipple House. At the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, the Canadian ice crew put a Canadian loonie at center ice. Canada won gold, and just over a year later, Sidney and Duncan taped loonies outside of their dorm room in an attempt to capture that same luck. According to Duncan, those two loonies are still taped up outside of room 303B [ 121 ].

“When we were getting ready for nationals, he found these little pills that you could put a hidden message inside. They unscrewed, and inside was a tiny scroll. He gave one to every teammate... He had everyone fill one out. He didn’t tell anyone what to write, but he made it known that we all knew what the goal was: winning nationals. So we wrote on our scrolls, rolled them up and put them in the pill thing. We kept them with us everywhere we went.” - Brian Salcido, Shattuck Sabres teammate [ 121 ]

That April, Sidney and the Sabres went on to win the USA Hockey 17-under Tier I Championship (the Midget AAA national title) in a 5-4 victory against Team Illinois. Sidney, still 15, scored 10 goals in 6 games and tallied 18 points, good enough to tie for the championship’s points leader award [ 16 , 121 , 22 ].

“I think he had that dream for himself, so he knew the work that he needed to put in. He wasn’t afraid of it. It wasn’t this weight that he was carrying around—he was just having fun, felt fortunate that he got to play this great game.” - Ryan Duncan, Shattuck Sabres teammate [ 147 ]

His hockey was speaking for itself yet again, and his year was up. His future was up in the air. Over the coming summer, he would turn 16 and be eligible to play major junior hockey in Canada. If he elected to play in the Q, he would be unable to ever play NCAA hockey.

College hockey had tried to woo Sidney over the course of the school year. J.P. Parise, on a visit to North Dakota to see his son, let Duncan and Sidney tag along. It was the first time Sidney had seen college hockey, and North Dakota was vying desperately for Sidney’s attention. The games were “intense.” When the Sabres practiced at the University of Wisconsin’s rink on their way to Indiana for a game, the University also attempted to recruit Sidney, even going as far to put a jersey for him in the locker room [ 121 ].

“I don’t know if you'd call it pressure; it’s more anxiety, really. We just hope we do the right thing, and what’s best for Sidney and his future. It’s not a simple choice. Sidney is both a good student and a top prospect, so it’s a tougher decision.” - Troy Crosby [283]

Sidney was genuinely considering college as an option. The quality of the game was high and he thought he’d enjoy the campus lifestyle. There was one big hangup, though: going to college would have meant trying to finish two years of high school in one. Colleges wanted to fast-track him and make him the youngest player on their roster [ 121 ]. Sidney, too, didn’t want to languish in Faribault, outpacing the available quality of hockey while he got his diploma [ Most Valuable, p. 76]. 

“I’m a decent student—a good one—but that would have been a really tough year,” Sidney said. “I liked Shattuck. I loved the dorms and everything to do with the school. And I want to go out there the first chance I get to visit some of my friends. But I didn’t really want to go through [doing two school years in one]. And if it was going to take two [more] years at Shattuck, then junior looks even better” [ Taking the Game…, p. 87].

So Shattuck was out.

“It was my first experience away from Nova Scotia, and I had to catch up academically. I struggled with it at first. But I loved the atmosphere. You can have friendships wherever you play, but at Shattuck, you lived together, went to class together, traveled and played together. You get to know each other—everyone—a lot faster and a lot better. Leaving Shattuck was the hardest decision I’ve had to make.” - Sidney Crosby [ 4 ]

At the end of the school year, Sidney’s teammates threw him a mock press conference, setting up a desk in the hallway across from Smaby and Jake Hipp’s room [ 121 ]. It was a lot of fanfare for Sidney to announce his decision on where he’d play in the coming season, but it was deserved; Sidney was already starting to make money from hockey. At 15, he signed a relatively small 5-year apparel endorsement with Sherwood Hockey, maker of hockey sticks [ 84 ]. His name would be on their new Momentum stick [ 42 ].

“We were getting shipments of stuff for Sid. He was 15, and he was already a big deal. He always told me that he was OK with getting the attention. But the thing was, he didn’t want to get that kind of attention and to be getting stuff in front of other players. Here he is, at 15, telling me that he doesn’t want to be getting this kind of attention in front of other kids because he didn’t want them to feel bad.” - Pat Brisson [ 87 ]

He was becoming a bona-fide hockey star, and he’d take the media circus with him back to Canada... this time to Quebec. 


Chapter Text

The Rimouski Océanic owned the first pick in the 2003 QMJHL Draft, and team owner Maurice Tanguay was not going to sit idly by as American colleges wooed Sidney across the border. The Océanic had struggled mightily the past season, winning only 11 games and scraping together 25 points, the worst record in the entire CHL. Landing a player of Sidney’s caliber could change everything, so Tanguay rolled out the red carpet [291].

As a first step, Pat Brisson and Sidney’s parents went to visit Rimouski as the Océanic’s guests. They were wined and dined by Tanguay and then invited to a home game to see the team play [291]. Tanguay got along incredibly well with the Crosbys and called it “an extraordinary honeymoon” [ 321 ]. The Crosbys were equally impressed: Trina called right after their trip and told Sidney “’re going to love it here” [ 249 , 1:36].  

“They adore their son and they want him to have a good career. I always have had a good relationship with the family. Sidney was like a son to me. We always chatted together.” - Maurice Tanguay, Rimouski Océanic owner [321]

There was a risk to the Océanic using their draft pick on Sidney. Much of their success in the coming season would hinge upon him, and if he chose NCAA hockey and refused to report to the QMJHL—as two players had the previous season—the Océanic would be out of luck. The Océanic had to be certain that if they took Sidney, he would report to training camp [291].

Sidney had long considered major junior hockey to be his primary path to the NHL [ 43 ]. At the training camp he’d participate in on P.E.I., he would ask Brad Richards about going to Rimouski and being an English kid in a French town [ 114 ]. At the 2002 World Juniors evaluation camp in Halifax, Sidney talked with Jason Spezza and Pierre-Marc Bouchard about what it was like to play major junior at a young age [272]. When he finally made his decision to commit to the Océanic, he was confident it was the right one. Nonetheless, a few rumors circulated that he was going to jump over to Europe to play. Troy and Trina denied the speculation, Troy telling the media, “There’s still a lot for Sidney to learn in juniors. It’s still the best place for him to develop” [ 66 ].

The Rimouski Océanic drafted Sidney first overall on June 7, 2003 [ 19 , Taking the Game…, p. 79]. Sidney had splurged for the occasion on a new suit from Domenico Vacca of Giovanni Clothes in Montreal. Brisson had gotten Sidney in for a fitting, adding Sidney to the star-studded clientele Vacca served. Vacca had been working with NHL players for years, including many of the Pittsburgh Penguins—Mario Lemieux among them [ 225 ]. 

Sidney was proud at the draft, admitting that it had been a goal of his to be drafted first overall [256]. He’d woken up early that morning at 6:30 and hadn’t been able to sleep much after, but he calmed himself down only to wind himself back up when he got to the draft just after 9 a.m. and saw that the place was packed. Once his name had been officially called, he was finally able to relax [290].

“I set this goal, probably a year or two ago, and now that it’s here, it’s good, but I want more. I’m happy, but I don’t want to be complacent and just be happy to go No. 1. You’ve got to prove why you go No. 1. I have a lot to prove—I haven’t stepped foot in this league yet. I have to make sure when it’s time to play, I can prove that I deserved to be No. 1. Rimouski did their part. Now, I think it’s time to do mine.” - Sidney Crosby [290]

“Doing his part” would include facing intensified media demands when Wayne Gretzky told The Arizona Republic in June that Sidney could be the player to break his scoring records [ 19 ]. Sidney was told about the high praise over the phone by an interviewer, and he was momentarily stunned into silence before saying, “I hadn’t heard that. That’s something else. That’s pretty special for Wayne Gretzky to say that. I don’t think his records will ever be broken. That’s a compliment for him to say that for sure” [174].

Sidney was disbelieving of the praise. “There’s not going to be another Wayne Gretzky,” he insisted. “It isn’t even a question for me to put that kind of pressure on myself. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime player.” That didn’t stop him from using Gretzky’s comments as fuel, though. “I mean, to get a comparison like that is a compliment and, in a way, it motivates you,” he said. “People see something in you that maybe they don’t see in other guys” [333].

Sidney tried to insist that he was a normal 15-year-old both on the ice and away from the rink. The media was a necessary part of hockey, and so he’d handle it best as he could. “To be honest, the easiest way to describe it, I just try to deal with it when it comes, and just not think about it at all when it’s there,” he said about the attention. “I just try to stay level-headed, and just be normal” [256].

Normal was out of reach for Sidney by this point. Over the summer, Jack Johnson came up to visit Sidney in Nova Scotia and witnessed people camping out on the Crosby family’s property, sometimes slipping items under the door for Sidney to sign [ 55 ]. Sidney had to stop watching Taylor’s power skating practices because he kept getting swarmed at the rink [313]. 

The Crosby Effect was ramping up to full speed, and it bought Sidney a ticket to the international stage: the 2003 Junior World Cup.  

Sidney flew to Calgary, Alberta on August 1, 2003 to participate in Canada’s National Under-18 Summer Team Development and Selection Camp. He spent a week at the Father David Bauer Olympic Arena competing with 40 other boys for a place on the 22-player roster. Canada was aiming for an eighth straight victory at the U18 tournament, having won every gold medal in the competition since its inception in 1997 [186, 231 ]. Sidney was selected to the roster on his 16th birthday, and was the only 1987-born player at camp [ 22 , 141].

Held from August 11-16 in Breclav of the Czech Republic and Piestany, Slovakia, the Junior World Cup would be Sidney’s international hockey debut. He was a year younger than all of his teammates but expected to play a “pivotal” role on the team. “He’ll play a lot,” said Canadian head coach Bob Lowes. “He’ll be one of the go-to players offensively. He’s proven that through camp. I really think he’s a great kid and really well grounded. He’s a good person and being a good player is part of that” [141, 231 ]. 

“That was a central theme in Sidney Crosby’s life story to this point: he made anything possible. Moreover, he never seemed disheartened by long odds and daunting challenges. He was a little ball of positive energy.” - Gare Joyce, Canadian hockey writer [ Taking the Game…, p. xiv-xv]

In Canada’s first game in the tournament, a narrow win over Finland on August 12, Sidney stole the show. With a tying goal late in regulation and the winning shot in the shootout, he led the Canadians to a 4-3 victory. Sidney was pleased with the win, but would’ve preferred to end the game in overtime “because a team has more control of the way the game ends.” Even so, he had been confident going into the shootout because of Team Canada’s roster, saying “[we] have a lot of firepower and great goaltending” [161, 186, Most Valuable, p. 88].

The next day, Sidney was just as valuable against Switzerland—valuable enough to become a target. In the second period, at least three seconds after the play was whistled dead, Swiss forward Mathias Joggi cross-checked Sidney in the head, just above his temple, thankfully making contact with his helmet. Sidney dropped to the ice face-first and barely moved [ Taking the Game…, p. 86, Most Valuable, p. 91-92].

Only four sets of Canadian parents had come to Europe for the tournament, and the Crosbys were among them. Troy “was in full throat—the Swiss player should get tossed out of the game. Meanwhile... Trina covered her mouth, horrified...” as Sidney was helped up by his teammates and the team doctor. He “staggered to his skates and made his way woozily to the Canadian bench.” He slammed his stick against the boards and immediately started jawing at the Swiss. He missed maybe two shifts, if anything [ Taking the Game…, p. 8-9, Most Valuable, p. 91-92]. 

When he was released back onto the ice, he was out for blood. Unlike Gretzky or Lemieux, he had a nasty streak, a willingness to finish every hit, and an ability to power through hooks and slashes. He wasn’t looking for revenge on the scoreboard; he wanted to show each and every player that he couldn’t be intimidated. As soon as he was back in the game, he “started running the biggest Swiss players he could find” [ Taking the Game…, p. 9-10].

His third period performance was both grit and grace. With the game tied, Sidney scored once—disgracing two Swiss defensemen and shaking off a hook from a forward—and then twice. He wasn’t finished. He set up a beautiful goal to put Canada up 6-3 in a decisive win [198, Most Valuable, p. 92].

“What’s really great [about Sidney] is the fact that the kid looks after himself on the ice. He fights his own battles. He doesn’t just take it. He dishes it out. He’s fearless out there.” - Tim Burke, head of scouting for the San Jose Sharks [Most Valuable, p. 89]

Sidney had come to the tournament meaning business. From the start he had been easy to pick out at team practices, as he was often the only one taking the drills seriously [ Taking the Game…, p. 4]. He was the first one on the ice and the last one off it, would attentively listen as coaches drew up power plays on whiteboards, and would ask for video footage and scouting reports on his opponents [ Most Valuable, p. 94, Taking the Game…, p. 89]. To Sidney, representing Canada meant he had to compete harder: “Every time you step out on the ice,” he said, “your game should elevate even more by just wearing that jersey” [278].

He was wholly absorbed in the competition, including the micro-competitions that happened around it. During a volleyball warmup, he played with a sort of naive, youthful seriousness, as if he’d stay out in the boiling summer heat as long as he could to win. Though he was shorter than all his teammates at five-foot-nine, though he was younger than them all at 16, all he wanted was to win [ Taking the Game…, p. 5]. In an ostensibly friendly game of ping pong with Devan Dubnyk, Sidney refused to leave the table, even though Dubnyk was an absolute shark and won game after game. Sidney “seemed sure that he was going to beat Dubnyk if he just tried harder, a self-belief that was childlike—perhaps not always ideal in the material world, but a virtue in the arena” [ Most Valuable, p. 97].

“He was one of our best players if not the best player. I think he wants it real bad. He doesn’t like to lose. He wants to keep proving himself.” - Bob Lowes, U18 Team Canada coach [196]

His teammates were impressed with his skill, if a bit befuddled. Summer tournaments like the Junior World Cup often produce a mixed bag of results. Players are put into new situations (and, in some cases, differently-sized rinks) that they don’t see in a regular season. Their lineups are “cobbled together with players who can barely keep their teammates’ names straight, let alone develop any on-ice chemistry,” and most players haven’t skated in game situations for months [ Most Valuable, p. 90]. It can be difficult to garner a real appreciation for any player’s game.

Sidney, as he often did, set himself apart. He seemed to be “wired differently” in a way that allowed him to see things on the ice that other players couldn’t. “I'm telling you he’s the best player you’ll see all year,” said Tim Burke, an NHL scout for San Jose who was in attendance. “Nothing you'll see over here [in Europe] will measure up” [ Taking the Game…, p. 4-7].

Wojtek Wolski, of the Brampton Battalion in the Ontario Hockey League, was one of Sidney’s linemates at the tournament and was amazed at his abilities. “I’ve never played with someone who does the things that he does,” Wolski confessed. “He forces you not to take your attention off the puck for a second. It could be coming anytime” [ Most Valuable, p. 93]. Every player on Team Canada could see how hard Sidney worked and how good it made him. None of the older boys resented Sidney’s increased ice time according to Wolski. “I never heard anybody complain. And nobody really can complain,” he said [ Taking the Game…, p. 95].

They didn’t complain, but they also didn’t really connect with Sidney. Many of the other Canadians knew a few of their teammates from rep hockey or regional teams. Sidney was the only boy from the Maritimes, and moreover he was the only player who lacked the sort of hockey boy swagger that the others wore with pride. Sidney still dressed like he was “observing Shattuck’s dress code, while a few other teammates walked around in T-shirts with the sleeves cut off to reveal shoulder-to-wrist tattoos. [Sidney] was listening to country music, to Toby Keith and Shania Twain, while most of his teammates divided their listening between metal or hip-hop” [ Most Valuable, p. 94]. 

Though Sidney was not lacking for friends—he had over 200 contacts on his MSN messenger: friends from back home, old teammates, boys he met at hockey camps—he was a fish out of water among his new teammates [ Taking the Game…, p. 97-98]. Many of them were from regions with well-off teams and the culture that came with that sort of money—a “culture that often prices out even the middle class with $400 states, $100 sticks, and sundry other expenses that run up into thousands of dollars a season” [ Taking the Game…, p. 99].

Sidney, meanwhile, “looked like he walked right out of a milk commercial, clean cut, freshly scrubbed” [ Taking the Game…, p. 87]. Worse, though other boys’ parents had also come, was that Sidney spent comparatively more time with his parents during the tournament [ Most Valuable, p. 94]. His coach tried to keep him involved; during the team’s breakfast routine where a trainer gave the players a riddle to solve, Coach Lowes specifically asked “Sidney, do you have it?” when Sidney was cut off by his teammates. Lowes didn’t do that for any other player—only for Sidney, the youngest, the Maritimer.

“...No,” Sidney said a little sheepishly. Even like this, Sidney didn’t want to be different [ Taking the Game…, p. 88]. 

Sidney was incredibly self-aware. He did nothing on impulse or whim, and “as much as the spotlight found him on the ice, he seemed determined to get lost in the crowd and disappear into the background away from the rink” [ Taking the Game…, p. 87]. It was hard to do while scouts watched him like a hawk and he had media appearances to juggle. He had to make Gare Joyce, a reporter, wait for an interview in his hotel room that he shared with Wolski and two other players while he called in to a radio station in Halifax. While Sidney tried to play down Wayne Gretzky’s compliments about him to the radio host, his teammates played noisily in the hallway with mock Uzis that shot plastic bullets. Sidney wasn’t amused [ Most Valuable, p. 96]. 

The day after the win over Switzerland, Sidney woke up early and stared down at a Czech hotel breakfast: eggs floating in grease and a hot dog pretending to be a sausage. “I don’t want to get into any superstition that I can’t control,” he told a reporter. “I like my routines. I’m superstitious about a bunch of things. I dress right before left. After I finish working on my stick before a game I never let it out of my sight. I don’t just put it in the rack. But a pre-game meal, that’s something I can’t control” [ Taking the Game…, p. 86-87].

His lackluster breakfast was a portent of what was to come. It was the Canadians’ third game in three days, and it would be a doozy against the host country [161]. The Junior World Cup in Breclav had “tough crowds, motivated home teams, and, worst of all, the shabbiest refereeing outside of professional wrestling.” On the ice, the Czechs elbowed and jabbed at Sidney relentlessly, setting up a neverending swarm of hooks and holds to stymie him. Sidney tried to get the attention of the refs; when that failed, he looked skyward, as if a divine power would give him a hand [ Taking the Game…, p. 91].

Sidney’s parents were there to watch it all, Troy standing in the back of the stands while Trina socialized with the other Canadian parents. Troy’s mood was dark as he watched his son grapple with the Czechs, and he had little time for the media who sought his attention. As the family’s “gatekeeper,” it was his job to turn away those who wanted their time [ Taking the Game…, p. 93].

“...during the second intermission I walked over to him and introduced myself. Troy stood up, revealing dimensions that suggested he might have been a hard-hitting defenceman or an enforcer and not a goaltender back in the day; his hands were like meat hooks, though he didn’t offer one to shake. He glowered when I mentioned I wanted to interview him. I told him I had spoken to one of Sidney's ‘advisors’ from IMG, J.P. Barry. That didn’t break the ice. ‘J.P. never mentioned you,’ Troy said, just before walking off.” - Gare Joyce, Canadian hockey writer [Taking the Game…, p. 92-93]

Troy’s poor mood had an understandable cause: the Czechs shut the Canadians out 3-0. The real insult would come after the game. This was only the preliminary round and wouldn’t hurt the Canadians’ chances in the elimination round. The Czechs, however, were gleeful after their win on home ice and sniffed out the Canadian dressing room to “[serenade] them with taunts.” Sidney waded into the inebriated crowd of fans and players to find his parents while the rest of his team waited inside. Though Sidney found his parents, they were all visibly shaken as the noise from the Czechs grew louder. The Canadian coaching staff summoned Sidney back inside, fearing a drunken fan might take a swing at him. The Canadians waited inside their locker room for an hour before the crowd dispersed [ Taking the Game…, p. 93-94]. 

The mood of the tournament was growing tired and sour; the morning after the loss to the Czechs, the Canadians took a bus to Brno as a change of scenery from their countryside hotel. They wandered the city, taking a tour to a castle. The players seemed disinterested. Sidney, walking between his parents, spent most of the tour listening to Troy go over the previous night’s game [ Taking the Game…, p. 94-95, Most Valuable, p. 94].

Things began sliding irrevocably downhill when the Canadians returned to the ice in Piestany. They faced Team USA in the semi-final. It was the latest installment in the U.S. vs. Canada rivalry, a matchup which often bred contempt, the brunt of which Sidney was about to bear [ Taking the Game…, p. 102-104].

Sidney was slashed, elbowed, and punched wherever the Americans could find purchase. “They were counting on wearing him down and maybe even breaking him.” Luke Lucyk, the biggest U.S. defenceman at 6’1” and 210 pounds, wrestled Sidney down, pinning his back to the ice, a stick across his chest. Sidney, “who was contorted awkwardly as if he were locked into a submission hold,” looked seriously hurt until he started yelling at the refs for a call. He wouldn’t get one. In the words of an unsympathetic NHL scout at the game, this was simply the price Sidney would have to pay [ Taking the Game…, p. 104-105, Most Valuable, p. 100-101].

“I don’t think about what's fair. I just make the most of whatever situation it is.” - Sidney Crosby [Taking the Game…, p. 88]

It wasn’t just the American brutality that was wearing Sidney down. A heat wave had hit Piestany so badly that the ice was pooling into water in some areas of the rink. Temperatures outside the arena rose to a sweltering 86°F (30°C), and inside it wasn’t much better. The puck would sometimes get stuck in puddles during play [ Most Valuable, p. 98-101]. Inexplicably, the Canadians had been provided only with carbonated water, which was impossible to drink mid-game. The Canadians played the full game without a single sip of water [ Taking the Game…, p. 103-104, Most Valuable, p. 98-99].

Team Canada was down by one in the third, and Sidney—without either of his linemates, as Wolski was on crutches and Evan McGrath was limping—was sent out over the boards every other shift. His desperation was palpable, growing as the Americans hit him harder in response. With less than three minutes left, Sidney set up Mike Blunden for the tying goal [ Most Valuable, p. 98-101, Taking the Game…, p. 105]. Sidney would get the overtime he had wanted for Canada’s first game of the tournament.

It wouldn’t last for long. Lucyk, of all players, threw a harmless-looking shot toward the Canadian goal, the first shot in overtime. It found the back of the net. The Canadians cried during The Star-Spangled Banner, having lost their chance to continue Canada’s gold medal streak. All they had left to compete for was bronze against the Czechs [ Taking the Game…, p. 106, Most Valuable, p. 101]

Dehydrated and demoralized, the Canadians packed themselves back into their bus and headed to downtown Piestany for a post-game meal. They wound up at a smoky, jazz-themed restaurant. Posters of Billie Holliday, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington stared down at them as they poked at their chicken-and-rice dinners. The lead singer of a cover band in the restaurant attempted to console them, saying in English, “We know you do not feel good tonight but you will be champions someday” [ Most Valuable, p. 101-102, Taking the Game…, p. 106].

Sidney was quiet. He hated losing, enough that it was “a point of pride bordering [on] pathology for him.” He had come to Europe to continue his country’s dominant control over the Junior World Cup, and he had failed [ Most Valuable, p. 101-102].

The Canadian team returned to Breclav to play for bronze. The morning of the game, the team arrived at the arena not to skate but to shower; the water was off at their hotel. Sidney was first out of their locker room, and he retreated to sit on the ground by the bus. 

“Rimouski called,” he said. “They want me to report [for training camp] right after the tournament. I was supposed to go home after the tournament for a couple of days to rest. I’ll have played six games in seven days. I’ll have flown from Halifax to Calgary for training camp to Vienna and back to Toronto and out to Quebec City or whatever. Get off the plane, go straight to practice. I’ve run out of clean clothes.” He paused. “That sucks” [ Taking the Game…, p. 106-108].

Sidney was not an impulsive creature by nature. He had, however, been pushed to his limit, and on the bus behind him was the perfect object onto which he could channel his frustration. 

Team Canada’s bus driver was a local named Karl. Karl was not a particularly jovial man, and above his driver’s seat hung a Czech flag. The caterwauling that the Czechs had subjected the Canadian locker room to still pissed Sidney off. “The way they acted after the game made me sick,” he said. “We’re not riding to the game tonight with that thing there” [ Taking the Game…, p. 108].

Sidney, though a bit of a black sheep among his teammates, had enough goodwill with them to stage a heist. Evan McGrath distracted Karl, luring him away from the driver’s seat by claiming the bus had a flat tire. Once Karl had rounded the back of the bus, Sidney balanced with one foot on Karl’s seat and the other on the steering wheel, reaching for the flag. McGrath stalled by making Karl check every single tire, and by the time Karl returned to his seat, the flag had been squirreled away. Sidney’s clean-cut, youthful appearance made his look of innocence all the more believable [ Taking the Game…, p. 108-109].

The final hopes of Team Canada were crushed by the Czechs in the bronze medal game. The Canadians were loose cannons, trying to hit every Czech they could find. By the end of the second period, Canada had ten penalties. In the third, Sidney lost his composure and earned himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The home crowd jeered as he slammed the penalty box’s door. At the end of the game, Canada “rolled over and played dead,” losing to the Czechs 8-2 [ Taking the Game…, p. 109, Most Valuable, p. 101].

Standing in the parking lot, in the echoing quiet of his most painful loss yet in hockey, Sidney was red-eyed, lingering next to the bus as Troy blasted Scott Salmond, Team Canada’s manager, about the Océanic demanding that Sidney go directly to training camp. Apparently the CHL and Hockey Canada had an “understanding” that had fallen through [ Taking the Game…, p. 109].

“This was an embarrassment,” Sidney told a reporter about Team Canada’s ignoble loss. “I’ll always remember this. Next time you can write that we get the gold.” He boarded the bus, gave the flag back to Karl, and caught what little sleep he could [ Taking the Game…, p. 110].

Rimouski was waiting.


Chapter Text

Rimouski, a remote French-Canadian town, sits on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. It’s 300 kilometers northeast of Quebec City, ever-so-slightly on the cusp of the Eastern time zone. Night falls at 3:30 p.m. in November, and in some ways it feels like the Maritimes when the wind gusts off of the river with the rising tide.

Originally a hub of trade and forestry during Canadian railway expansion, Rimouski had transformed into a town of Quebec government offices, oceanography... and hockey [313].

L’Océanic de Rimouski had fallen far since their 2000 Memorial Cup win—in the 2002-2003 season, the Océanic was the worst junior team in all of Canada. Océanic forward Eric Neilson struggled mightily to keep his place on the roster. He had gotten “off the tracks,” distracted by girls, parties, and late-night trouble. He’d been given a second chance, and then a third, but it finally came down to a meeting in a team office with the Océanic’s top brass [ 116 ]. 

“...they gave me a one-way bus ticket and said ‘You’re off the team. You’re not the player we thought you were. This is not what we wanted, not what we had in mind.’ 

It was like an epiphany. I had this flashback, working with my dad doing ventilation with heat pumps and duct work and everything, and had another flash of being a hockey player, going to the gym, being the first one there, sacrificing what you need to sacrifice to make it. 

It was like a 180, I turned around, ripped the bus ticket up and threw it on the ground and said ‘Boys, give me one more chance.’” - Eric Neilson [ 116 ]

The team officials were unmoved, all except the Océanic’s assistant coach, Donald Dufresne. Dufresne told Neilson this was his last shot, and Neilson finally put in the work to earn his team’s trust back. Still, the season ended with only 11 games in the “win” column. Things looked dire.

Then the Océanic officials summoned Neilson back to the office. The team was about to draft a kid from Nova Scotia, some sort of prodigy. Neilson had proven he could get his life back on the rails, and they wanted him to be the new kid’s roommate and mentor [ 116 ]. 

“I said, ‘Yeah, sure. Who is it?’, and that’s when they said ‘Sidney Crosby.’
And I was like, ‘Who? Who’s that?’” - Eric Neilson [ 116 ]

Neilson didn’t know much about Sidney, but he knew of him. He knew Sidney was an important prospect and had to be pretty good to wind up as the first-overall draft pick [ 147 ]. 

Then he met him.

“I meet this kid for the first time, and he’s just like a goofball. Like, he’s just got the big buck teeth and the bad hair. I’m looking at him and I’m like, ‘This is the kid that everybody’s got all the hype about?’ Like, he just didn’t have the look, you know what I mean?” - Eric Neilson [ 147 ]

To be fair, Sidney was also wary of his new roommate. Sidney had arrived in Rimouski a day earlier, on August 18, and tagged along to the bus station with his billet family, Christian Bouchard and Christine St. Ogne. Bouchard taught 7th and 8th grade history and geography, and his girlfriend St. Ogne taught 3rd grade. Sidney had met Bouchard when he was drafted, as his living situation was a key component in his choice to play for the Océanic. Originally, Bouchard was only to be Sidney’s tutor for his schooling, which would be done entirely by correspondence. Trina took a liking to Bouchard and requested the team place Sidney with Bouchard for his billet. Bouchard was happy to accommodate [ 116 , 278, 295, 348 , Taking the Game… , p. 133-134]. 

Off the bus came Neilson, with a mushroom haircut and more energy than anyone should have after a long bus ride. At first glance, Sidney thought Neilson would make a great roommate. Then, at their billet house on rue des Jésuites, Neilson told Sidney “Make sure you open my window tonight” [ 116 , 321 ].

Old habits died hard. Neilson was already looking to break curfew on his first night back in Rimouski, and he wasn’t above assigning coverup duties to the rookie. They would be living in a two-bedroom apartment in Bouchard’s basement, sharing a living room and a bathroom [295]. Neilson waited at the billet to see if there would be a curfew call, then snuck out after instructing Sidney to open the window into Neilson’s bedroom so he could get back in.

Sidney went to his own bedroom and promptly fell asleep. He’d entirely forgotten Neilson’s instructions, and a few hours after midnight, he woke to loud bangs and crashes. Disoriented and unused to his new billet, he rolled over and dropped back off to sleep. The next morning, Sidney went to wake Neilson up for their first practice of the season. He opened Neilson’s bedroom door to the sight of a destroyed window and a very unhappy Neilson [ 116 ]. 

“He just rolls over, and he’s so pissed off at me. I think he just sighed and said, ‘What did I ask you?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I know. Sorry, I totally forgot. I fell asleep.’” - Sidney Crosby [116]

It was a rocky start, but Sidney would make up for it on the ice. 

There had been some concern over how Sidney would adapt to major junior hockey. The schedule was jam-packed and more intense than Sidney had ever experienced. Moreover, the major junior lifestyle and media attention would be a far cry from the sheltered prep school life at Shattuck [313]. Even the style of hockey in Rimouski was a cause for worry; the Q was a defense-systems-heavy league when Sidney got to it. Pat Brisson, who had played in the Q many years prior, admitted that the old Q he’d experienced “was a lot more fun to watch and a lot more fun to play in” [ 66 ].

Naysayers were also skeptical of his ability to make it through major junior hockey to the NHL. He still wasn’t a very sizable player, and in the NHL, size often mattered. In defense of his height, Sidney would say if players of average builds like Paul Kariya, Steve Yzerman, and Wayne Gretzky could make it pro, so could he [ 228 , 11:07]. 

“Every year it seems they want to see how I do at the next level. Everyone is questioned when they make a jump or step to the next level and I’m not any different. I just make sure I’m worrying about playing my game and not changing anything. I’m sure with hard work I’ll be fine. It’s up to me to prove I can play. I have no problem with that.” - Sidney Crosby [205]

The Océanic’s first preseason game in September was a showdown against their arch-rival, the Baie-Comeau Drakkar. The arena was sold out. Sidney was excited, saying “It should be a good atmosphere. I just kind of want the season to start. It’s kind of been a summer of anticipation. I want it to get going” [313, 278].

Neilson and some of the team’s veterans weren’t in the lineup for the first preseason game, so they sat back in the stands and watched as this 16-year-old from Nova Scotia tore up the ice. 

“This kid goes out there and he just lights it up. He got four goals, four assists as a 16-year-old, first exhibition game in the Q, just a man playing with boys.” - Eric Neilson [116]

Neilson, along with his teammates Mark Tobin, Erick Tremblay, and Danny Stewart, decided Sidney needed a new name. They didn’t care for the nicknames the media had given Sidney, and Sidney didn’t like them either. The Gretzky hype over the summer still buzzed in media narratives. People discussed his jersey number—finally his iconic 87—as being unusual, just like Gretzky’s. Mark Tobin, an Océanic left winger, briefly floated “Gretz” as a nickname. Sidney put a stop to it immediately: “I am not Gretz,” he told the media [ 19 ].

“He never wanted to be the next Wayne Gretzky or the next Mario Lemieux. He wants to be Sidney Crosby. He’s comfortable with who he is. He’s not just playing hockey. He’s playing to be the best he can be. He hates to lose. Hates it. He’s his own worst critic. He’s always trying to get better.” - Troy Crosby [ 37 ]

“I realize a lot of guys have been tagged with that ‘next great player’ thing. Some have gone on to be great players, some have fallen. I don’t want to be one of the guys who disappears. I remind myself of that every day.” - Sidney Crosby [ 19 ]

There were five minutes left in the game and Sidney had posted 8 points on the scoreboard: 4 goals and 4 assists. Though it wasn’t Darryl Sittler’s NHL record of 10 points in a game, it came pretty damn close, and that was good enough for the Océanic veterans [ 19 , 116 ]. 

When the players wandered into the locker room, they swarmed Sidney with Hey, Darryl and Great game, Darryl! Sidney was baffled and wanted to know what was going on, but in the time-honored tradition of giving new guys a hard time, the veterans didn’t explain. The next day, they used white tape and a marker to correct Sidney’s name on all of his gear. His sticks, his sandals, his nameplate all now belonged to Darryl [ 116 ]. 

“He will be his own model. He will make his own name.” - Donald Dufresne, Rimouski Océanic Coach [22]

In the four preseason games Sidney played in, he notched 14 points. In his regular season debut in Rouyn-Noranda, he scored 3 goals in 7 minutes during the third period, lifting the Océanic  to a 4-3 victory. That night, he had 25% of the team’s shots on goal. Many of the Océanic’s better players were at pro camps that early in the season, and Sidney had grown frustrated when his linemates kept flubbing on his set-ups for goals. He’d taken matters into his own hands [328].  In his first home game, a 7-6 win over Moncton, he scored a goal, the overtime winner, and netted 3 assists [221]. It was the beginning of a blazing September—he’d be named the QMJHL Offensive Player of the Week twice and then the Canadian Hockey League Player of the Week after scoring 10 goals and 8 assists during the month. After 18 games, he had racked up 37 points [ 22 , Taking the Game… , p. 111].

“I didn’t expect to adjust so fast. I thought there was going to be a little bit more room for adjusting the first 10 or 15 games, but I seemed to be able to step right in there the first game and feel comfortable.” - Sidney Crosby [136]

It was a stunning performance. Donald Dufresne, now the Océanic's head coach, told reporters that Sidney brought “skills and speed to the game that [he’d] never seen in a 16-year-old.” The Q was a league for 19-year-olds, not kids Sidney’s age [Most Valuable, p. 113].

Those who had known Sidney for longer were less surprised. “We expected him to be dominating in this league, probably the top two or three in scoring,” Pat Brisson admitted. “We thought there was going to be maybe a longer learning period. He actually came in, and the first night he scored three goals” [ 228 , 8:30]. Sidney’s smooth skating, explosive speed, and bodily strength made him a force on the ice, and the points piled up. “It’s not like I didn’t think I could do it, because I set pretty high goals for myself,” said Sidney [313].

“I’m not satisfied by any means. I want to keep going. I want to be consistent. It’s good to be able to start off pretty good, but at the same time, it’s easy to go pointless in this league. It’s easy to make mistakes and for other teams to capitalize on them. So you can’t take things for granted at all, because it could catch up to you in a hurry.” - Sidney Crosby [297]

Sidney was slightly blasé about his talent— “Mostly it’s just read and react. It’s not brain surgery,” he said. “You see a guy and figure out what he’s going to do and try to angle him. It’s like anything, when you do it a lot, it becomes natural” [313]. His nonchalance didn’t stop him from being a target for other players. While playing against the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies on November 22, 2003, Sidney was dragged down to the ice in the dying minutes of the second period. The refs took no notice, and once the buzzer sounded, Sidney went over to complain.

As it turned out, refs don’t care for it when 16-year-olds criticize their work, and Sidney got slammed with a 10-minute misconduct in response. “He’s human too,” explained Océanic  Assistant General Manager Doris Labonté. “Some nights you’re just not going to have it. At 16, we can understand that. Maybe your passes are off a little bit. Maybe a teammate doesn’t score when he has a chance. Maybe the goaltender is having a good night. It’s a long season. The games get tougher as the season goes on” [313].

The human aspect of major junior was another adjustment for Sidney. “It seems like every year almost, I’m starting over,” he said. “It’s really hard to be away from home, to make friendships and then have to leave” [124]. Sidney called home every night—he missed Taylor, who was 7 years old at the time—and Troy often made trips out to see as many games as he could [ 43 , 45 , Taking the Game… , p. 131]. As for school, he was tutored at his billet for 3 hours a day. His parents had made an agreement with the Océanic that the team would help provide Sidney with educational resources like tutors and a laptop. For all Troy’s efforts to get Sidney a robust education, it wasn’t a normal one; Sidney told reporters he didn’t have a girlfriend because he wasn’t a “regular high-school student” [ 43 , 221, 365].

“It was actually harder going to Minnesota last year than coming here, where there’s a family atmosphere and a billet. Home is only eight hours away by car, so my parents can come to games and my little sister Taylor loves the team mascot.” - Sidney Crosby [335]

Away from the rink, Sidney lived in the bubble of his billet. Christian Bouchard said Sidney was very nice, very quiet, very polite... and a “funny guy.” Bouchard found Sidney to be a little sheltered for his age; apparently Sidney was shocked to learn that Bouchard and St. Ogne weren’t married, even though they were living together. “In the beginning,” said Bouchard, “it was ‘Oh, you’re not married, and you live in the same house?’” [295, 381 ].

Sidney’s habit of forming little superstitions held strong in his new environment. Bouchard would have to greet him a certain way in the mornings, and Sidney always took a small bagel with him to the rink, which Bouchard would place in the same spot on the counter every morning. Aside from his peculiarities and his supernatural ability to be good at all sports—Bouchard noted Sidney was good at both baseball and tennis, having witnessed Sidney take part in pickup games at the baseball field right next to the Océanic’s rink—he just enjoyed living as normal of a life as he could manage. “He’s a normal kid,” said Bouchard. “He goes on the Internet, chats with his friends, plays Nintendo, like a normal kid will do at his age” [ 31 , 295, 348 ].

Sidney was normal until the food got brought out, though. Bouchard did most of the cooking in the household, as he had a background in the food service industry, and he was taken aback by the habits Sidney had around food [ Taking the Game… , p. 133-134]. “Sidney has rituals,” Bouchard said, “like eating the same meals at the same time. And if they lost, that meal went out the window. He doesn’t eat any junk food and I have never seen anybody read food labels the way Sidney does. It’s amazing” [ 44 ]. Sidney was fastidious about reading food labels at the grocery store (he turned away food that was too sugary) and gave junk food a wide berth [295].

“Even me, if I went to a restaurant the day before a match or the day of a match, and if he won, the next time he would say: ‘Where did you go to eat before the match? Can you go back next week?’” - Christian Bouchard [ 348 ]

What Bouchard wasn’t surprised by was the quantity of food two QMJHL players needed. “It’s not that much work," he commented. “You need to have dinner for two, so you just make dinner for eight now” [295]. 

Neilson and Sidney had grown closer since their rocky start. Neilson was 19; Sidney was 16. “I consider Sidney to be my little brother and part of my family,” said Neilson [ 90 ]. He got a kick out of Sidney claiming to be a real salt-of-the-earth guy. According to Neilson, Sidney styled himself as a woodsy, outdoorsy type, saying he knew a lot about hunting and fishing. Neilson saw right through him. Though Sidney claimed to be a country boy, he was a hometown boy—Cole Harbour through and through [ 347 ].

“We talked about girls, and hockey, everything really, but at the end of the conversation that night right before we went to bed, he looked at me and said; ‘I’m going to be the best hockey player in the world.’

“I looked at him and said ‘OK, good luck man, I’m here to support you and help in any way.’” - Eric Neilson [90]

Neilson got a kick out of Sidney and his relentless pursuit of hockey greatness (which included putting “score and win” on the ceiling over his bed so it would be the first thing he saw in the morning. Neilson, in comparison, had a picture of Pamela Anderson above his own). Everything was a competition to be solved by rock-paper-scissors: who got which seat in the car, who got to use the shared bathroom first in the morning, who got to the rink earliest. Sidney would insist on being the first to practice and the first onto the ice, and then the first in line to do any drills. This wasn’t a welcome shake-up in protocol for the veterans on the team, but it was hard to argue when Sidney would do the drill perfectly. Sometimes other players would hide one of Sidney’s skates or another piece of equipment in an attempt to stymie his need to be first into the rink; Sidney didn’t take it well. Even in “fun” competitions, he had a need to win. Neilson and Sidney set up a basketball net in their basement apartment, and while they watched hockey highlights on TV they’d play best-of-seven games. If Neilson would win—that’s an if —Sidney would slam his bedroom door and refuse to talk to Neilson for the rest of the night [ 147 , 347 ].  

Neilson put up with it. It got him a car, after all.

A local Mazda dealership had given Sidney a sponsored car. The only problem was that Sidney didn’t have his driver’s license yet. Thus, Neilson became his personal chauffeur. The dealership put “87 Crosby” on the passenger side door. On the driver’s side was “29 Neilson.” Neilson tried to give Sidney a few driving lessons, but Neilson declared Sidney an “awful driver” and put an end to it. It didn’t help that the car was a stick shift. Sidney admitted he “almost ruined” the car [66, 78, 116].

Neilson was the one to actually ruin the car.

One night, Neilson was driving home a few drunk teammates and girls and picked a bad time to show off. He tried to drift around a corner and lost control of the vehicle, crashing it. Luckily none of the passengers were hurt, but the car had to be taken away by a tow truck. When the police arrived at the scene, the officer recognized the car. He offered Neilson a deal: if Neilson got him two autographed Crosby cards, Neilson wouldn’t get into any trouble.

Neilson was all in. The officer drove him back to Bouchard’s house and Neilson ran into Sidney’s room. Sidney was a heavy sleeper and didn’t really understand what was going on when Neilson shoved a sharpie and two cards into his face. He signed the cards and Neilson ran outside to punch his get-out-of-jail-free card.

When Sidney came up for breakfast the next morning, he was disoriented. He knew something had happened, but couldn’t quite remember. Neilson was struck dumb when he saw Sidney walking up the stairs; Neilson had left the uncapped sharpie in Sidney’s bed and Sidney had marker all over his face and chest. Sidney thought he’d been pranked, that Neilson had drawn all over him in his sleep. “He was pretty pissed off about that one,” said Neilson. “He was pretty upset once I told him the real story, and we got the permanent marker washed off his chest and his face” [ 116 ].

On the ice, it was Neilson’s job to bang things around. He was an enforcer and knew it— “I’m not out there to put the puck in the net,” he said. “But I go out there and play tough, play solid along the boards, skate hard and fight.” —but sometimes Sidney wouldn’t even need protection. He was strong and could handle things in the corners. Still, Sidney was grateful to have a player to look out for him. He wore extra padding on his forearms because of how often he was slashed [ 72 , 89 , 263].

“He looks out for me out there, that’s for sure. He’s a little bit of a protector, so it’s good to have him. There’s been a couple of incidents, especially in the pre-season, when guys have hit me from behind and the guys take care of it. Sometimes guys from the other teams won’t even fight when [Neilson] comes after them.” - Sidney Crosby [263]

Sidney wasn’t the only one to benefit from their partnership. He would tell Neilson to just put his stick on the ice and go to the net. That was all it took; Neilson scored several goals that year, all from Sidney. He was blown away by Sidney’s skill and hockey smarts [ 147 ]. 

“There were just plays that I would be a part of when I was playing on his line, and I’m just like, ‘How did he physically do that? How does he just know that?’ I’d come back to the bench and I’d just be mind-blown. There would be times where I’m just like, ‘Man, that’s incredible for a 16-year-old to be able to do that.’ And they weren’t just fluke plays—he would do them again and again and again. It was repetition. It was a pattern that he was able to figure out. He was just so much more advanced in the game.” - Eric Neilson [147]

“We chum around a little bit. I’ve shown him around,” said Neilson. “He's a quick learner at everything he does, and he’s learning French” [263]. Learning French became incredibly important for Sidney. Rimouski was 99.1% francophone, and Sidney would often turn to Bouchard for help preparing for French interviews [ 44 , 321 , 335 ]. “He likes to make fun of Eric, or fight with him, or laugh at my girlfriend’s English,” said Bouchard. “She doesn’t speak much English, and he’s trying to get his French going. He speaks to her in French and she talks to him in English, so it’s pretty funny sometimes. They both don’t understand what they’re saying” [295].

“We would have a rule where at the dinner table you could only speak French. At first it could be interesting, a little frustrating. But eventually I got to where I could carry on a conversation and say most of what I needed to say. I used it around the town, and people were really good about helping me along. It’s a big deal there to do it, and it means a lot to people.” - Sidney Crosby [ The Rookie, p. 201]

Rimouski wasn’t a big place, and though the downtown had restaurants, nice clothing stores and plenty of shops, Sidney didn’t get out a ton [313]. He admitted he sometimes felt a little “stuck” at the billet, even when he and Neilson would try to have other guys from the team over to watch hockey games. Most nights, though, he’d kill time by watching old 80s hockey games or action movies with Neilson—“they had seen just about every action movie stocked by the local video store” [295, Taking the Game…, p. 128, Most Valuable, p. 112].

It wasn’t the most riveting lifestyle, but Sidney was content. “The focus here is the team,” he insisted. “This team has had a lot of good players come through... and has done well developing them” [ Taking the Game… , p. 128].

Sidney’s return to Halifax would curry some appreciation for Rimouski’s slow pace of life. Sidney and the Océanic rolled into Halifax on October 15, 2003. While the rest of the team packed themselves into a hotel, Sidney returned home and spent the night reading with his little sister, Taylor [198]. It would be a brief moment of respite before the entirety of the Maritime hockey world converged on him. 

“[The media attention upon Sidney’s return] was a little much, there was too much hype. He would rather go in there, be one of the guys. It’s unfortunate because people who don’t even watch hockey show up and expect six points, and if he doesn’t do that, they say he had a bad game... But we don’t have control over that.” - Troy Crosby [313]

“When [the schedule] came out and I saw it, I wanted to see when we played Halifax. It’s basically my hometown—it’s right across the bridge,” said Sidney. “It will be the first time that a lot of family and friends have been able to see me play since I played for the Subways, so I’m looking forward to that” [297]. 

The game was sold out, and in the crowd would be several former teammates, coaches, and teachers. A hundred students from Astral Drive Junior High School were also in attendance [198, 265]. Sidney claimed he was fine with the spotlight. “If people come to the rink to watch me, that’s great,” he said. “It’s a little bit harder for us because there’s more fans cheering against our team. But at the same time, it’s good to have a lot of fans there. It’s more exciting that way, I think” [297].

“Whether there’s 10,000 or 1,000 fans there, we’re just happy to see him play. There have been a few people asking about getting tickets, but I don’t know that I can get that many. Most people have been good about it, and have gotten tickets on their own.” - Troy Crosby [265]

The locals were pleased to see Sidney again—Sidney’s midget hockey coach Brad Crossley told reporters that when Sidney was in town, he would always make sure to visit Crossley’s kids. “He’s just such a special person on and off the ice,” said Crossley. “He’s a very down to earth young man” [265].

“He’s just a great role model,” said Astral Drive vice principal Karen Dale. “I think it’s going to be wonderful that he someday may be, or is now, in a position where he can be there for others.” Sidney had returned to his alma mater the previous year (2002) to speak at an athletic awards ceremony and signed autographs for an hour and a half after the event [198]. 

The Crosby family had to adapt to Sidney’s celebrity status. “We’re definitely on a learning curve when it comes to that,” said Trina. “We’ve gone to some of his games and we’ve had to wait a substantial amount of time to see him because he’s doing all these interviews and signing autographs. But like anything else, you get used to it. It’s not long ago that he was one of those kids hanging around the Mooseheads dressing room waiting for an autograph, and that’s a big reason why he does it” [265].

“He completely understands the concept of enjoying things while they’re here because he knows they could be gone by tomorrow. It’s neat for him to be a role model, and for kids to knock on our door at Halloween and say ‘Is Sid home?’ It’s neat for us too, for the kids to look up to our child like that.” - Trina Crosby [ Taking the Game…, p. 40]

Though Sidney thought it was important to be a role model, he also said he was still young: “I should enjoy being 16” [124, 198]. He felt his age when he stepped on the ice and looked into the sold-out stands, full of his friends and family. “ It just kind of flashed back,” he said. “You can remember sitting wherever and watching the games. It was a good time” [273].

The Océanic managed to get the win over Halifax, 2-1, though Sidney’s only point was an assist on the winning goal, which extended his point streak to 11 games [273]. The Halifax Mooseheads had several players who’d played with Sidney on various youth teams. They knew better than most that the average team couldn’t outplay Sidney on skill. They had tried to limit his space on the ice, but Sidney made himself hard to hit [289]. “We just played the man against him,” said Halifax defenceman Steeve Villeneuve. “You can’t play the puck against him because we know he’s got skills, so we play the man” [273]

“He’s just so strong. His body is so strong. He was more mature than all of us at that time. I don’t even know if there is a key to stopping him. I guess try to get in his head a little. He gets frustrated sometimes, so just get in his head [trash talk]. And hack him a little bit.” - Justin Saulnier, Mooseheads player [289]

Sidney’s November was incredibly busy. He tore up the league and people flocked to watch him play. The Rimouski Colisée had a seating capacity of 4,285 and could hold 5,062 standing-room viewers. On average, the Océanic boasted a crowd of 4,500 during Sidney’s rookie season [171]. Sidney admitted it was a little intimidating. “It’s been tons of fun, but it’s tough sometimes when you’re going in front of sold-out crowds every night,” he said. “That’s exciting for sure but at the same time there’s still a bit of pressure” [ 228 , 16:08].

“You look at the stats, and you see that he’s already leading the Quebec League by that many points. In his first year, a guy just shouldn't be doing that. It’s a great story for hockey.” - Andy Nowicki, LA Kings scout [221]

People wanted to see the boy wonder for themselves. He put real fear into the eyes of defencemen, according to Daniel Doré, the Boston Bruins’ chief scout for the Q. Sidney had the ability to read a defenceman’s weaknesses almost instantly and make snapshot decisions based off of that information. He had confidence, the sheer nerves to try gutsy plays, and was unafraid to take hits from bigger players [ Taking the Game… , p. 114].

Sidney considered his vision and his ability to anticipate plays to be his best assets. “I think it comes with knowing where to be at the right time,” he said. “When guys are bigger and stronger, you’ve got to outthink them and jump into open areas” [335]. Still, he wanted to improve his game. He wanted to block shots and be an all-around player, though his coach urged him not to block with his body [ 88 , 205]. His coaches emphasized that they want him to grow his skills his way. “Sidney has to be his own player, not what others want him to be,” said assistant general manager Doris Labonté [335].

“It’s a long season and I’ve got to work on bettering myself every day. I can’t be a different player. I just have to play the way I know how and let people form their own opinions.” - Sidney Crosby [335]

The team’s management was keeping a careful watch on Sidney as he burned through his opponents. He was putting up numbers at a “feverish” rate and led the Q’s scoring race. Frustratingly, Rimouski was situated right in the middle of the league’s territory, meaning that a trip to Rouyn or Cape Breton could stretch as long as 12 hours. Rest was “an issue,” and the Océanic was not going to wait for players to look tired before resting them. “We have to force Sidney to cool down because he isn't happy when he's not on the ice,” said Labonté [132].

People’s opinions of him were, on the whole, very positive. He did a few fundraiser skates for minor league hockey in November, where children would gather near the Océanic bench, cheering and begging for autographs. Many of them wore replica Crosby Océanic jerseys [171].

“It’s pretty neat, because I remember wearing other guys’ jerseys as a kid, but at the same time it makes you want to do that much better. It motivates you to see kids are looking up to you enough to wear your jersey.” - Sidney Crosby [171]

Sidney was happy to oblige the kids, adamant that he had to give back in some way. “I can remember being in Cole Harbour and seeing the Mooseheads in their training camp,” he said. “Half the guys’ autographs I got didn’t even make the team when I saw them at Cole Harbour Place, but I was so happy to have their autograph” [284]. It was the least he could do to give other kids the same happiness. 

“I understand [media is a] part of hockey and I’ve gotten used to that. I take care of it when I need to take care of it. I’m worrying about being a better hockey player and proving myself in that way. If media interviews and signing autographs comes along with it then I’m more than happy to do that.” - Sidney Crosby [205]

His success and popularity earned him an invite to the 2003 Canadian Hockey League RE/MAX Canada-Russia Challenge Series as one of the QMJHL all-stars. It was his first appearance on national television since the Dartmouth Subways made it to the Air Canada Cup final. “I don’t think he is as excited about being on national television as he is about playing Russians,” said Troy Crosby [ 48 ].

A select Russian team was making its way through Canada, playing six games against 3 CHL all-star teams (an OHL team, a QMJHL team, and a WHL team) throughout November [142]. The Russian roster was young and small, with 11 players under 19 years of age and most forwards under 6 feet tall. The roster was relatively unknown—only one Russian was a veteran from the 2003 World Juniors gold medal team, and Alexander Ovechkin was playing for Moscow Dynamo’s senior team instead of the select roster [143]. 

Sidney’s schedule was jam-packed. He played 5 games in 6 days, squeezing home games in Rimouski between the two Canada-Russia games in Halifax [133]. He scored three assists over the two-game series and had only a single goal, scored in Canada’s first game—a 3-2 loss in which Russia’s goalie, Konstantin Barulin, stood on his head to eke out the win. Canada had more luck in the second game, winning 6-3 [221, 144, 145 ]. 

Sidney was hungry for international competition again. In an interview at an Italian restaurant in Rimouski, Sidney wore a Team Canada golf shirt and admitted—on his way back from the restaurant’s bread bar—that he “would love to play” for the 2004 World Junior team [131].

He had a decent shot at making the roster—his performance at the U18 tournament had been commendable. “He’s very competitive and plays with a lot of bite,” said Blair Mackasey, Hockey Canada’s head scout. “He’s physically stronger than a lot of people think. Very strong legs” [335].

The end of Sidney’s first November in Rimouski would bring a test not of his physical abilities, but his mental ones. On November 28, 2003, Sidney scored   a “lacrosse-like” goal against the Quebec Remparts , picking the puck up on his stick and flinging it past the goalie. Don Cherry, a commentator with Hockey Night in Canada , took issue with how Sidney celebrated after the goal; the Océanic had already been leading 4-0 [ 8 ].

Cherry insisted that Sidney had made a spectacle of himself on the ice, and spectacles invited retaliation. “I’m trying to help the guy, warn the guy to stop it,” Cherry said. “He’s a good kid, a nice kid. He didn’t mean to embarrass the [goalie] but he did. The agents won’t tell him because they don’t want to lose him... I’ll tell him because I want to help him” [150, 179].

Then he took a crack at Sidney’s parents.

“His parents evidently don’t know anything about that stuff. Someone should have told him not to do it,” said Cherry [ Taking the Game… , p. 118]. 

The Crosbys sent an email to Cherry’s “sidekick,” Ron MacLean, arguing Cherry’s commentary was inappropriate. Troy Crosby said Cherry was “ignorant” and “made an issue out of something that basically put a bounty on a 16-year-old’s head. He’s already a target as it is and now it’s basically okay to go out and hurt him” [ 42 , Taking the Game… , p. 118]. Cherry blustered forward, and when he interviewed Red Wings player Brendan Shanahan the next week, Shanahan said he’d be “looking to take the head off” any player who attempted that goal against his team [ 66 ].

Sidney had actually been practicing the move for weeks and had taught himself how to do it on both his forehand and backhand. He’d spent many practices working on it and encouraging his teammates to be more adventurous with the puck [170]. He was proud of his skill and so was his team. The Océanic was selling DVDs of the goal for $8.69, calling it “Le fameux but du 87” [ 42 ]. 

Though the footage was splashed on television screens across Canada, Sidney hadn’t originated the move. Made famous in 1997 by University of Michigan player Mike Legg, it had won Legg an ESPY award for most outrageous play of the year [ The Rookie, p. 176]. It won 16-year-old Sidney public criticism on a television program watched by nearly 2 million viewers [ 83 ].

“I don’t taunt other teams. I’m an emotional player and when I score a goal, I’m going to be happy. I worked on a move that I tried for the first time in that game and it worked. That was basically the point behind it. It wasn’t to taunt or show off. I try not to be that type of player and I hope people realize that’s not the type of player I am. It’s a move I saw in the NCAA and I thought I’d give it a try and it worked, so I was happy.” - Sidney Crosby [208]

A few days after Cherry’s broadcast aired, Sidney calmly told reporters, “I’m not shaken by his words. It’s his style to make controversial remarks. I can’t please everyone” and “ I know the unwritten rules. My father taught me about respect. I wasn’t trying to embarrass anybody” [ 66 , The Rookie, p. 176]. Luckily for Sidney, the majority of Canadian media agreed that Cherry’s comments were out-of-line. Back in Halifax, some locals called for a boycott of HNIC [ Taking the Game… , p. 117].

While the Cherry remarks were the most high-profile incident, they were not the only criticisms leveled at Sidney that year; he had “gotten into the habit of complaining to officials,” and people were taking issue with it [ 8 ]. “He faced greater expectations and pressure than perhaps any Canadian player since Wayne Gretzky, and when those forces combined with his perfectionism, they could boil over” [ 97 ].

“In Rimouski if I played bad, and back then I could still play bad and still get a couple points, they had outdoor rinks I’d go to. The coach might tell us we had the next day off, but I’d get the trainer to put pucks and skates in my car so the coach wouldn’t see. And I’d go out and shoot pucks at night by myself. Oh, it was the best. I didn’t have anyone telling me what to do. No one was telling me to dump pucks in or play the system. No one cared if I missed or scored. It was just me out there. That was probably one of the best therapies I’d ever done over those two years. That was my spot, my place.” - Sidney Crosby [ The Rookie, p. 40]

With December came the ultimate palate cleanser: an invitation to try out for the Canadian IIHF Ice Hockey World Junior Championships team [208]. It was a childhood dream come true. “It’s like religion up there,'' said Sidney. “Over Christmas break, you’re not worrying about opening gifts. You’re waiting to watch Team Canada play in the World Junior tournament” [134].

On December 1st, Hockey Canada announced that Sidney would attend their evaluation camp in Kitchener, Ontario [208]. He was the youngest invite by 23 months and only the sixth 16-year-old to ever be invited to the U20 program [ 47 , Taking the Game… , p. 115]. The second-youngest player, Stephen Dixon, also hailed from Nova Scotia. It had been 21 years since a player from their province had made the roster [ 47 ].

“I’m happy for the opportunity to play for Team Canada, but I’m not all the way there yet. I’ve got a lot to prove. I want to have a good camp. I can’t be nervous or go in scared... I’ve played with older guys all my life. I don’t step on the ice thinking, ‘Wow, I’m playing with 19- or 20-year-olds. Once you’re on the ice, you’re all equal.” - Sidney Crosby [208]

From December 11-16, the 36 invitees scrimmaged and practiced to earn spots on the 22-player roster. They also played two intrasquad games and two games against an Ontario University Athletics all-star team. Blair Mackasey, Hockey Canada’s head scout, had spent the first few months of the hockey season monitoring junior players across Canada and was thoroughly impressed by Sidney’s skill [ 232 , 349]. “Sidney is a tremendous talent,” he said. “He’s one of the few players that excites me and can get me out of my seat” [154]. 

In his first game against the university players, Sidney was tentative at first— “I think I was a little bit hesitant because you’re playing against older guys and you don’t want to get caught in their hooks... I just realized that I can go in there and get away from it. They’re 25 years old, but I have good balance... I could get through those hooks and sometimes I could finish guys. I could knock ‘em down.” By the third period he’d gotten his skates beneath him and was playing like he owned the ice [357]. After a three-assist night during Team Canada’s 9-1 clobbering of the Ontario University Athletic Association, Sidney had clearly earned his spot on the roster [355].

“Any time you start hanging a label on kids at 16 years old, you have to be careful. What impresses me is the speed he carries through the neutral zone. He’s very competitive and plays with a lot of bite... Actually, he does everything well, but he’s not just a finesse player because he’s more competitive than that. You can’t call him just a speed guy, either, because he thinks the game so well. And defensively he’s very good.” - Blair Mackasey, Hockey Canada head scout [182]

In Kitchener, Sidney roomed with Jeff Tambellini (whose father Steven Tambellini had roomed with Wayne Gretzky during the 1978 World Juniors). The two would become linemates as camp wore on. “There is great chemistry between us and we’re becoming the best of friends after four days,” said Tambellini, “and it’s really easy to play with a guy like that” [304]. Sidney didn’t sleep much; every morning he woke at 4:30 a.m., when the coaches would inform players if they had been cut [ 47 ]. “He was so nervous,” said Tambellini. “He was playing with the weight of the world on his shoulders. But he’s a professional at 16 years old and I’m sure he’ll be able to handle it” [222, 304].

“I have an opportunity to play for Team Canada so it’s not something that I’m saying ‘Next year, [or] I’m just happy to be at the camp.’ It’s not that at all. I came here to make the team. I’m not going to be happy if I get sent home.” - Sidney Crosby [196]

As the days went on, Sidney became more comfortable, but was still cautious. World Juniors is considered a 19-year-old tournament, so Sidney at 16 likely wouldn’t be seeing more than spot duty. “I’m pretty pleased how he’s doing right now, ” said Mario Durocher, Team Canada’s head coach, “but it’s a three or four-day camp so we’ll have to see how he can deal with the bigger guys and the older guys” [196]. 

“There’s a little time of adjustment. This isn’t a normal level of hockey, this is the best guys in the world and you have to take a little time, and readjust your game to that.” - Sidney Crosby [355]

Sidney was plainly a young teenager adjusting to more intense hockey, all while dealing with incredible media attention [304]. Newspaper articles bit into him, reporting that he wasn’t standing out during the intrasquad and exhibition games [193]. Autograph seekers swarmed Sidney to the point that Hockey Canada limited the number of items he was allowed to sign and had him entering and exiting Kitchener Memorial Auditorium from different doors [196]. When a television station asked him to don an authentic Canadian jersey for an interview, he declined [ 47 ].

“I didn’t want to jinx it. To me, it wasn’t right. There is a lot of sweat and hard work that goes into earning the right to wear Canadian colours. Yes, I’m superstitious. But I also wanted to work hard and prove to the coaches and my teammates that I belong on this team.” - Sidney Crosby [47]

Sidney very much wanted to fit in with his teammates, especially after his stint as the black sheep in the Czech Republic. It was hard with the media circus following his every move, but Sidney was certain that his fame hadn’t hurt his reputation with the other players. “I think the guys understand,” he said. “These guys are great players as well and they’re out here doing interviews the same way I am. I might be doing a few more, but they don’t get mad. They accept it. It’s part of hockey. It’s not something we really talk about” [196].

Even though the team was young, with half the roster only aged 18, many had at least some international experience. Their collective experience helped them bond quicker, said Tambellini. “This is probably one of the tightest groups I’ve seen come together after four days. It’s something that you can’t teach, it’s either there or it isn’t. This is a special group, I think” [184, 304].

Among them were only two returning players from the previous year’s team: Gatineau Olympiques forward Maxime Talbot (who was chosen as one of the assistant captains), and Cape Breton Screaming Eagles goalie Marc-André Fleury, who was eager to rope Sidney into a bet [47, 92]. After a practice, Sidney beat Fleury on 2 out of 3 shootout attempts to win a soft drink. Sidney was thrilled to face Fleury, who’d been drafted first overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier in the year. “It was awesome. It’s a big challenge,” Sidney told reporters. “Even if he stops you, he plays in the NHL. Everyone wants to shoot on him. I think there is a lot of pressure on him” [235].

By the end of the camp, Sidney had left his mark. “[Sidney] passed his tests here with flying colours,” said Mackasey. Coach Durocher was so impressed that he considered giving Sidney regular shifts during the tournament and putting him on the power play. “He’s not going to be on a checking line, though,” Durocher remarked. Sidney was eager to contribute in any way he could. “I’m pretty much ready to accept whatever they want me to do,” he said. “I just want this team to win a gold medal” [184].

When Sidney was named to the team on December 16, 2003, he was only the fifth 16-year-old to ever be named to the roster, and the second-youngest player of all time [32, 41, 47]. “It was a very simple decision on our part,” said Mackasey. “He was going to make the team if he was good enough to make the team” [32]. 

This was also the perfect time for Fleury to enact his revenge. Right after the official team photograph, Sidney got a shaving cream pie to the head, courtesy of one Québécois goalie [ 214 ]. 

Ten days later, Sidney and Team Canada traveled to compete in the 2004 World Junior Ice Hockey Championship, held in Helsinki and Hämeenlinna, Finland, from December 26, 2003 to January 5, 2004. Sidney was “acutely conscious of being just another member of Team Canada” [327]. He was the runt of the team, despite the numbers he was putting up in Rimouski, and that role came with rules. For one, he was tasked with helping the staff clean up water bottles and pucks after each practice. “I’m a rookie in Rimouski, and I’m the youngest guy on the team. I know my place. Somebody else will do it next year,” he said when asked about it by the media [ 41 , 339].

“I think I’m a student and I want to try things. I want to improve myself and do things that guys maybe never thought of. That’s what makes guys creative; that’s what makes guys good. I’m not trying to change hockey or anything like that, but if I can help it, that’s good and I want to do that. That’s the fun part.” - Sidney Crosby [327] 

As the only Canadian player under 18, Sidney had to wear a full face mask on the ice. At this point in NHL history, few professional players even wore visors. Don Cherry was particularly eager to call players wimps for wearing any sort of face protection [140]. Sidney was the target of a more friendly sort of bullying when his teammates caught him napping on New Year’s Eve and rolled the mattress around him, taping it shut. They carried the mattress down the hall, into the elevator, and sent him on his merry way down, only clad in the mattress and his boxers. When the elevator doors opened, it was team manager Ron Pyette who found Sidney and freed him [151, Taking the Game… , p. 119].

Sidney took it all in stride. It was teambuilding according to him. “It was great to be in a situation like that,” he insisted [ Taking the Game… , p. 121]. He’d grown close to Tambellini as well, both on and off the ice. “We’ve been attached at the hip for the past 20 days,” said Tambellini. “We’re sensing each other in the spots. It’s exciting to get to that stage.” The only downside Tambellini saw to rooming with Sidney was his music taste. “He just listens to too much music. I have to get him to turn off Shania Twain every night” [130]. Shania Twain, Tim McGraw, and the Dixie Chicks were some of Sidney’s favorites [ 42 ].

Sidney adapted quickly to U20 hockey, but not quick enough for his taste. After the tournament-opening game against Finland, he admitted he had some nerves. “I didn’t know what it was going to be like and I got out there and I kind of got caught watching a little bit. And then I figured out, hey, if I skate I can play, there’s no reason I can’t,” he said. “So I just told myself to play my normal game and I can contribute. From there, I’ve had to pick up my speed on defence. I mean, you’re playing against the best players in the world” [326].

It was a slow start to the tournament for Sidney. Including the 2 exhibition games during the selection camp, pre-tournament games against Sweden and Austria, and the first game against Finland, Sidney went 5 games without a goal [181]. “He’s had a bunch of chances and when a goal scorer doesn’t score it can get frustrating,” commented assistant coach Dean Chynoweth [153].

The hype Sidney received leading up to the tournament was significant. In a “10 players to watch” article in The Edmonton Journal, a writer said that while Sidney wasn’t Canada’s best player, he was the most interesting player to watch. “Deceptively fast and wonderfully creative,” Sidney was a draw for the team, and his feistiness turned heads. The weight of the public’s expectations rested heavily on him [354].

The dam cracked against Switzerland with a “beautiful, highlight-reel” goal. At 16 years and 5 months old, Sidney became the youngest player to ever score in the World Juniors tournament when he carried in the puck down the right wing, swerved around a defenceman, and poked in a puck to complete Canada’s 7-2 win over the Swiss. The puck was grabbed by Team Canada publicist Andre Brin and sent to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto [153, 181, 326, 353]. 

“I knew it was going to come. I mean, there have been games where I haven’t scored before... Sometimes when you get one, two and three come nice and fast. But I’m not worried about goals at all. If I’m working hard, trying to make things happen, then putting the puck in the net and helping our team is going to take care of itself.” - Sidney Crosby [353]

“You could tell by [Sidney’s] body language that he needed that goal,” said Chynoweth [153]. Though Sidney claimed he wasn’t worried about goals at all—that he only cared if he was helping the team—he was clearly relieved. The Swiss had been physical with Sidney all game (including a high crosscheck to his neck that an ESPN writer described as an attempt to “decapitate” Sidney [ 66 ]), and scoring raised his spirits, even though Sidney’s goal caused a bit of friction within the team. Sidney had scored on a two-on-one, and some of his teammates thought he had been selfish for not passing the puck to his teammate, who was wide open in front. Sidney had scored on a high shot into the net from a terrible angle [ 41 , 181]. 

Sidney scored again against Ukraine, but it was another blowout win for Canada. His points were entertaining when he tallied them with pretty passes and slick moves, but he played less and less each game [ Taking the Game… , p. 119]. He was buried on the fourth line, and some suspected it was a consequence of Team Canada’s coach, Mario Durocher, also being the coach of one of Rimouski’s rivals. That Sidney was so young also played into the decision; team officials wouldn’t want to insult an older player by letting a 16-year-old play bigger minutes [ 66 ].

“You have to be careful, you can’t lose sight of the fact that you’re playing against the best 19-year-olds in the world. That’s a challenge for anyone. To ask a 16-year-old to [do] it, that’s something to consider. With any younger player, you have to put them in a situation where they can succeed.” - Blair Mackasey, Hockey Canada head scout [313]

In the end, though, Sidney was outmatched. “Fun to watch,” as one writer said, “but [was] probably a year away from being an impact player” [223]. Against the low-end teams he was able to hold his own, but against the high-end teams his size and inexperience became limiting factors. “I would be very surprised if [opponents] didn’t have his name circled on the board,” said Chynoweth [353]. Still, he drew compliments from teammates and scouts alike for his performance. “I don’t think it was fair to expect Sidney to play a big role with the team—it’s a lot to expect of a 17-year-old, forget about a 16-year-old,” said teammate Mike Richards [ Taking the Game… , p. 118-120]. “His play has shown that he is good enough to be here,” added Dion Phaneuf. “But I think you see that he is a 16-year-old in the corners sometimes because he gets out-muscled. But that is something that will improve as he gets older” [339].

“I think it’s burdensome to be equating someone to players that have gone on to amazing, incredible accomplishments over 15 to 20 years. I think it’s premature to try and heap this on a 16-year-old kid. He’s fun to watch. He has a passion for the game that everybody—fans, writers, everybody—likes to see and that’s really important. But everybody’s trying to find the best doctor in the 10th grade. Things can change dramatically as [kids] mature or don’t mature.” - David Conte, New Jersey Devils director of scouting [326] 

Ultimately, Sidney underperformed in the tournament, though some scouts felt he had been underutilized [ 66 ]. Through it all, he showed he had adaptability, guts, and the ability to be dangerous on the ice. What many people took away from his showing, however, was a fondness for him. Despite the intense media scrutiny and his adjustment period to U20 hockey, he managed to be “just another 16-year-old kid” [326]. After calling him a prodigy, the media would in the same breath say he was “unfailingly polite and so Canadian in determined humility...”  [162]. One writer said his stand-out memory of the tournament wasn’t watching Sidney play, but watching Sidney walk around Helsinki’s airport hand-in-hand with seven-year-old Taylor [126].

Back in Cole Harbour, the locals were bursting with pride over their golden boy. 150 people gathered at the local Sand Trap Bar and Grill to watch the gold medal game between Team Canada and Team USA. The bar had a rusty sign propped up outside that read “Go Sid.” After watching the tournament take place in Halifax last year, they now got to see Cole Harbour’s son go for gold [149].

It wasn’t meant to be. Despite a strong start, Canada’s two-goal lead vanished in the third period as the Americans netted three. The crowd grew anxious. “It’s not over till it’s over,” shouted Girard Birette, a local. “Come on, Crosby, You can tie it baby, you guys can do it” [149]. American goalie Al Montoya foiled Sidney with a glove save on a 2-on-1, and then a fluky bounce off of a Canadian body slid past Fleury. The game was over. America had won [93].

“I don’t remember it that well. We had a number of chances in the third, but mine specifically, you’d have to refresh my memory on exactly what it was. I probably chose to forget it. It’s probably better that way.” - Sidney Crosby [93]

Sidney was “devastated,” according to his father. He finished the tournament with two goals, four assists, and a silver medal [93]. In the locker room, Canadian captain Dan Paille told the team to remember the feeling of loss and make sure it never happened again [259]. Sidney took the words to heart. “I’ve been thinking about [next year’s tournament] ever since after the game,” he said. “I want to make sure that next year I kind of finish what we didn’t finish this year” [190].

“It’s tough. You’re 16 years old and you have the chance to win a gold medal, World Juniors. Chances like that don’t come all the time. It’s hard to get to the gold medal game, and you want to take advantage of it when you get there. But I’m hoping I’m going to get another chance next year.” - Sidney Crosby [259]

Sidney’s silver medal came to rest in the Crosby family’s trophy room. “He doesn’t like that one much,” Troy told a reporter with a smile [ 49 ]. Sidney returned to Halifax from Toronto on January 6. He’d missed 11 QMJHL games while playing in Helsinki, and would miss 2 more against Lewiston so he could stay in Cole Harbour and rest. He was exhausted both emotionally and physically from the loss, and his body had taken all kinds of punishment. “I’d say I’ve been a target since Christmas,” he said. “I wouldn’t say everything is clean—everyone is guilty of giving a little extra once in a while, but that’s hockey and that’s the way it goes. I’ve seen it before. I’ve just got to get better and get through it” [171, 259, 267]. 

The Crosbys were grateful to have Sidney home, even just for a short while. “It’s not about the quantity [of time] as much as it is the quality,” said Trina, who had been making scrapbooks filled with newspaper clippings about Sidney [ 45 , 265]. The Crosby family room had turned into a museum full of “Dozens of pucks, all neatly marked with hockey tape bearing the record and date broken, medals and jerseys, his first interview at the age of 7, a recent five-page profile in Sports Illustrated, the cover of The Hockey News, all neatly framed” [ 49 ]. 

Though he was already living an extraordinary life, Sidney was adamant about being just another kid. When asked when was the last time he felt like a normal kid, he said, “Um, two minutes ago,” and laughed. “I feel like a normal kid all the time. When I came into the office today, there was a stack of mail that I guess most 16-year-olds don’t get. That’s the only thing that’s kind of different—the interviews and the mail. But with everything else, I’m just a normal 16-year-old” [170].

“All [my parents] told me was to be myself. They said people would compare me to other players, but I can’t be Eric Lindros or Vincent Lecavalier. I can only be myself. They have taught me not to take things for granted and not to look too far into the future.” - Sidney Crosby [270]

Sidney was still close to his family and enjoyed being home while he could. The Crosbys were able to make it out for games occasionally, including trips with one of Sidney’s grandmothers that were “some of the best family memories” the Crosbys had [ 249 , 7:23]. Sidney also, when asked if he could pick anyone he wanted to watch him play, chose his great-grandmother. “She’s pretty old and she’s never gotten to see me play hockey,” he explained. “She doesn’t get around a lot, but if there’s someone that I would like to see me play, it would be her” [170].

An article in the Halifax Daily News that year had said the Crosby family was “missing mortgage payments and scrimping on groceries to pay for hockey equipment and other hockey-related costs” [ 7 ]. Sometimes they struggled “to buy oil for a few months’ heat, new skates each season, and cash enough to pay for the next tournament motel” [ 8 ]. 

Financial difficulties had been long-present for the family; in his first years in minor league hockey, Sidney and his mother would spend Sunday afternoons going door-to-door to deliver the weekly shopper so they could afford tournament and league fees [ 8 ]. “I can remember there would be guys playing ground hockey on a Sunday and he wouldn’t be able to play until he was finished doing the flyers,” said Troy. The shifts were usually five hours long. “Stuff like that and other life lessons stuck with him” [365]. Traveling for tournaments was how the family vacationed [ The Rookie, p. 66].

“You know, if people are going down the street they often look down on people who are doing jobs like delivering flyers or anything else like that. But we were just working hard and there was nothing wrong with teaching him that lesson and being proud of that.” - Trina Crosby [365]

“...I can remember they had to take on an extra job just so I could keep playing hockey. We did things just like that so I could continue to play a game I love.” - Sidney Crosby [7]

“My parents sacrificed a lot. Up early in the morning, driving me to the rink. Never complained when they had to buy me hockey gear. I always had good equipment. Sometimes that wasn’t so easy for them, and without that, I wouldn’t be here today.” - Sidney Crosby [43]

As a 16-year-old major junior rookie, Sidney was entitled to a $35-a-week stipend as well as room and board, but there were rumors floating around the hockey world that the Océanic was “clandestinely” paying him $150,000 as well as adding an attendance clause into his contract. Troy Crosby and Pat Brisson made it known that they had an “agreement” with the Océanic that would merely cover Sidney’s college costs (only if he chose to attend, which would be unlikely given that his major junior career made him ineligible for NCAA hockey), but they denied the rumors about the payment and attendance clause [ 19 ].

With or without the rumored salary from the Océanic, Sidney was already making money from hockey. He had his deal with Sherwood at 15, and was the first QMJHL player to sign a contract with a sports goods manufacturer [ 85 ]. His big financial break came at 16, when Jeff Jackett at Pepsi Co. set off on a mission to secure Sidney Crosby as the face of Gatorade. Jackett pursued Brisson across the country in attempts to get a meeting and had to present his pitch to Brisson and Troy Crosby multiple times before even meeting Sidney. Sidney eventually signed an agreement for $300,000 CDN over 3 years—more than double what Gatorade was paying the two other hockey players on its roster (José Théodore and Todd Bertuzzi) combined [ 86 ].

“When he was about 16, he told me, ‘I think we have enough right now. What do you think the guys in the NHL think of me? I’m not even playing there.’” - Pat Brisson [ 84 ]

When Sidney returned to play for the Océanic, one of the team’s first stops was back in Halifax to face the Mooseheads. On January 13, 2004, he tallied an assist, two goals, and an empty netter to push the Océanic to a 5-3 win [285]. The Metro Centre was packed as Maritimers came to see Sidney after his first World Juniors appearance. 10,595 people attended the game—it was one of five games during the season to net over 10,000 viewers [ 345 ].

The once-adoring crowd turned on Sidney, booing when Halifax's Petr Vrana was put in the box for hooking Sidney in the third period. When Sidney was sent sprawling onto the ice by Halifax’s defense minutes later, they cheered [285].

Sidney had a more welcome reception in Rimouski. “This town is perfect for him,” said Troy Crosby. “The fans are supportive. It’s a really good place for him to grow as a hockey player. They appreciate hockey here, they have a great knowledge of the game” [221].

Sidney was trotting out his roughshod French to connect with the community. He’d been trying to improve his language skills by instant messaging with locals or speaking in French with Neilson. “It was pretty weird,” Sidney said with a laugh. “But we knew why we were doing it” [ 44 , 381 ].

“English-speaking guys have excelled in the league. Pat LaFontaine is one. My dad played against him. He said [LaFontaine] was really liked. My father told me it doesn't matter what language you speak. The way you handle yourself and the way you play is the way you earn respect.” - Sidney Crosby [ Most Valuable, p. 111]

Sidney wanted to learn more French and told reporters he had a goal to do interviews in French the next season. He felt like he could understand the language well enough, but his speaking skills needed more practice. “It’s going to be a matter of time,” he said [ Taking the Game… , p. 129].

“When he went out in the community, he was talking to everybody, whether it was in stores, the supermarket, at restaurants. He was trying to speak French. I think, no matter the situation, he wants to do the right thing. When he passes kids in a playground, he stops and gets in the game with the kids... he makes time for everybody and he's always respectful.” - Suzanne Tremblay, Océanic season-ticket holder and former Bloc Québécois MP [ Taking the Game…, p. 115]

He was active around Rimouski; “Everybody has a story about Sidney and the team,” said  Pierre Blier, a local. “Sidney and these players out here playing [shinny] on the little outdoor rinks with little kids and their fathers—things that these kids will be able to tell their children about one day. The one funny story I have was Sidney coming into the Tim Hortons doughnut shop and there were a bunch of kids, little kids, sitting at a table. So Sidney bought a box of doughnuts and gave it to them. After he left they were trying to figure out whether they should eat them or keep them as souvenirs” [ Taking the Game… , p. 125].

“When you are away from the rink people recognize you once in a while, but it’s good for me. Some little kids might see me as a role model and that makes me make sure that I take time and see the kids. I think it helps me become a better person, for sure.” - Sidney Crosby [205]

Sidney even acted as a sort of political balm in the Québécois town. The Liberal government had lost popularity in early 2004 and was met with an upswing in support for the Quebec sovereignty movement across the province [ 342 ]. “There are people who believe in an independent Quebec and they can still like and respect Sidney as a player and as a person,” said Blier. “[Sidney] is away from politics. Maybe he shows some people that there’s decency and respect in many places, not just in our town...” [ Taking the Game… , p. 222]. Sidney also received glowing praise from former Bloc Québécois MP Suzanne Tremblay [ 44 ].

“He’s an incredibly well-grounded young man. The way he’s managed to keep his composure in the face of all the attention that he’s generated and all that he has to go through on the ice, it amazed me. And people just like him. You come away from meeting him knowing that he’s something special.” - Pat Brisson [ Taking the Game…, p. 135]

Sidney’s teammates all liked him too; he was folded into the team and hazed just like any other new kid. His hair was slicked with Vaseline at one point, and it didn’t come out for a week. He was also made to dress up like Marilyn Monroe, but... poorly [ 91 ].

He would need the camaraderie. Come February, the Océanic’s management grew concerned over the treatment Sidney was seeing on the ice. Despite his teammates’ willingness to throw down their gloves on his behalf, the on-ice abuse Sidney faced reached a fever pitch. The Océanic was fed up with refs “putting away their whistles” while Sidney was harassed [ 66 ]. 

“Teams wanted to intimidate me. And after [World Juniors] it was bad too. In one game I had five fights in the first 15 seconds” - Sidney Crosby [66]

“It wasn’t a normal year for [all the infractions], I guess. That stuff doesn’t happen all the time. A lot of it was out of my control. That’s what helped me the most. It was out of my control and I realized that, so it didn’t affect me.” - Sidney Crosby [136]

On February 12, management was enraged over referee Richard Forest’s work in a 4-3 loss to the Halifax Mooseheads [267]. The next day, the Océanic said they wouldn’t dress Sidney for games against the Lewiston Maineiacs and the Drummondville Voltigeurs the coming week. Tickets were sold out for both games [156]. “I think we play tough against him, but we play fair,” said Lewiston coach Mario Durocher, who had coached Sidney at World Juniors. “He’s a tough kid. He’s not a Gretzky-style hockey player. He’s going to the net, he’s driving the net, so he’ll have to pay the price for that” [267].

“You get a lot of sticks hitting you in the back. They say lots of stuff. They tell you to keep your head up. If you’re having a rough night, they’re asking you, ‘Where are you tonight?’ No matter if you get three goals, or nothing, they’re still going to chirp at you. Nothing really surprises me. I’ve pretty much heard it all.” - Sidney Crosby [267]

Lewiston had beaten the Océanic in every game thus far that season, winning 6 in a row and gunning for more. Lewiston was 3rd in the Q’s Eastern Division, just a scant 5 points behind the Océanic (the Chicoutimi Sagueneens were leading the division by a single point over the Océanic). Lewiston had several games in hand over both teams and was aiming for a coveted bye through the first round of playoffs, which was granted to the first place team in each of the Q’s divisions [ 343 ].

“We were worried about Sidney running out of gas. He had been playing since August. He had travelled a lot. We ask him to play a lot. It would be tough on any player but especially a 16-year-old who hasn’t played at this level before or played as much. We were already in the playoffs. Really, it was for his own protection. We were just worried about him getting injured—not getting gooned.” - Donald Dufresne, Rimouski Océanic Coach [ Taking the Game…, p. 132]

The Océanic claimed that officials ignored infractions against Sidney. The league commissioner, Gilles Courteau, saw it differently. “[Sidney] is our bread and butter,” said Courteau. “If vicious hits are made, they should be punished. But Sidney can’t be treated differently than other players in the league.” Some thought the Océanic was playing power games to manipulate the league into lavishing Sidney with preferential treatment. Pat Brisson attended several games over the week and “likely had input in the team’s decision” [267]. 

“The ref is all over him because that’s Sidney Crosby. Everywhere we go, Sidney makes the fans react. Every time he does something wrong, the ref is going to call it, for sure.” - Guillaume Lavallee, Rimouski Océanic goaltender [296]

Courteau wasn’t pleased with how the Océanic handled their complaints. Though he said there were no league rules preventing a team from healthily scratching a player in protest, he said the Océanic didn’t use the proper channels to resolve their complaints. He found out about Sidney’s benching through the media instead of direct communication [282]. 

“We have a procedure established at the league level that if you have something to complain about, you know what you have to do. You have to send something in writing, plus a copy of the incident on tape. It’s our job and responsibility to look at it and get back to the team with the proper action, if there is any to take... There’s one thing to put a player aside for a game, but I would like to get some clarification from Rimouski about why they have the intention of having Sidney Crosby aside for a couple of games.” - Gilles Courteau, QMJHL commissioner [282]

Rumors started circulating that Sidney was considering quitting the Q to go play in Europe [156]. Doris Labonté, the Océanic’s General Manager, first read the rumors in a Daily News column and didn’t take them seriously until Troy Crosby mentioned the possibility to him [282]. “The lack of protection for Sidney means that he may perhaps consider this option,” Labonté said. “If I was his parents, I would react the same way” [267]. 

The move wouldn’t be unprecedented; Wayne Gretzky himself had left junior hockey to play in the WHA, as his advisors were afraid a cheap shot would end his career before he even reached the NHL [155]. IMG representative Richard Paquette told reporters Europe was a real option for Sidney and that he and Pat Brisson would be meeting with Courteau on February 16 to discuss the state of officiating in the Q [282]. 

“It’s to discuss what the league, what we and everybody can do to try to protect him and improve the situation,” said Richard Paquette. “We don’t want to be treated differently than any other player... Let’s improve the refereeing—not just for Sidney Crosby, for everybody” [282].

“Now it seems that the referee, everywhere you go, they’re so afraid that they’re going to be told, ‘Oh yeah, we know it's Sidney Crosby, you protect him so much.’ Now it’s been the opposite. They don’t call anything. You know Sid. He doesn’t want to complain; he just wants to play hockey. It’s getting frustrating for him because he’s been the victim of a few shots, and when he looks at the ref or protects himself, he’s the one that gets thrown out. Physically and mentally, he doesn’t know what to do anymore.” - Richard Paquette, IMG representative [282]

It was a PR disaster, and much of the criticism was leveled at Troy Crosby; many thought that he had been pushing for such a move, though he denied it [ 66 ]. “It didn’t come from Sidney or me,” Troy said. “Sidney can handle himself. That’s the way it’s always been ” [ Taking the Game… , p. 130]. Don Cherry involved himself again, lambasting the Océanic for the move [155]. Things peaked when, in the midst of the controversy, the Océanic decided to play Sidney at an away game against the Quebec Remparts, a team owned by another member of the Tanguay family—securing a profit for the Tanguays while jeopardizing sell-out crowds for other franchises [267]. Of the 13 franchises the Océanic played against, 10 of them sold the most tickets when Sidney was in their building. Over the course of the season, the Q had improved its attendance numbers by 64,425 people—around 153 more per game [ 345 ].

Some media members speculated that the Océanic wasn’t benching Sidney in protest, but actually trying to rest him before the playoffs. If the Océanic won the regular season, they’d earn themselves a bye through the first round of playoffs. It was possible that the Océanic was willing to sacrifice that bye (by benching Sidney) in order to play in the first round of the QMJHL playoffs and rake in the revenue from those games. “Whatever the reasoning, it’s incumbent on the team and the league to keep Crosby and his family happy,” wrote John MacNeil for The Halifax Daily News. “He’s worth that much and more” [267].

By February 18, the Océanic had backed down. They confirmed to Lewiston that Sidney would be in the lineup after all, and Sidney helped lift the Océanic to their first win over Lewiston that season, a 3-0 shutout. The Océanic then rolled into Drummondville and beat the Voltigeurs 5-2 [ 343 , 344 ]. Sidney was able to bury the controversy behind him when, in March, he set a new record for the most points scored by a 16-year-old junior. He kept both the record-setting stick and puck from the game [332].

The Océanic secured a first-place finish in the Eastern Division by winning 4 of their last 7 games, earning a first-round bye in the playoffs with 34 regular season wins and 76 points [ 66 , 344 ]. They faced the Shawinigan Cataractes in the quarterfinals, and during the second game, Sidney was sent out as part of a 3-player penalty kill on a 5-on-3 powerplay. He completed a hat trick during that kill. He had never scored a 3-on-5 goal before, and when he looked around for teammates to celebrate with, he found them all still on the other side of the ice [ 66 ].

“A kid that young shouldn’t even be on the ice in that situation. But Sidney brings skills and speed I’ve never seen in a 16-year-old.” - Donald Dufresne, Rimouski Océanic Coach [66]

As impressive as Sidney was, Coach Dufresne was unwilling to make him the “load-bearing player” for the team. Dufresne made several adjustments during their series against Shawnigan and designated Marc-Antoine Pouliot as his “go-to guy.” Sidney was asked to follow Pouliot’s lead, and he told the media it was unfair to say the Océanic’s performance depended on a single player. “We play as a team, we win as a team, we lose as a team,” said Sidney [203].

“It might look [easy] by looking only at the scoresheet, but it’s tough hockey in the playoffs. You really have to work for your opportunities and your chances. It’s just a matter of making sure you’re focused when you get your chances and taking advantage of those. That’s what I’ve tried to do. The main thing is to get wins and it just so happens that my job [is] to help out offensively. And that’s what I’ve tried to do.” - Sidney Crosby [203]

The Océanic swept Shawnigan and moved on to the semifinals against the Moncton Wildcats, where the Océanic’s Memorial Cup dreams were vanquished. Moncton had a strong defense full of 19- and 20-year-olds and a good goaltender in Corey Crawford [203]. The Océanic was only able to win one game in the series before being eliminated. Sidney tallied 7 goals and 9 assists over his 9 playoff games [ 33 ]. 

Sidney’s first year in the Q had been, as expected, phenomenal. From his first regular season game—in which he scored a hat trick—to his impressive contributions in the playoffs, he’d delivered on the hype. He had been kept off the scoresheet only six times during the season, and scouts agreed that he left two or three points on the ice most nights in Rimouski because his QMJHL teammates [couldn’t] play at his level” [35, 148, 328].

“Expectations were high for me and I tried to meet them by doing what I knew I could do.” - Sidney Crosby [332]

He accumulated 135 points (54 goals, 81 assists) in 59 games, leading the league in scoring to win the QMJHL’s and the CHL’s scoring titles [ 16 , 35 ]. He was the QMJHL’s player of the week six times, the player of the month three times, and the CHL’s player of the week three times that season. He was also named to the CHL’s first all-star team [ 35 , 280].

“To be honest, I’ve never sat down and said, ‘I want this record or that record.’ It’s a bonus if it happens. It means you’re doing well and helping your team. It doesn’t even cross my mind until it’s brought up. It’s best that way: you don’t gauge yourself on how other people have done. If you pass someone, great. If not, there’s a reason why it’s a record.” - Sidney Crosby [171]

At the QMJHL Golden Puck Awards—held on March 31, 2004, between the first and second rounds of the Q’s playoffs—Sidney took home 6 awards: the Michel Brière Memorial Trophy for Most Valuable Player, the RDS/JVC Trophy for Rookie of the Year, offensive player of the year, offensive rookie of the year, personality of the year, and the Jean Beliveau Trophy for league scoring leader. His 135 points were a league record for a 16-year-old. He was also the first player to ever win the Jean Béliveau Trophy, the RDS/JVC Trophy, and Michel Brière Memorial Trophy at the same time. “I’ll be back for sure,” said Sidney. “Rimouski is where I want to play. There’s no question about that” [ 14 , 33 , 177].

“It’s great. I wanted to make the adaptation to major junior as easy as possible and I was lucky to play on a good team and be in a great place. That helped me to play right away and do as well as possible.” - Sidney Crosby [177]

Though the Océanic was out of the running, Sidney was invited to watch the Memorial Cup as a guest. He was a nominee for the CHL’s Player of the Year award and became just as much of an attraction at the rink as the game itself. He was barely able to watch the ice because children lined up and asked him for autographs. Pat Brisson and Troy Crosby had to ask the kids to wait until the intermissions so Sidney could watch some hockey [ 46 ].

At the CHL’s awards ceremony on May 19, Sidney became the first 16-year-old to win the CHL Player of the Year award. He also won awards for the major junior top rookie, top scorer, and the Canada Post Cup, a new award given to the player who’d earned the most three-stars-of-the-game selections over the season. He was the first player to ever win player of the year, top rookie, and top scorer in the same year. “I know the kind of player I am,” Sidney said after the awards luncheon. “I know what I need to improve. And I know what I’m capable of. If I fulfill my own expectations, I know I’m doing my job” [136, 251, 280, 333, Taking the Game… , p. 137].

“To [win the CHL MVP award, the top scorer and top rookie honors] my first year in the league, I feel pretty lucky. [Next season] people are going to expect the same type of performance I had when I was 16. I know it’s going to be tougher. I’m not going to surprise anyone.” - Sidney Crosby [136, 173]

After the CHL’s postseason concluded, Sidney was invited to the 2004 NHL Entry Draft (from June 26–27) as a guest with the NHL network, doing interviews and meeting up with old friends. “There’s no pressure for me being here,” he said, “so it’s great, but next year I’m going to be a mess” [ 20 , 26:32].

“Next year” might not come, Sidney realized.

The NHL and NHLPA were in dire straits. Bargaining talks between the union and the league had stagnated for two years and didn’t seem to be improving. Time was running out before the collective bargaining agreement expired [95]. Other leagues were keen to capitalize upon the struggling state of pro hockey. The World Hockey Association was a proposed league that was resurrected in 2003, looking to compete with the flagging NHL in North America and poised to fill the void during a possible lockout [96]. Knowing the most talked-about rookie since Mario Lemieux would be a cash cow, the WHA had announced in May 2004 that 16-year-olds could be drafted into the league [173]. 

The WHA couldn’t have been more obvious in its courting of Sidney. They plastered his name all over their website, claiming he’d be the first player selected in their draft. “We’ve made it aware for some time to his agent that we intend to draft him,” said Al Howard, the WHA’s cofounder. “Is it realistic we sign him? We’re definitely going to try. Crosby can tell us exactly where he would like to play” [173].

Howard had a checkered past when it came to sports franchises, including a particularly horrible experience as the co-CEO of the CFL’s Ottawa Rough Riders in 1995 [173]. He was not the only questionable element of the WHA; the rollout of the league’s teams was stilted, with several cities announcing franchises without having arena deals in place. Dallas, Halifax, Quebec City, Detroit and Orlando all signed memorandums of understanding that would grant them arena rights, but Toronto and Hamilton lagged behind [139].

“It’s exciting that there might be a new league. We wish them luck, but right now there is nothing concrete. There are a lot of question marks.” - Troy Crosby [163]

The WHA unveiled a franchise in Sidney’s neck of the woods in an obvious bid to entice him, saying they were “willing to accommodate” him if he desired to play close to home [164]. The Halifax Icebreakers were announced in July 2004, with team owners, league officials, and commissioner Bobby Hull in town to reveal the logo and not much else. The WHA had already seen two franchise deals fall through, pushed their draft back a week, and heard Pat Brisson make Sidney’s stance on joining the league very clear. “He’s playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, so good luck for now,” Brisson told The Halifax Chronicle-Herald. “Sidney’s not really interested” [139, 164, 173].

Undeterred, Peter Young, the president of hockey operations for the WHA, announced that the WHA wanted Sidney for its biggest franchise, the Toronto Toros. “It’s a no-brainer,” said Young. “If he ever signed a contract in Toronto, the Bay Street ad firms would go nuts” [164].

Brisson was becoming exasperated. “I’ve been talking to them for six months and I told them from the get-go that Sidney is going to play in the QMJHL next season,” he said. “If there is a league, sure they can talk to us, but does Sidney want to play in the WHA? I highly doubt it. It’s not something that seems too appealing to him or his family” [164]. Nonetheless, the WHA hosted its own draft on July 18 and Sidney was drafted first by the Toronto Toros, which promised him a hefty paycheck. 

Sidney was unmoved. Even at 16, he’d been asked about potentially being drafted first overall for the NHL, and money had never been a motivating factor. “Obviously that’s a dream to go No.1 [in the NHL draft],” he said, “But when I think No. 1, I don’t think $4 million. I think of getting a chance to play in the NHL” [198]. He insisted that he didn’t think about the future too much, only hockey. “I love hockey so much, I just don’t want to ruin it. I want to improve and not think that far ahead. I just hope one day I’ll live my dream of playing in the NHL” [221].

Luckily, he was spending his summer doing just that. Instead of worrying about the NHL or the WHA, Sidney worked on his hockey. He participated in the À bout de souffle tournament in Sherbrooke, Quebec [250]. He also attended the LA Kings’ 2004 training camp in El Segundo, California for the fourth time. This was the first time he went with his Shattuck friend Jack (who was his roommate at the camp) [21]. 

Just half an hour away was Mario Lemieux. To recover from a season-ending hip surgery, Lemieux was working out with professional trainer T.R. Goodman in Venice, California at the suggestion of Pat Brisson. Sidney was invited to join and did circuits of weight machines alongside Lemieux under Goodman’s guidance [ 248 ].

“Sidney’s mind is so strong. Way, way, way beyond his years in terms of the way that he carries himself, the kind of questions that he asks. He’s just a gifted person mentally. The other day he was here and he was working out with Mario, and he’s like a VCR. He absorbs everything. A bomb could’ve gone off and neither one of them would’ve paid any attention to it.” - T.R. Goodman, professional trainer [20, 22:39]

In their free time, of course, they played pickup games on the ice. Lemieux was impressed with Sidney, noting his physicality in the corners and his strength. “Anticipates the play very well,” Lemieux commented. “A great passion. He's just... a great player” [ 245 ].

Another Mario was about to make a desperate bid for Sidney: Mario Frankovich, owner of the WHA’s Hamilton franchise, planned to offer Sidney a contract in August [ 94 ]. Even if the WHA didn’t begin operations in the fall, it was reported that Sidney was guaranteed $2 million if he signed with Hamilton, who had made a deal with Toronto that if Toronto failed to secure rights to an arena by August, Hamilton would be allowed to pursue Sidney [163].

Sidney was in Calgary at the time, on an invitation to join the Canadian Junior Development Camp. It was the first audition camp for the 44 players who would be invited to the Team Canada selection camp in Winnipeg later in the year, and it was also Sidney’s first time in attendance [160]. Despite being a veteran of the World Juniors team, he’d missed the previous year’s camp while competing in the summer U18 World Cup—which he was still eligible for that upcoming summer. He’d decided to skip it this year, believing his time was better spent at the U20 camp [ Most Valuable, p. 117]. 

Three NHL players were given invitations to the eight-day-long camp: Nathan Horton, Patrice Bergeron, and Brent Burns. Only twelve of the camp’s attendees were returning players from the previous year, and all of them were told in no uncertain terms that they were not guaranteed a spot on the team [160].

“There’s not a lot of teaching when players get to this level. It’s not so much a teaching camp as getting familiar with each other. There’s no guarantees for anyone. That was the message to the 12 returning players, although obviously you look at them because of their experience in the program.” - Jim Hulton, national junior assistant coach [160]

Sidney arrived at the camp, held at Father David Bauer Arena in mid-August, sans equipment—it had been lost on the flight over—but ready to battle. The practices were intense, as head coach Brent Sutter told players not to talk to players from the ‘opposite’ team [160, 192]. At one point, Dion Phaneuf was shadowing Sidney throughout an entire practice session. Sidney wasn’t backing down and Phaneuf wasn’t letting up. Phaneuf hit Sidney in the head and was unrepentant. “In a game like this, emotions fly and there’s a lot on the line,” said Phaneuf. “Things led to things ” [192].

Those things came to a climax in front of the bench, when Sidney’s teammate Colin Fraser got involved. Phaneuf and Fraser dropped their gloves. “We were both fighting for a spot and I wanted to make the team as much as he did,” said Fraser. “And there’s no friends on the ice.” Phaneuf gave Fraser a black eye, but there were no hard feelings. The boys laughed about it in the locker room [185].

“What makes these kids so elite is they’re so bloody competitive. You set aside any allegiances you have with your club team because they are literally fighting to wear the Maple Leaf. And as a coaching staff, that’s what we love to see.” - Jim Hulton, national junior assistant coach [185]

Sidney came home to Cole Harbour in August to rest before reporting to camp in Rimouski. He arrived a week late to the Océanic’s training camp on August 25. A day later, it was announced that he’d turned down a deal worth millions. The Hamilton WHA franchise had offered Sidney a three-year, $7.5-million contract. Sidney declined; he had unfinished business in Rimouski. He wanted to lead the Océanic to a championship [163].

“It wasn’t an easy decision and the offer was very flattering. It was a lot of money. I realize why some people might not understand why Sidney turned down the offer. But he has his mind made up right now about where he wants to play. He wants to stick to his plan of playing another year in Rimouski. He’s 17 and he is not playing for the money right now. He feels playing junior is the best way to continue to develop.” - Troy Crosby [163]

Sidney had gold on his mind. He had the Memorial Cup on his mind. With the eyes of the hockey world on him, Sidney returned to Rimouski for his final season of junior hockey.


Chapter Text

Predictions for the Océanic’s season were optimistic. The team’s staff and NHL scouts from across the continent were eager to see what Sidney had in store. What none of them were prepared for, Sidney least of all, was Sidney becoming the most famous 17-year-old hockey player in history [ Most Valuable, p. 114-115]. 

After almost two years of failed collective bargaining talks, the NHL announced a lockout on September 16, 2004. The 2004-2005 season would be lost to the lockout, and the NHL would become the first North American major pro sports league to cancel an entire season because of labor disagreements. Aside from the AHL, juniors was now the highest level of hockey in North America [ 95 , Most Valuable, p. 114-115].

In the gaping void left by the NHL, Sidney stood as a lightning rod for hockey news. National networks churned out daily updates on his performance, and any crumb of news about him became a “full-blown story” that was circulated from newspaper to newspaper [366]. If people had even a speck of knowledge about hockey, they knew who Sidney Crosby was. He’d already been profiled by ESPN and Sports Illustrated. “Even as young NHL all-stars, Orr and Gretzky remained hockey players; as a junior, Crosby had been fast-tracked toward something else entirely. He was a phenomenon, a commodity, a brand” [ Taking the Game… , p. 138-139]. 

“It helps he’s North American. It helps he embodies the game’s core values. It helps he has his own brand of charisma. But the biggest thing about Crosby is he’s arrived when he’s needed most.” - Ed Willes, reporter [328]

Though the spotlight was on their star, the Océanic struggled in the first few months of the 2004-2005 season. Sidney nonetheless led the league in scoring, averaging 3 points per game while his team lost as many games as they won [ Most Valuable, p. 119-120, Taking the Game… , p. 154].

October was a difficult month to weather. On October 1, the “worst moment of [Sidney’s] junior career” was inflicted on him by Frederik Cabana of the Halifax Mooseheads. In the first period of the Rimouski vs. Halifax game, Sidney skated across the blue line and was slammed by Cabana with a knee-on-knee hit that left him “writhing” on the ice. He had to be helped off by the Océanic’s athletic trainer, but before the trainer even stepped foot on the ice, Sidney was yelling at Cabana, who was a former teammate of Sidney’s from the U18 World Cup [129, Taking the Game… , p. 147].

Sidney had been nowhere near the puck when Cabana hit him, and Sidney’s teammates took it upon themselves to enact vengeance. Several of them made runs at Cabana in the following minutes. Sidney returned in the second period and notched two points in the Océanic’s 4-2 loss, but all was not well. Though an MRI done after the game showed no ligament damage, his left knee faltered in the following days. The team’s medical consultants determined that Sidney had bone bruising and he was unable to skate for 10 days after the hit. The Océanic didn’t expect him back in the lineup until October 15 at the very earliest [126, 128, 336, 337, Taking the Game… , p. 147-148, Most Valuable, p. 119].

Cabana was suspended for 8 games for the hit, drawing the attention of national media. Cabana’s billet family lived in Cole Harbour, and Cabana told reporters “People were so angry that I couldn't leave my billets’ house. The media were out on their lawn, waiting for me.” Not all the attention was critical of Cabana; some Halifax media turned on their native son, claiming that Sidney received special attention from QMJHL officials [ Most Valuable, p. 119]. 

The local media wasn’t the only critic. The Mooseheads’ general manager, Marcel Patenaude, thought the 8-game suspension was an overreaction. Pointing to the measly 2-game suspension a Lewiston player had received for a bad hit on Cabana in September, Patenaude accused the Q’s officials of uneven standards, especially since Cabana had never been suspended before. QMJHL disciplinarian Maurice Filion stood by his assessment of the situation and upheld the suspension. Fillion also gave Océanic winger Alexander Vachon a 4-game suspension for hitting Petr Vrana while he was down on the ice a scant few minutes after the hit on Sidney occurred. Sidney’s linemate Dany Roussin would also serve a 1-game suspension during the Oceanic’s 8-7 loss (in overtime) on October 12 to the Quebec Remparts [128, 337].

The Océanic felt that the Cabana hit was the latest and worst example of the aggression Sidney faced on the ice [126]. Sidney’s billet housemate Neilson relished the opportunity to do what he felt he did best on the ice. “I enjoy looking after my players and looking after myself,” he said. “The adrenaline rush when I fight, I enjoy that” [204]. 

“[If someone abuses Sidney] I go, I put myself in front of them face to face. And I just... I talk to them, make sure... you know, give them a warning and stuff, and say ‘Look, you gotta let him play.’ And if they continue to [abuse him] then I’ve got to drop the gloves and try to correct what they’re doing wrong.” - Eric Neilson [204]

The physical punishment Sidney took each game was extraordinary. “[Opposing players] beat him, they chopped him, they did everything to him,” said one of Sidney’s representatives, Dee Rizzo. “They cross-checked him from behind, they slashed him in the face and he never whined about it” [ 238 ]. Some media members even argued that Sidney should jump to a pro league in Europe, where it would be less likely some NHL hopeful would try to make a name for himself by landing a serious hit on Sidney Crosby [299].

Tragedy struck later that month. Kenny Schrum, Linda Crosby’s common-law partner for more than 20 years, passed away. The London Free Press reported that Schrum suffered a heart attack on October 28 and passed away on October 31st, hours before Sidney was set to take the ice in Moncton. According to the paper, Troy told Sidney of his grandfather’s passing after the game and Sidney broke down in the locker room. It was the first time he’d experienced the death of a loved one. When the team spokesperson proposed sneaking out the back door to avoid fans, Sidney refused. “He wiped his face dry and went to sign autographs. He asked only one consideration. Please no photos. His eyes were blood red” [ 60 , 126, 377 ].

“Nothing can prepare you. You just have to go through it.” - Troy Crosby [126]

This story was corroborated by ESPN and The Ottawa Sun, in which they described the 100-or-so kids who had waited outside the barricade at the Moncton Arena, watching the locker room’s door for a glimpse of Sidney. “I was pretty shook up,” said Sidney. “But we only get to Moncton a couple of times and I knew I wouldn’t get a second chance to sign for those kids” [ 14 , 126, 127].

The Halifax Daily News, however, reported that Sidney had been informed of Schrum’s death on November 1 before his game against the P.E.I. Rocket at the Charlottetown Civic Centre. The Océanic had blown a 4-2 lead to lose 6-4 to the home team, and Sidney admitted he had considered not playing in the game and carried a heavy mental load on the ice. He’d ultimately chosen to compete, knowing that fans on Prince Edward Island wanted to see him play. His single tally for the night was an assist, and immediately after the game he left for Cole Harbour [276]. 

The Halifax Chronicle Herald had yet another account of the events: according to a quote from Troy Crosby, Schrum had died while Troy attended an Océanic game in Cape Breton on October 29. Near the end of the game, Trina called Troy with the news, and after the game Troy met Sidney, freshly out of his gear and covered in sweat, and told him [365, 378 ].

“He took it pretty hard and he was crying and there were a lot of people around. I don’t know if people thought I was yelling at him or something because he was pretty upset. But people were walking by and he was out there for a long time before he showered and got dressed. It was about an hour later and [Océanic Director of Hockey Operations Yannick Dumais] told him he could just go back to the hotel and not worry about signing autographs or anything. But there were a lot of people still waiting there, even after an hour, and he said, ‘No, I want to do it, but no photos,’ because his eyes were pretty red.

“That’s something that shows you he understands that it’s important to those people because he knows he was in their shoes just a few years ago waiting for autographs. He just thought that was important, even at a time like that.” - Troy Crosby [365]

Schrum’s obituary lists his death date as October 29, 2004, which would seemingly validate Troy’s account in the Chronicle Herald . Though the available information differs, the facts that can be confirmed are that Sidney played in Cape Breton, Moncton, and P.E.I. (all losses: 5-3, 9-5, and 6-4 respectively) and took two days to attend services in honor of his grandfather. It would not be the only personal loss he experienced that season. Earlier that summer Linda was diagnosed with cancer and hospitalized for eight months. Sidney’s great-grandmother also passed away around this time. “People only see the pictures and the smiling young face,” said Troy, “but Sidney understands about life” [ 60 , 377 , 378 ].

Hockey remained a stalwart constant for Sidney. By November 9 he had notched 15 goals and 31 assists in 20 games. While the NHL weathered scorn from its fans during the lockout, the QMJHL savored Sidney’s talent and media profile. “For sure, there’s a lot of attention on him,” said Yannick Dumais, the Océanic’s director of hockey operations and the man responsible for dealing with media requests about Sidney. “Right now, he’s the biggest name in hockey” [306].

The Q’s attendance had risen by 8% and when the Océanic came to town, the arenas filled up. “At the age of 16, [Sidney] created more media attention than anyone else, for sure,” said Gilles Courteau, the QMJHL’s commissioner. “Mario was great at 16, but today, because of the media attention, he’s so much bigger than Mario was” [306]. 

Wherever he went, whatever arena he played in, fans packed the stands to see him. His mere presence was worth a projected $1 million to Quebec league owners that season. When the Océanic was on the schedule, that number jumped even higher. The Océanic was the most popular team on the road, often playing to crowds as large as 90% capacity for arenas. The second most popular team (the Chicoutimi Saguenéens) played to 65.9% [ 14 ]. In Quebec City, Sidney drew over 14,000 fans to a game. The Drummondville Voltiguers attempted to move a game against the Océanic “from their 3,000-seat rink to the 21,000-seat Bell Centre in Montreal” [ 42 ].

To bolster profits, teams began packaging tickets; to see an Océanic game, a fan would have to buy another ticket to a game featuring other teams. The ticket packages averaged around $40 for 3 games [ 14 ].

With owners making a pretty penny off him, Sidney realized that the hiked ticket prices meant some fans would not be able to afford to see him play. When he was younger, he’d always wanted to see Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards play when the Océanic came to town. It would have been difficult for the Crosby family to afford the $40 packages [ 14 ].

Sidney and Pat Brisson “requested that 100 tickets for each Océanic game be distributed to underprivileged kids. Some club executives resisted.” In the end, only 25 tickets were made available for each game [ 14 ].

“My personal opinion is 25 is far less than it should be. There was some grumbling, but I’d say those who criticize it are the greedy ones. Sidney didn’t want anything out of this for himself. He just wants underprivileged kids to have a chance to see him play. It’s not fair and we were upset.

“Some GMs and governors... they’re lucky to have [Sidney] in their building three or four times. They should have been happy and just gone along with it.” - Pat Brisson [ 14 ]

Sidney was pulling significant weight in the league, from the sales he brought in to the power he commanded in negotiations with league management. Still, Sidney was modest in front of the media, always crediting the whole team for their wins [306].

“It’s pretty much the same as last year. All the places we go are pretty much sold out, and other teams are motivated for that. That’s a challenge, for sure. It takes more than one guy to win, I’ve always realized that. You win as a team and you lose as a team, but there is a little bit of extra pressure [on me]. That comes along with it. When you’re expected to score points, the expectations are high.” - Sidney Crosby [306]

His fearlessness, his strength on his skates, his hockey IQ, and even his quality of being “shifty” were on full display [ 19 ]. The NHL was paying attention:

“He’s a unique player who makes plays at both ends of the rink. Coming up-ice, most players, even the great ones, try to get to their favorite areas so they can make plays. You usually know where they’re going. They’re still tough to stop, but at least they’re predictable. Crosby isn’t. He plays both sides of the rink and is able to feed both sides.” - Tim Burke, San Jose Sharks Director of Amateur Scouting [19]

“He’s going to be a star. Sometimes he’ll make a play and you’ll think it’s the wrong one, then it strikes you that the guys he’s out there with are not thinking on the same high level as he is. We need another Canadian superstar. They’re hard to find.” - Kevin Prendergast, Edmonton Oilers Vice President of Hockey Operations [ 19 ]

“Every talent that you need to be a hockey player, this youngster’s got it.” - Frank Bonello, Director of NHL Central Scouting [ 20 , 0:53]

“His poise is natural, it’s not an act. I’ve heard people call him cocky, but he’s not cocky at all. He’s confident in his abilities. And like all great players, he understands his place in the game. Good players know how good they are. People tend to forget he’s only 17 years old.” - Blair Mackasey, Hockey Canada head scout [334]

When asked about his goals for the season—was he seeking a Memorial Cup win? Did he have any thoughts about his future in the NHL, if there would be an NHL?—he deflected the questions with a mature confidence beyond his years. The attention was a double-edged sword; it wasn’t only the media who saw how good he was. Rival coaches were tailoring their teams and gameplay to obstruct Sidney as best as they could. The Cabana hit was not an isolated incident. “He was prepared for that; we talked about that in the summer,” said Pat Brisson. “He thought the second year might be more difficult, that teams were going to be ready for him even more. Teams put a guy on him the entire game, but again, he knew that was going to happen” [306].

And happen it did. Sidney had put in work to develop his defensive skills over the summer and earned consistent ice time on the Océanic’s penalty kill as a result [ 14 ]. He’d also added an inch and 18 pounds onto his frame, making it easier for him to stand against the physicality he encountered. “I know what to expect when I get on the ice,” he said. “I’m always playing against the best defensive players, but that makes me a better player” [152].

“Sidney doesn’t shy away from the traffic and he’s become a major target. Before each game, the game plan is to stop Sidney Crosby, so you see a double effort from each team when they play against him. But he can’t be careful. He goes to the net if he has to. We just hope the league continues to call the penalties. Then he should be fine.” - Pat Brisson [158]

His added strength and mass meant he was even chippier in the corners. In the second period of the November 13 game against the Gatineau Olympiques, Sidney caught Gatineau winger Francis Wathier with his head down, landing a hip check on Wathier that sent the large player to the ice right in front of the Gatineau bench. The Olympiques protested, and a scrum and then fight broke out between Gatineau’s Nick Fugère and Rimouski’s Erick Tremblay. As Sidney picked up gloves and sticks in the aftermath, the Gatineau bench chirped him over the hit. Sidney looked at the bench and tapped the bottom of his chin with his glove. “I hit Wathier with his head down and he got all mad,” he said. “He would have done the exact same thing, so I was just saying that he should keep his head up” [ 14 , 317]. 

“You give him an inch, he’ll take it and he’ll hurt you with it.” - Benoit Groulx, Gatineau Olympiques coach [317]

People traveled to watch him play— “We saw him play in Charlottetown when he was 10 years old, and he scored three times in that game. We heard he’s an up and coming Wayne Gretzky, and we’re just hoping to see him score a goal” said Cole Harbour resident Dorothy Akitt, who had made the trek to see Sidney play, squeezing into the Gatineau arena with standing-room-only tickets. Locals had gobbled up the rest. “I just wanted to see him play. I’ve heard a lot of good things about him, and I just wanted to see how he plays,” said local child Andrew Langlois. “I think it’s really good that he comes from a small town, and it shows that he works really hard” [316].

Sidney’s superstar status got him an invite to the 2004 ADT Canada–Russia Challenge, the same competition he’d participated in the previous season. “I’m looking forward to these games because any time you face a Russian team, it’s exciting,” he said. “There’s so much history to the rivalry between Canada and Russia. In recent years, there’s been a growing rivalry with the U.S. and with the Olympics, the World Cup and the World Juniors, but these games are special.” Though Sidney noted that neither Alexander Ovechkin nor Evgeni Malkin, the top two picks in the 2004 NHL Draft, would be participating, he was still excited to compete [152].

His hopes would be dashed. The QMJHL knew Sidney would be on the roster for Team Canada at the 2005 World Juniors tournament. In anticipation of the games Sidney would miss while competing, the Q had loaded the Océanic with 11 games in 17 days in November, desperate to squeeze every cent out of Sidney’s presence even though it put him at significant risk for burnout and injury [ Taking the Game… , p. 154].

Sure enough, on November 19, three days before the Canada-Russia Challenge, Sidney tripped and fell awkwardly on his ankle while playing against the Quebec Remparts. Though he finished the game, the injury worsened after he played against the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles the following night [157].

“It’s swollen. It needs time to heal,” said Sidney. “I don’t want it dragging on all season. It’s too important of a year. I could barely finish the game, so I was thinking what’s going to happen in the next couple of days? It was getting worse so I had to take a break to see how it went.” Ultimately, Sidney ended up pulling out of both Canada-Russia games [158].

His absence had a visible impact on walk-up ticket sales for the first game, and organizers anticipated even fewer attendees for the second. Although Sidney wouldn’t be playing, he and Pat Brisson flew to Montreal for the games anyway, both to watch the competition and to run the media gauntlet. “I just wanted to come up and support the guys and be a part of this,” said Sidney [158]. 

At a press conference to introduce the QMJHL selects, held at the St. Hubert restaurant next to the Bell Centre, Sidney courted the media perfectly. Though he arrived late from the airport, he looked “freshly scrubbed” and pocketed his cellphone in his dark pinstriped suit with its open-collared white dress shirt. He charmed the media with his incongruous athletic gait and “adolescent high-pitched voice.” Pat Brisson told the scrum that Sidney was “the full package... for the entertainment business.” He was right. All of Sidney’s soundbites were squeaky-clean, even in the face of the notorious Montreal media. When TSN’s Michael Whelan questioned Sidney’s injury— “You’re not even on crutches, c’mon?” —Sidney “looked up, his eyes twinkled and he caught himself before he smiled too broadly” [334].

The media had been eager to see Sidney in the national spotlight again. With Sidney out of the lineup for the Canada-Russia series, the next shot he’d have at nationwide glory was at World Juniors in December and the Top Prospects game in January. Sidney reaffirmed his desire to win gold for Team Canada and graciously told reporters he wouldn’t mind being coached by Don Cherry, who had been named a coach for the Top Prospects game [158].

Well, somewhat graciously. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll go for one game and whatever happens, happens,” he said [158].

That was his general attitude toward the future. He deflected questions about the NHL and his jeopardized draft. “I play hockey,” he said. “I don’t decide if there’s a draft or not. Hopefully they’ll take care of it, but it’s out of my control. All I can do is have the best season possible and see what happens” [158, 334].

His absence was felt in the games, both shootout losses for Canada [334]. He’d have his chance to face the Russians in a matter of months, but it was time to head back to Rimouski.

Things were going well off the ice for Sidney in Rimouski. It was reported that he was being paid around $30,000 by the Océanic, which was unprecedented in junior hockey [ 15 ]. Some theorized Tanguay could be paying Sidney north of $100,000 [ Taking the Game… , p. 182]. He didn’t need to have Neilson drive him around anymore because he had his own Mazda SUV and a learner’s permit [ 49 , 50 ]. His black-and-orange beaded necklace had broken and been replaced with the light and dark blues of the Océanic—two white beads on the string had the numbers 8 and 7 printed on them [338]. 

He was an honors student at Harrison Trimbele High School, sinking five hours a day into private tutoring [ 23 , 126]. With the help of a team counselor, he would graduate on schedule. “I’ve put too much into school,” he said. “It would be stupid for me to put in all of this work and then quit now” [ 72 ].

His mounting fame meant that he wasn’t like most other high school seniors; Sidney would have to sneak out of auditoriums with PR staff, and when Troy came to visit and have breakfast with his son in a hotel restaurant, fans swarmed their table. A reality TV show asked to follow him around for two days, though he denied the request [ 20 , 8:43, 72 ].

“It gets pretty crazy. It’s like The Beatles. He has to have security. There are two or three guys who help him, an usher and rink workers. He has to go out the back steps. My wife [Trina] got pretty upset… But [Sidney] knows this is part of it.” - Troy Crosby [ 72 ]

“…sometimes people come up and they ask for an autograph, and they think they’re the only one. The thing they don’t understand is that he’s gone to a practice. He’s done five interviews, and then after he’s done that he’s spent an hour signing stuff for charities. And then he goes home and has a bite to eat before he has his tutoring or before he does his schoolwork, and then he may be on the phone, or be on MSN (instant messenger) to [talk] with his family, or friends. So we’re not complaining about it, at all. It’s just the way things are today.” - Trina Crosby [ 46 ]

His media presence was becoming more and more developed. The media flattered him with descriptions such as the “center with the tousled black hair and half-smile.” He wore dress shirts and ties to the rink “because he [remembered] New York Rangers general manager Glen Sather saying that if you dress well, you play well.” He met daily interviews with an engaged but polite air, and was kept on schedule by Yannick Dumais [ 46 ]. He smiled reflexively when answering questions; some called him “the most camera-warm hockey star since Orr.” He had an unusual comfort with how the media dug into his life. “It gets to be part of your routine,” he said, “like putting your equipment on before practice” [ 50 ]. Journalists divulged that IMG (his agency) had given him media-training classes over the last two summers [ 19 ]. Troy Crosby disputed the reports.

“You want your children to be respectful and have good values and stand by what you believe in. He never had any formal training in terms of dealing with the media. When I read that, I get a little insulted. He wasn’t sent to acting school. We believe in treating people the way you want to be treated. We’re really proud of him, the way he has handled himself from a very young age.” - Troy Crosby [ 65 ]

Sidney endeared himself to the francophone media when he started speaking French during interviews. Some were impressed with how fast he learned the language and how he continued practicing it [ The Rookie , p. 200]. He bribed himself with incentives; if he made the World Juniors team, dinners at his billet home would be French-only [ 44 ].

“I thought it was the right thing to do in a place where everyone was French. I kind of spoke a little, a word here and there my first year. But by my second year, one night instead of doing my post-game interview in English, when he asked me the question in English, I answered in French. Everyone was kind of surprised, but after that I would always do my interviews in French.” - Sidney Crosby [ The Rookie , p. 200]

“They assumed I would do just English. I knew that I was able to respond in French, so for people listening, I thought it would be nice to respond in French because a lot of people don’t understand that much English.” - Sidney Crosby [ 44 ]

Sidney had taken note of his privilege as an English speaker; “As an English person going there, you realize how hard it is for people... to try to speak English for you,” he said. Locals would still try to speak English to anglophones, but Sidney realized that in English-speaking provinces, francophones were rarely afforded the same courtesy [318].

“I try to do my best to learn the language. It’s only good that can come out of that, so I try my best to pick it up. I’m not perfectly bilingual, but I understand pretty much everything. I’m starting to talk more and more as I’m there. Hopefully I’ll be pretty close by the end of the year.” - Sidney Crosby [318]

His efforts to speak the language impressed locals, and stories erupted of Sidney and his teammates showing up around town to play pickup games at outdoor rinks. Sidney, just like when he played street hockey with his friends in Cole Harbour, was relegated to goalie. One Rimouskois had a story about Sidney stopping during a jog and helping dig a car out of some snow [ 44 ].

“He is so respectful. When you see the effort he has made to speak French, you can’t not think he’s great.” - Suzanne Tremblay, season-ticket holder and former Bloc Québécois MP  [ 44 ]

Sidney still loved hockey more than anything; he called home to ask his parents to send over spare skates when the Océanic trainers hid his skates so he would obey the team’s rest days. His parents helped him out, but Sidney was caught by one of his coaches on an outdoor rink [ 49 ]. He was relentless in his training, usually 45 minutes early for each practice. Five days a week, he spent 90 minutes at a gym run by Claude Bellavance [ 50 ].

Bellavance would practice his English with Sidney during workouts and was blown away by Sidney’s fervor. “When I met Sidney for the first time,” he said, “I could not get over how intense his eyes were—they had fire in them.” He wasn’t the only one impressed by Sidney at his gym. When Sidney had to take off his shirt for a physical evaluation, Bellavance claimed women in the gym abandoned their workouts to take a look. “I was sort of surprised,” he said. “I mean, some of these women were well over 60” [44].

“He doesn’t drink any pop, doesn’t eat sugary stuff, doesn’t stay out late, doesn’t have time for a girlfriend. He wants to win so bad he can’t even play a game of cards for fun.” - Guy Boucher, Rimouski Océanic assistant coach  [ 50 ]

His dedication was infectious. “The players will tell you that he is a model and that they were trying to follow him. Not only for his talents as a hockey player, but also because of his personality,” said Doris Labonté, the Océanic’s general manager. “He did not allow himself to relax, and he did not accept it from the others. He had a goal and he knew what to do to achieve it” [ 321 ].

“He was always the first on the ice during practice and the last to leave. There was no choice but to follow him. He's a great leader. He wasn't the most talkative in the locker room, but on the ice he was setting an example for everyone.” - Patrick Coulombe, Océanic teammate [ 321 ]

That wasn’t to say Sidney’s teammates never had any complaints about him. His superstitions started to become the talk of the media while he was with the Océanic. As his sister Taylor recounted:

“It all started when he was playing junior. He talked to me before a game and then he separated his shoulder. He tried to break the curse once and called my mom. She was like, ‘Should we be talking?’ and he was like, ‘Yeah, it’s fine.’ Then, that game, he broke his foot.” - Taylor Crosby [ 3 ]

Labonté admitted that Sidney’s superstitions could become “tiresome.” Sidney would sometimes inflict them on others—if they ate at a certain restaurant in a certain city, or if Labonté sat at a certain chair, or wore a certain tie, it was all fair game to become ritualized. “I don’t think he really believed in it,” said Labonté, “but it was his way of having fun, of relaxing.” The worst superstition of all was the Nordiques baseball cap Sidney wore. “It was dirty, beaten up, but he kept putting it on and we kept winning,” said Labonté. He also admitted that they hid it on occasion, but not often; when Sidney got angry, he got angry [ 321 ].

“I put on the equipment on my right side first. I don’t let anyone usually touch my stick after it’s been taped for a game, either. I don’t get too out of control; if you’re too serious about it, you will drive yourself nuts.” - Sidney Crosby [ 31 ]

Winter came quickly, and with it came levity before the approaching storm of playoffs; Océanic coach Donald Dufrense annually built an outdoor rink at his home, and it was an endless source of amusement for the team. Sidney and his teammates would play shinny for hours, competing for a replica Stanley Cup that Sidney made using a garbage can and bowl he’d duct taped together. The winners’ names were added with a label maker. Who won? “I did,” he giggled. “I always do” [ The Rookie, p. 250].

The frivolity wouldn’t last forever. Random trade rumors circulated, claiming Sidney was going to be traded to the Moncton Wildcats for Brad Marchand and a handful of rookies, or alternatively for Steve Bernier and Corey Crawford. Most newspapers in Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia refused to print the stories, as the sources were—at best—of dubious quality [300].

Then the Océanic suffered a seven-game losing streak, and in early December Labonté, “believing Dufresne was too nice and not getting enough out of the players,” pulled the same trump card he’d pulled in 2000: he demoted Dufresne to an assistant and took over coaching duties. That exact stunt had helped the Océanic win the Memorial Cup five years prior [ 233 , Taking the Game… , p. 154].

While he was at it, Labonté shifted Sidney from center to wing, putting him on a line with Marc-Antoine Pouliot and Dany Roussin. “It’s a little different, but once we’re past the other team’s line, we can pretty much go wherever we want,” said Sidney. “I’ve played on the wing a little bit before so it wasn’t totally new” [292].

He was about to get even more experience as a winger on Team Canada. On December 13, Sidney hurried into the locker room at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg and was immediately barraged with chirps from his potential teammates. He’d missed the opening practice of the Team Canada Selection Camp the day prior thanks to a snowstorm that caught him at the Mont-Joli airport in Quebec [ 64 , 178]. 

Though he was a veteran of the Canadian World Juniors team, he was still the youngest player in the room. “All the guys from last year for sure were giving me a hard time,” he told reporters after his first skate in Winnipeg. “I was thinking about that on the plane, that the next morning would be rough. It’s all in fun. For sure we crack some jokes in the dressing room.” His teammates also gave him the gears for being the only player at camp to wear a full face mask. As per IIHF rules, underage players are obligated to wear them, though Sidney didn’t like how it branded him as a younger player. “As soon as I put it on this morning, [I got] a few comments,” he said [165].

Over 30 reporters and camera crews laid in wait for Sidney after his first workout at the camp. Sidney dealt with the crowd in his usual practiced demeanor, shrugging off suggestions that the attention was overwhelming. “I’ve learned to deal with it,” he insisted. “After you’ve experienced it a little bit you learn to deal with it when the time comes. But my main focus is on playing hockey” [178]. The country expected great things from Sidney. “It’s part of being Canadian,” he said. “That comes along with it. Everyone wants to play on this team, no matter if there’s pressure, no pressure. This is the team to play on and you want to be there for sure” [178].

Due to the lockout, World Juniors was more than a Christmas tradition; it was a replacement Stanley Cup Final. The Canadian team was stacked and “passed for a reasonable facsimile of, say, the Detroit Red Wings” [ Taking the Game… , p. 156]. The expectations of them could not have been higher.

“I know what I’m capable of doing. I expect the best out of myself and for me that’s not a lot to ask.” - Sidney Crosby [356]

32 players were present at the camp, competing for the 22 spots available on the roster. Only 2 goalies, 7 defensemen, and 13 forwards would be accepted onto the team. Team Canada’s coach, Brent Sutter, used a more professional camp format; instead of the cuts being announced every morning (which Sidney had woken up at the crack of dawn daily to hear the previous year), the roster would be announced in its entirety on the last day of camp, December 16 [350]. Morning cuts were considered a kindness; if a player was cut, he’d leave camp as quickly as possible so the camp’s atmosphere remained positive. Sutter had no desire to coddle his players. “If your team is that mentally weak you’re not going to win at the end of the day anyway,” he said. “I want to treat these guys like pros” [180].

Sutter was an intense coach. In selecting his team he was spoiled with options; the NHL lockout meant his talent pool was deep, though he didn’t want any players to rest on their laurels. He wasn’t just looking for the most highly-skilled players. He wanted the kind of drive that had led to fights at the summer evaluations. He wanted a real team. He wanted a pack. “At the end of the day,” he said, “we aren’t taking 22 all-stars, we are taking the 22 guys who we think can best form a team” [350].

“Obviously we are a team with a lot of skill and you want to go after your opposition, that’s my make-up. We want a pack-of-wolves mentality, that’s how we want to play.” - Brent Sutter, Team Canada head coach [350]

Sidney flourished under Sutter’s coaching style. “He’s a really tough coach,” said Sidney. “He doesn’t ask for anything but hard work and your best. It’s the perfect way to be. He’s always demanding, and you bring your best to the rink, no matter if it’s a practice or a game” [268]. Sutter was pleased with Sidney’s performance, but kept his comments about Sidney grounded. “Is Sidney Crosby a great player? Yes,” said Sutter. “But you expect him to be. He’s a year older. He’s a year more experienced. Let’s not forget he’s still 17. There’s a lot of elite players here and you expect everyone to play to their potential. Whatever role Sidney plays, he’ll play and I’m sure very well” [165].

On his first day at camp, Sidney was paired with centerman Patrice Bergeron. Also assigned as his roommate, Bergeron took on an older brother role for Sidney, who enjoyed the partnership immensely and constantly asked Bergeron questions about his experience in the NHL, AHL, and the IIHF World Championship, where Bergeron had won gold in 2004. Bergeron insisted they had more similarities than differences. “We’re both teenagers,” said Bergeron. “There’s not a big difference between 17 and 19 years old. We talk a lot about the NHL. I’m trying to tell him as much about it as I can” [135].

The two had a good rapport and poked fun at each other. “Even if he wasn’t a prodigy,” Bergeron drawled, “obviously he’d still be a 17-year-old guy and my roommate and I’d be helping him in the same way” [135]. Sidney, meanwhile, chirped Bergeron about his sleeping habits to the media— “He sleeps all the time,” Sidney said. “Whenever he’s got a spare moment he’s like, ‘let’s go sleep’” [188, 324, 356].

“He’s a great roommate. I’m trying to learn a lot, getting to know him and learn his tendencies. Just talking to him I’ve learned some new things about him and we seem to be able to click pretty well out there.” - Sidney Crosby [188]

Sutter saw Sidney and Bergeron’s puck handling and communication skills and knew they’d be a good hockey fit. Over the course of the selection camp, they emerged as Team Canada’s top line, playing with wingers Jeremy Colliton and Corey Perry. “It’s hard to explain. We feed off each other so well,” said Sidney. “We are finding each other out there and it’s a lot of fun to play with him. We are making good things happen. Colliton is doing a good job out there too, pushing the D back with his forechecking. We are making each other’s jobs easier and everyone is playing their role” [217].

“Sidney has such great vision on the ice, he sees everybody everywhere... It’s pretty easy to play with him, I just have to get open.” - Patrice Bergeron [217]

Sidney was “the most exciting player to watch through the pre-tournament exhibition games” by far; whenever he had the puck, people expected him to do magic. He seemed to have a “sixth sense” about where the puck would be, and when he got it on his stick, he was dangerous—even “on his knees.” He was “almost impossible to knock off the puck” and scraped and clawed for every point he could score. He was determined to prove himself at what he considered to be the highest level of hockey available to him. To Sidney, World Juniors was “such a higher level than junior. It’s a whole new step” [172, 202, 356].

“Oh yeah, he is better. He dominated last year, but this year he is even more dominant. He is quicker and stronger. But the thing I noticed that makes him so difficult to play against is he never makes the same move twice.” - Stephen Dixon, Team Canada teammate [338]

Even while holding his own at camp, Sidney wasn’t the loudest voice in the locker room. “It’s just not my personality,” he said. “I’ll talk once in a while about plays, but I’m not a screamer or a yeller. I’m not someone who is going to talk too much, but just try to lead by example on the ice” [165].

Screaming and yelling wouldn’t be necessary. By the time Team Canada scrimmaged against the University of Manitoba on December 14 and 15, Sidney had been scratched from the lineup along with several other players. They’d already made the cut [180, 234 ].

After the selection camp concluded and the roster had been set, the newly-formed Team Canada put on an exhibition series at the MTS Centre against Finland’s and Switzerland’s teams. Canada wore replica vintage jerseys from the 1920 Winnipeg Falcons—who won Canada’s first Olympic gold medal—during their game against Finland, which they won decisively (6-0). Sidney notched a goal and two assists in the game. His goal, the game’s first, was on a power play, and one of his assists was a beauty of a pass to Bergeron as Sidney stepped out of the penalty box [187, 217, 234 ].

The 2005 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships were held at the two Ralph Engelstad Arenas in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and Thief River Falls, Minnesota from December 25, 2004 to January 4, 2005 [ 100 ]. It would be the third year Sidney spent Christmas away from Cole Harbour [ The Rookie , p. 171]. Troy would travel to Grand Forks for the first game of the tournament, held on Christmas Day. Trina and Taylor would follow a few days later. “I’m so excited,” Trina said. “This is what Christmas has always been for us. We always planned the days around watching the games. It was always his dream to actually be there. And now he is. This is almost like when he was a little kid. Only now, he’s playing” [ 49 ].

From the moment Team Canada stepped onto the ice, they took the reins of the tournament and didn’t let go. Sidney was playing with what some would consider the “greatest World Junior team of all-time.” Bolstered by the lockout, fed by an amazing draft class, and hungry for redemption after the 2004 silver medal, the Canadian World Junior team was poised to end their seven-year gold medal drought [ 6 ]. The lineup featured Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Shea Weber, and Dion Phaneuf, among others [ 99 ].

“We were so focused during the tournament, I don’t think we really realized how good we were. With the lockout, we had our own guys back, but there were a lot of other guys on other teams that were pretty capable of changing a game with one play... After it was all said and done, and you looked at each game and how we played and how we carried the play, it was pretty impressive. When I look back, I definitely think it was one the best teams I ever played on.” - Sidney Crosby [ 6 ]

In their first game on December 25, Bergeron and Sidney’s chemistry awarded them with two goals apiece (and two assists for Bergeron, one for Sidney) in a dominant 7-3 win against Slovakia [135]. 

They knew they could do better. The media knew they could do better. The Canadian team was extraordinarily good, to the point where they were criticized for letting Slovakia “back into the game” at all. Sidney agreed. “We played good, but we can play better I think,” he said. “We’ll kind of set our standard there and try and get better as the tournament goes on.” Sidney looked at the tournament as a “second chance” at redemption after the 2004 loss. He was “obsessed with winning, obsessed with succeeding,” said Team Canada assistant coach Jim Hulton [64, 135, 176].

“To be here once before you’re lucky, but to get a second chance, you want to get advantage of it. For sure you don’t want to let it slip away.” - Sidney Crosby [202]

“This is the team to play on and you want to win the gold medal; anything else isn’t acceptable.” - Sidney Crosby [215]

It only took a day for Sidney to make a critical misstep, but it was a fumble in front of the media instead of on the ice. On December 26, during a live interview with TSN, reporter Gino Reda asked Sidney if he would consider being a replacement player in the NHL. What was being asked, effectively, was if Sidney would be a scab for the NHL in their labor dispute with the players’ union [ Taking the Game… , p. 157]. 

It was not the first time the question had been asked. Pat Brisson had already rebuked the idea to the press in previous interviews. Yet, on national television, microphone to his lips, Sidney said “I haven’t really given it a lot of thought but my dream is to play in the NHL. I think, if I do have an opportunity, I would probably go” [138].

Wrong answer, Sidney.

“CROSSING THE LINE?” wrote one newspaper . “Junior hockey phenom Sidney Crosby is toying with the idea of being a replacement player next season if the lockout drags on.” Others followed. It was bombshell news; the NHL’s most hyped prospect of all time was offering to dive past the players’ association and play for the league in the middle of a strike [138].

Or, at least, that’s what it had sounded like. As it turns out, most 17-year-olds don’t have a “command of macro- or micro-economic issues.” The next day, a “visibly shaken” Sidney asked TSN for the chance to explain himself. He said that he’d thought Reda had asked if Sidney would be a NHL player if the NHL players returned to play, not be a replacement player. “I understand what’s going on a little bit but not fully,” Sidney insisted. “ I try to understand as much as I can” [ Taking the Game… , p. 158-59].

“It was just a misunderstanding. I didn’t understand the question. I responded by saying that I’d play and it was just a big mess-up,” Sidney clarified. “I want to play in the best league in the world and the NHL isn’t the NHL without NHL players, so for sure, no, I don’t think I’d be there”  [207].

His media catastrophe put to rest, Sidney and Team Canada breezed through the preliminary round with a perfect 4-0 record and earned a bye to the semifinals. By the end of the first round, they outscored opponents 32-5 and Sidney had accumulated 6 goals and 7 points (though he had been held off the scoresheet during Canada’s 8-1 win over Finland). In the second game against Sweden (8-1), Swede Robert Nilsson brutally slashed Sidney’s wrists, but Sidney didn’t miss a shift and went on to score two power play goals [191].

The veterans from the 2004 team were impressed by how much Sidney had developed since the last tournament. “Sidney was so much stronger on the puck. It was unbelievable the difference in his strength,” said Team Canada captain Mike Richards. “And he was a lot more aware of what was happening on the ice. He had a better understanding of what it was going to take for us to win. It was like a carry-over from Finland... On the ice and off the ice we picked up where we left off the year before” [268, Taking the Game… , p. 164].

“It’s a different atmosphere this year. We don’t have that happy-to-be-here mentality. We know we’re here for a reason. It’s four games in, but the hardest hockey is still ahead. We’ve got to make sure that we’re prepared for this next game.” - Sidney Crosby [268]

The media drew in closer. Slightly Crosby-weary from the nonstop Crosby updates that had filled the Canadian news cycle, they started to pick at Sidney’s performance. Though Sidney was doing well, he began to lack offensive opportunities. “Canada’s mantra at this tournament [was] defense first,” and Sutter locked down his defensive system, adamant that Canada had its best shot at gold by playing a defensive-heavy game [202, 351]. 

As his chances to be flashy and bombastic fizzled out, the rest of Team Canada’s fantastic roster rose to the challenge. “The team was so good that the best competition it faced was against itself in practices” [185]. Sidney’s impact on the team wasn’t a standout performance, and he instead became a very good part of a fearsome whole [ Taking the Game… , p. 160].

“...I think we’ll look back on this team and say, ‘That team was so good that the kids all played up at Crosby’s level.’” - Lorne Davis, Edmonton Oilers scout [Taking the Game…, p. 165]

The media had billed World Juniors as Sidney’s “star vehicle, his personal showcase, his stage.” When he wasn’t able to do cartwheels on the ice, some began to claim that he wasn’t living up to the hype. “He was okay,” said an NHL scout. “He was good. Just don’t make it seem like he tore the place up. He didn’t dominate” [ Taking the Game… , p. 160-161].

In the face of the criticism, Sidney kept his head down and got to work. He was still a generational talent, still a 17-year-old holding his own against 19-year-olds [328]. Thinking he was in private, he would do flashy tricks (like his “lacrosse move”) during practice freely. When footage of his playfulness leaked and he got in trouble for it on Coach’s Corner with good ol’ Don Cherry, Sidney locked it down and wouldn’t do anything fancy or too creative when he knew he was being watched [ 6 ].

“We need him. We’re in the entertainment business and we need more players like him. We need some good stories.” - Vaughn Karpan, Phoenix Coyotes Director of Scouting [328]

Sidney’s deftness in the face of all the media attention impressed his teammates. “He’s comfortable with it,” said Bergeron. “He’s like that. He’s a laid-back guy. He takes it day by day and he can let things go and just play his game and enjoy what he likes the most” [125]. 

Sidney still took the time to see fans when he could. “I see all the attention he gets and I try to put myself in that position,” said Sidney’s teammate Stephen Dixon. “He is such a good person. He is very accommodating to the fans in signing autographs and to [reporters]. That, along with his talent, amazes me” [338]. Even when the Canadian staff printed out emails addressed to the players from fans, of which Sidney received more than 100 pages, he regretted he couldn’t respond dutifully. “It’s hard to read them all, just because there are so many,” he said. “We don’t get the chance to write them back, so it’s kind of tough for a lot of people who might expect a reply. But we don’t have time to do so. They just give them to us to make sure we’re aware that people are supporting us. It’s nice to see people are behind you” [268].

This wasn’t The Crosby Show. Sidney was there to win, not to peacock. He played Sutter’s system. “He was able to play the team concept,” said Greg Malone, head scout for the Pittsburgh Penguins [ 246 ]. In a way, Sidney enjoyed the anonymity of a supremely talented team. “It seemed that Crosby, so used to being the centre of attention, took special pleasure from just being one of the boys” [ Taking the Game… , p. 164]. 

“When you have that many good hockey players, it’s easy to put a team together. But at the same time, it’s harder to win because everyone has to check their egos at the door. We did that. We’re a true team and we stuck together.” - Sidney Crosby [329]

Canada steamrolled its way to the final, where Sidney would finally have another crack at the Russians. The Russian team had embarrassed the Americans thoroughly in a 7-2 win in the semifinal. Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin had been showstoppers in the game, combining for 4 goals and 6 points. Malkin had scored a highlight-worthy goal in the third period, and the Russians were more than confident as they geared up to face the Canadian juggernaut. “Canada is a good team, but they’re not gods,” Ovechkin said blithely. “No one knows how good their goalie is” [220].

The Canadian goalie, Jeff Glass, hadn’t faced much difficulty in the tournament thanks to Canada’s tough defensive system. Against the Russians, the Canadian defense would have to be at the top of its game. Ovechkin and Malkin were powerful centers for the top two Russian lines, and Russia led the tournament with 10 power play goals [351].

Sidney alone had five power play goals himself [251]. He rebuked the idea that the gold medal game would be an epic showdown between him and Ovechkin. “ I don’t think it’s going to be one guy for either team that wins it,” he said. “It hasn’t been like that the whole tournament. We both have a responsibility to help out with our team scoring wise, but for sure that’s not what it’s going to turn into. We both have big roles. It’s all coming down to who wins the hockey game and I’ll try to do my best to make sure I’m doing my part to make that happen” [202].

It wouldn’t be easy for the Canadians. Russia’s goalie, Anton Khudobin, had been “the key player in his team’s two wins over the QMJHL all-stars in November. ” Both games had gone to a shootout, and Khudobin didn’t give up a goal in either. “We’re going to be tested there,” said Sidney. “We’re going to have to make sure we’re driving the net.” Leading up to the game, Coach Sutter emphasized control and mental toughness. He knew what his team was capable of [351].

On January 5 at the Grand Forks arena, over 11,000 fans packed into the seats for the gold medal game. Red Canadian jerseys filled the stands as far as the eye could see. “It’s amazing when you’re not even in your home rink and we’re basically the home team,” said Sidney. “We had more fans there than the Americans” [329].

In the opening period, it appeared as if Canada had lost its coach’s message about control. Despite a sharp Getzlaf goal in the first 51 seconds of the game, Russian had four power play chances in that period alone, including a 72-second-long 5-on-3. Canada weathered the storm, earning a second goal thanks to defenceman Danny Syvret [352].

It was then that Ovechkin saw his chance. The puck on his stick, the Russian phenom cut across the ice in an attempt to avoid Dion Phaneuf. He wasn’t ready for Sidney, who was coming at him full-tilt on the backcheck. “The safe play would have been just to lock up Ovechkin, a play that most two-way first-line forwards would have made... Though [Sidney] was giving away four inches in height and at least 25 pounds, [he] didn't hesitate to lay hip and shoulder into the big Russian forward... A dazed Ovechkin did manage to get up and skate away... [but Sidney] had managed to separate Ovechkin’s shoulder” [ Taking the Game… , p. 163].

Sidney’s fearless move reinvigorated the media frenzy around him. The same scout who had said earlier that Sidney was just “okay” was beyond impressed: “I’m sure that he was banged up during the tournament. So when he went into Ovechkin like he did, [that] was pretty gutsy... Everybody knows that he’s got the talent to look after defensive responsibilities—he showed that he’s willing to do it and did it against the best 19-year-old out there” [ Taking the Game… , p. 165-166].

Sidney was modest in his response. “We played against the other team’s top line every game,” he said. “Getting assigned to cover Ovechkin, we had to make sure we did our job. We played it tough against him” [329].

“Sidney is an outstanding player. Last year as a 16-year-old, he made a big contribution to this team. This year, he’s older, bigger, stronger and faster. And I think having the spotlight while playing against Ovechkin and playing with Bergeron was the perfect stage for him. He went out and proved just how good he was.” - Blair Mackasey, Team Canada head scout [329]

Though Russian Alexei Emelin made the score 2-1 in the last minute of the first period, the Russian team self-destructed in the second period. Canada tallied three straight power play goals and the game was all but over, especially after Ovechkin sat out the third period because of his injured shoulder. The final score was 6-1, and Sidney had done what he’d vowed to do: help Canada to their first gold medal in seven years [6, 352, The Rookie, p. 123]

Sidney had scored 6 goals and 3 assists during the tournament, helping Team Canada outscore their opponents 41-7 during their six games [ 33 ]. Before the medals were even awarded, media was quick to crown the team as the greatest junior team to ever grace the international stage. For the dozen returning players from 2004, their stinging defeat had made the taste of victory even more motivating. “It goes back to the character of the guys we had on that team, the leadership we had on that team,” said player Jeff Carter. “Obviously, there were some great players, but they were great people and they care about winning. They’re going to do anything they can to win” [ 101 ].

“Sidney was 17, and I had such an admiration, so much respect for Sidney with the way he handled everything there. You could tell he was going to be a superstar, and you could tell he was going to be an elite player. You could tell he was going to be captain of a team someday.” - Brent Sutter, Team Canada head coach [ 3 ]

Sidney’s trip back to Canada was a media tour. “I’m pretty tired. I can’t even speak right now,” he rasped to reporters at Trudeau Airport in Dorval after an early-morning flight from Winnipeg. He’d started losing his voice during the gold medal game. “I was trying to talk to guys, but it was so loud in the rink,” he explained hoarsely. “After the game I totally lost it.” He was about to take a connecting flight to Mont-Joli to return to Rimouski for several QMJHL games, after which he hoped to spend a few days back in Cole Harbour with his family. “I’m sure I’ll be there to have my little Christmas with my family for a few days,” he said [268, 329]. 

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done... the best experience I’ve ever had. It’s something you share with your teammates forever. Nobody can take that away from you. When you get older and look back, you’ll be able to say you played with a lot of great hockey players. It’s an amazing feeling.” - Sidney Crosby [329]

He answered questions in English and French, explaining that all he’d wanted was to improve his performance and contribute more than he had at the 2004 tournament. When a reporter asked if Sidney had done any deep reflection on the flight, Sidney replied “I didn’t think about anything. I slept. I was up all night.” The rumors about his potential trade to Moncton before the January 8 QMJHL deadline resurfaced, and Sidney brushed them aside with amusement. “I’m not really sure what’s going on there, but I’m sure I’ll be back in Rimouski,” he said. “I’m not too worried about it. That’s not something that’s on my mind a lot” [239, 268].

Another reporter asked where the silver medal from 2004 was. “I have no idea, ” said Sidney, flashing a toothy grin [329].

His old silver medal was safe at his parents’ house.

His jersey from the 2005 gold medal game, however, was not.

When Sidney arrived in Rimouski two days after Canada’s glorious win, the first thing he did was unpack his hockey bag. He had wisely kept his medal in his pocket during the flight. His skates, his pads, his gear, all of it was in his luggage... except for the red no. 9 jersey he’d worn in the gold medal game. He “knew he hadn't misplaced it. He knew he had put it in there. He wanted it to take a treasured place alongside the trophies and banners and other sweaters from other tournaments” [ 119 , 330, Taking the Game… , p. 167].

He called home crying. 

“It’s hard to explain what he’s feeling,” Troy Crosby told The Globe and Mail. “It’s just a sick, sick feeling. No one can understand just how important that jersey is. It can’t be replaced. Winning that gold medal was so special and the jersey is the one he wore while they did it. To go from such a high feeling to such a low feeling so fast is hard” [ Taking the Game… , p. 167].

Trina said that the Crosby family was not offering a reward for the jersey. “We hope whoever has the jersey realizes it’s essentially worthless to them,” she said. “It’s stolen, and as soon as it surfaces, everyone will know. Its only value is sentimental, and that is for Sidney.” Hockey Canada stepped in to offer a reward anyway. The organization had also retained all of the players’ white away jerseys for an online auction benefiting tsunami relief efforts in South Asia. They pulled Sidney’s jersey from the auction with the intention of giving it to Sidney, which forfeited the $22,000 bid it had received [ 119 , Taking the Game… , p. 168].

Sidney was shaken. “Definitely I’m upset,” he told reporters before the Océanic faced the Baie-Comeau Drakkar. “It’s tough. You play in the best series and win, and it’s a symbol for sure. It’s something you want to keep, something you want to have. Right now, it’s pretty frustrating. I don’t know what happened to it. It could have been taken or it could have gotten lost. All I know is, it’s gone.” The sight of Sidney, red-eyed and dismayed, should have been a striking moment of clarity for the hockey world. Though he commanded the attention of a billion-dollar sport and the Canadian sports media, he was just a boy [ 119 , 219, Taking the Game… , p. 168].

Trina, Troy, and Pat Brisson were working with Hockey Canada, who in turn was working with representatives from Air Canada, police in Grand Forks, and RCMP in Winnipeg and Montreal to recover the jersey. Four days after the jersey was reported missing, Canada Post employee Jean-Marc Saucier found a red Team Canada jersey wrapped in plastic with a newspaper clipping affixed to it in a mailbox in Lachute, Quebec, nearly 60 kilometres northwest of Montreal [ 119 , 120 ].

“It was obviously his sweater,” said Saucier. “It had Crosby in big letters. And on the other side were all the logos and everything.” On the newspaper clipping attached to the jersey was a phone number for Hockey Canada, which Saucier called to report his discovery. Police in Montreal retrieved the jersey and immediately believed it to be authentic because of the “unmistakable hockey-bag odour ” [ 120 , Taking the Game… , p. 169].

“They said it smells pretty bad, so that’s a good sign.” - Sidney Crosby [ Taking the Game… , p. 169]

On January 12, the Montreal police announced the arrest of a 48-year-old man from Laval, Quebec for the theft of an item worth more than $5,000. The man, an Air Canada employee, claimed he’d stolen the jersey on “impulse” to give to his 14-year-old daughter as a gift. Hockey Canada worked with the police to authenticate the jersey; once it was determined to be the genuine sweater, Pat Brisson travelled to Montreal to retrieve and personally deliver it to Nova Scotia, where Sidney was in town playing against the Mooseheads [ 120 , 194, 218].

The Halifax stadium was sold out—only the second sell-out for the team that season, with 10,000 people crammed into the arena—and Sidney received a standing ovation before the game. The president of the Mooseheads came onto the ice to recognize Sidney as an “outstanding Nova Scotian” for his World Juniors win, and after Sidney’s second goal of the night, he got a second standing ovation to match. With his jersey on its way, Sidney was able to relax and enjoy the experience. “It was a really fun game to play tonight,” he said. “Just to be at home and to be in front of friends and family... it was really nice” [218].

Canada’s hockey-apparel-related national nightmare was finally over. Some critics thought the Crosby family had blown the situation out of proportion. “[The media story] has taken on a life of its own, a little bit,” Sidney admitted at a news conference in Halifax, holding up his found sweater in front of the gathered reporters with a broad smile. “But I’m really happy to have it back and obviously a lot to do with it has been the amount of awareness around it, there’s not much anyone can do with a jersey that’s so known like that” [194, Taking the Game… , p. 169-170].

The white jersey Hockey Canada had gifted to Sidney went back to auction. Sidney said that he accepted the apology of the thief and didn’t want to comment on the situation. “It was just a tough situation, and I just wish it didn’t happen,” he said. “It’s just nice that it’s finally here and it’s all over with. Ever since it happened, it’s been a pretty big deal and it’s been a long few days just waiting to finally get it, so it’s nice to have it” [194, 218].

Sidney’s brief Christmas-and-New-Year’s interlude in Cole Harbour had not been as restful as he’d hoped. 

It was about to get worse.

The Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game was a showcase for major junior prospects across Canada. Forty of the CHL’s top players eligible for the 2005 NHL Draft were invited. The CHL had announced its list of invitees before World Juniors with Sidney as the marquee name, featuring him heavily in promotional materials for the game. He would be “the main attraction and the selling point for the event,” which would be nationally televised on Rogers Sportsnet. Ron Toigo, the owner of the hosting team—the Western Hockey League's Vancouver Giants—projected a sellout crowd of 16,000. “The hype over the Top Prospects Game [could not] be overstated.” 15,000 tickets had already been sold by January [210, 212 , Most Valuable, p. 121]. 

The Western League in particular was eager to take a bite out of Sidney. The WHL had a “well-entrenched superiority complex in its junior game,” and the reporting over Sidney’s small role on Team Canada meant the WHL wanted to see how the QMJHL’s golden boy would hold up against the WHL’s best players, namely Gilbert Brule, the Vancouver Giants’ hometown hero. Though Brule hadn’t played for the National Junior Team, he was an “aggressive and intense” player and put up good numbers in the WHL: 23 goals and 31 assists in 41 games. Sidney had 29 goals and 52 assists in 37 games [ 212 , Taking the Game… , p. 170].

“Crosby is a known because he’s in his own league at this stage of development. That separates him from Brule for the moment. Brule will play in the NHL, though, because he has the qualities you look for. He can skate and he’s got grit. He can score. This isn’t like an all-star game because these guys actually play hard. They’ve actually had fights in this game, with some really big hits.” - Ron Delorme, chief amateur scout for the Vancouver Canucks [ 212 ]

Even more exciting was the prospect of Sidney having to share space with Don Cherry, who was serving as an honorary coach for Brule’s team. Would Cherry bluster about Sidney’s attitude again? Would Sidney take it with a smile? It would be a feeding frenzy for sports media and fans alike [ Taking the Game… , p. 170].

Or, at least, it would have been. Days before the event, Sidney opened the door wide to a controversy bigger than his public spats with Don Cherry, his lost jersey, or even his on-air fumble about scab labor. The hockey world exploded when officials announced that Sidney had pulled out of the Top Prospects Game [ Taking the Game… , p. 169-170].

Sidney revealed that he had sustained a back injury during the gold medal game and had been playing through the injury since he returned to Rimouski. In the 5 games the Océanic had played since World Juniors, Sidney had dressed for 4 of them. “The final decision was made by Sidney himself after this afternoon’s game in Moncton,” said Doris Labonté. “Since he won the gold medal with Team Canada at the World Juniors, he hasn’t been in top shape. Emotionally, he is drained. Sidney’s health comes first. The time has come for him to rehabilitate physically and mentally” [210, Taking the Game… , p. 170].

“It’s hard. It’s not an easy choice. It’s my draft year, you know what I mean, and I’m a competitive person as well and I was looking forward to that challenge and it would have been fun for me to go there. I was looking forward to the opportunity to prove myself against those other guys as well. I don’t really see how some of those comments are coming out, but they’re going to say [I’m exaggerating]. It’s kind of tough. That’s the way it has to be.” - Sidney Crosby [210]

Sidney had planned on making the trip out to Vancouver for the game on January 19, but his condition deteriorated until he felt it was no longer the right choice to attend. He “declined to elaborate on his injury, believing opposing players [would] try to exploit it when he [returned] to the ice.” He insisted that it was physical pain and not fatigue that kept him from participating, as some people wondered if the stress from the missing jersey had frayed his nerves. “Fatigue is something that, mentally, I’ve always overcome that,” he said. “That’s not something that made me not go at all. Definitely it’s the injury over fatigue for sure” [210].

Nonetheless, Sidney had been flying through the hockey world at a rip-roaring pace. From attending the Canadian Junior Development Camp from August 12-19 to the Océanic’s training camp on August 25 to the Q’s regular season in September to the National Junior Team Selection Camp from December 12-16 to World Juniors from December 25-January 4 to Sidney immediately reentering the Océanic’s roster, he was worn thin [ Most Valuable, p. 121-122]. 

The weekend before the Top Prospects Game (which fell on a Wednesday), the Océanic had a game in Charlottetown on Friday evening, Halifax on Saturday evening, and Moncton on Sunday afternoon. Sidney’s back was so bad that he sat out the game on Friday. The Océanic returned to Rimouski early Monday morning, and to make the Top Prospects Game Sidney would have needed to depart Rimouski that same day—likely on “a small plane from Rimouski to Quebec or Montreal, and then another six hours to Vancouver” —to arrive in time for media responsibilities on Tuesday and the game itself on Wednesday. He would then need to fly back to Rimouski to dress for the Océanic’s game on Friday [ Most Valuable, p. 121-122]. 

All for a hyped-up all-star game. 

Ron Toigo of the Vancouver Giants went on a media rampage. He told reporters he had offered the Crosby family special accomodations—first-class plane tickets, a Vancouver Island vacation—to attend the game. When Sidney declined, Toigo ripped into him. “For the guy who wants to be the next Wayne Gretzky,” Toigo scoffed, “the history of Wayne Gretzky is that he would be here with one leg if that’s what it took because it’s good for the game” [ Taking the Game… , p. 171, Most Valuable, p. 122].

It was a low blow; Sidney more than anyone tried to quell Gretzky comparisons. Toigo stooped even lower in the coming days, drawing from the Canadian political concept of Western alienation to accuse Sidney of brushing off the WHL. “I think he’d probably be there if it was in Montreal or Toronto,” said Toigo. “Sure, it’s a long flight to Vancouver, but first-class accommodations are pretty comfortable and it’s not that long of a flight” [ Taking the Game… , p. 171].

Labonté was infuriated with Toigo and sent a letter to The Vancouver Sun, the newspaper that had published Toigo’s comments. “Mr. Toigo,” Labonté wrote, “everyone is sorry for the fans, but the fans and you can only blame it on something nobody has control on. You have shown no respect for L’Océanic de Rimouski. Apologize for what you have said on our organization” [210, 331].

Toigo simply responded by saying that if L’Océanic had rested Sidney instead of playing him after he returned from World Juniors, perhaps his injury would have healed. “Somewhere this has lost focus,” said Toigo. “It’s all about the game and the fans who want to see this guy. The direction from the GM is unfortunate, very small-market minded and a real disappointment to all of us here” [210, Taking the Game… , p. 171].

Toigo then proceeded to pour gasoline on the fire by turning attention onto the Crosby family. Troy’s reputation had never fully recovered from the rumors that he was behind the Océanic’s 2004 stunt to bench Sidney over reffing disagreements. “This is so out of character [for Sidney] you wonder where that advice came from,” said Toigo [ Taking the Game… , p. 171].

Toigo wasn’t the only person to turn on Sidney’s family. “He’s old enough to know better,” wrote Gary Mason of The Vancouver Sun. “But the people who deserve most of the blame are those around Crosby... people like his coach, his GM, his agent, his parents. Instead, they let him down” [Taking the Game…, p. 172].

Don Cherry, in a showing of rare restraint, held off on commenting about the situation... until the Top Prospects Game came and went, and the following weekend Sidney dressed for two Océanic games [ Most Valuable, p. 121-123]. 

On his radio show, Cherry dug in. “Crosby said he was very tired, very fatigued and that he had a bad back. The thing that really gets me is the two games just before that he had eight points in two games. It’s beyond me how a guy could have a bad back and do that,” exclaimed Cherry. “I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. I’m not knocking him, so now, he plays the next game for Rimouski a day and a half after the game, right? I see him knock down a defenceman, get the puck, put it in the top corner. I see him get a breakaway and take the guy and put another puck in. So much for a bad back and fatigue” [211]. 

Sidney didn’t respond, but Pat Brisson did. He didn’t hold back, going for both Cherry and the entire CHL. “As far as Don Cherry is concerned, to me it’s almost a disgrace to have the CHL endorsing someone who is constantly looking for attention on behalf of a young 17-year-old kid,” said Brisson. “The CHL obviously endorses it because they had him as a coach, they had him at the banquet. He’s more an entertainer and a clown than someone whose opinion I would respect” [211].

“Sidney has been pushing the envelope at the World Juniors and when he came back for his own team in Rimouski, and the timing of him to take care of this injury was proper.” - Pat Brisson  [211]

Sidney admitted that the things being said about him were “tough.” Though he was used to public criticism at this age, he was still young. “It’s easy to say some of that stuff,” he said. “Anyone who knows me, and I don’t think that a lot of the people who are making some of those comments know me that well, but the people who know me know I’d be there if I could. It’s not an easy decision not to go, but I’m not going to have an injury that’s going to last me a while here at that cost. I’ll take the heat and try and move on” [210, 331].

Pat Brisson and Labonté weren’t the only people to come to Sidney’s defense. Antoine Pouliot and Mario Scalzo Jr., two of Sidney’s teammates on the Océanic, argued that Sidney’s loyalty to his team was admirable. “We were happy he did that... To be his best for our team, he needed some rest and he needed injuries to heal. By not going, he was telling us that Rimouski was more important to him than all that other stuff. It wasn’t selfish. It was exactly the opposite. Sidney is always team first,” said Pouliot. “Obviously he was putting our team ahead of personal stuff by not going [to Vancouver]. It meant a lot to us,” agreed Scalzo. “Sid was 17 but he has always known what’s the right thing to do... the message that should get sent” [ Taking the Game… , p. 172, Most Valuable, p. 122].

Even outside of Rimouski, some agreed that Sidney had made the right choice. In the Edmonton Journal, writer John MacKinnon said it was a joke to think Sidney was shirking his responsibilities. “Anyone who has ever met Crosby knows he simply lives to play hockey, meeting new challenges, tests himself against the best players around and continues to master his craft,” wrote MacKinnon. He argued that Sidney had played his post-World Juniors games on pure adrenaline before admitting that he was in no shape to continue at such a pace. The Q’s playoffs loomed. Moreover, MacKinnon wrote, “[these players] are young... they look mature and they have great confidence. They are children” [224].

“The media didn’t get that one right and the criticism Sidney took wasn’t fair.” - Mike Blunden, OHL player on the Erie Otters, former teammate of Sidney’s from the U17s (Canada Winter Games) and U18s [Taking the Game…, p. 173]

Sidney’s focus was on the Q’s upcoming playoffs, and the Océanic rose to meet him. In Sidney’s first two games back with Rimouski after World Juniors, he had three goals and four assists [330]. The Océanic won their game on January 7 and would not lose again until mid-playoffs in April [ 50 ]. Their powerplay went 45% in the first ten games after World Juniors, the team going 9-0-1 and outscoring opponents 61-21 [ Most Valuable, p. 121].

At the center of it all was Sidney. He had been playing with his linemates for two years, garnering a familiarity with them that elevated his play unlike anything he’d ever produced. He was stronger, more comfortable, and “was going about his business with a confidence bordering on impunity” [ Taking the Game… , p. 178].

The cramped schedule the Océanic had been saddled with in the first half of the season had passed, and the wear and tear of a jam-packed regular season combined with World Juniors had taken a toll on Sidney. After World Juniors, though, he was able to relax and play a more evenly-paced schedule. “In the last few weeks I’ve started to feel more comfortable and rested again,” he confessed [ Taking the Game… , p. 176].

It was having an effect. Sidney “raised his play to a new level” and tore the Q to shreds. For the rest of the regular season he was held off the score sheet in only one game, and the Océanic won and won and won. It was “the best performance I’ve ever seen by a junior,” said an NHL scout. Sidney would be named the QMJHL player of the week for the last four weeks of the season [ Taking the Game… , p. 175, 191].

Amidst it all, Sidney was perpetually swarmed by the media. His teammates were caught up in the flood of interviews and requests, but they weren’t bothered. Some were even impressed. “[Sidney] never says ‘I hate interviews’,” said linemate Dany Roussin. “He never says one bad word about doing interviews” [255]. Mario Scalzo Jr. would laugh when he got asked about Sidney, but he said he wasn’t sick of it. “No, it’s a ritual,” he reassured reporters. “Every time. But it’s okay” [ 46 ].

In January Sidney kicked up a bit of a kerfuffle when he was photographed signing a young woman’s chest. It was not the strangest thing he’d signed— “He said he’s autographed everything from shoes to bowling balls to bikes...” —but it was salaciously reported that he’d signed her bra. “I didn’t sign there,” he said with a laugh. “The picture was taken from the back so everyone got the wrong idea. I made sure I didn’t do that. That’s not something I’d do. I did it above on her shirt” [366].

Sidney was a rockstar. When Rimouski hosted a Quebec peewee tournament, hundreds of 12-year-olds lined up to have their jerseys and sticks autographed by Sidney. Over 13,000 people would fill the stands that night to watch Sidney and the Océanic play. RDS, the French-language sports network, broadcast the game on television. Between signings, Sidney answered questions from reporters who had traveled from Montreal. “He is our star, our Mick Jagger,” said Labonté. “This is just how it is and how it’s going to be” [ Most Valuable, p. 123].

Despite his rockstar status, Sidney was still Troy and Trina’s kid at home. Trina got on his case for leaving wet bath towels on his bed when he was in Cole Harbour and denied him permission to drive from Rimouski to Cole Harbour after the season ended [ 49 ]. “In our home he’s still a 17-year-old boy,” said Troy. “Maybe somewhere else he’s Sidney Crosby, the hockey player, but he’s part of the family at home. He has to share the TV with his sister, stuff like that. He’s a normal kid. When he leaves the house, it’s a bit different, but at home he’s just a normal teenager” [314] 

“I don’t think there’s any way that I would’ve been able to go through what I’ve gone through the last few years of my life without [my parents]. They’ve definitely been there to make sure that I’m going in the right direction and they’ve been there for everything. They’ve meant a lot and I couldn’t imagine going through what I have without their guidance.” - Sidney Crosby [365]

In February, Sidney scored his 50th goal in his 50th game [ Taking the Game… , p. 175]. Also in February, he was stonewalled for the first time in months. The Gatineau Olympiques tasked David Kerjci, a second-round Bruins draft pick, with shadowing Sidney during their game. “We thought he was the only player on our team who could get the job done,” said Gatineau coach Benoit Groulx. “When you play against Crosby, you can’t have a guy who isn’t smart enough. You need a guy that can match his talent” [308].

Kerjci did an admirable job; for the first time in 38 games, Sidney didn’t score a single point. “They did a good job in the first two periods. I never touched the puck,” said Sidney. “In the third period, a couple of chances were there, but I just didn’t bury them” [308].

If he was upset about it, he’d be able to dry his tears with dollar bills come March. On March 8, Sidney was flown on Reebok’s company plane to Toronto to announce the 5 year, $2.5 million deal he’d signed with the company. Sidney would be the first QMJHL player to sign such a contract with a sports goods manufacturer, adding to his deals with Sherwood and Frameworth, which already netted him $150,000 [ 85 , Taking the Game… , p. 181].

“This is a big deal, but it’s not going to change me as a person. Money is not going to change me. I’m going to be the same person.” - Sidney Crosby [ 15 ]

The news conference Reebok held was a “splashy” affair at the Air Canada Centre. The company had beaten out Nike, Bauer, and Mission in the competition for Sidney’s hand. As part of the deal, Sidney would exclusively wear Reebok skates and equipment on the ice (except for his Sherwood stick, which he wouldn’t change until his rookie year in the NHL), and Reebok footwear, apparel and training equipment off the ice. “I’ve been in this business for 15 years,” said Pat Brisson. “Based on my experience in working in hockey with other athletes, it’s probably the best deal I’ve seen so far in terms of apparel and equipment” [15, 98, 195]. 

It was the biggest endorsement in hockey at the time and had been years in the making. Reebok had first contacted the Crosbys when Sidney was 15, but it took the family until 2005—until after Sidney had talked to Patrice Bergeron, already a paid endorser of Reebok, at World Juniors—to accept. “I tried to pick [Bergeron’s] brain and learn a bit about the company,” said Sidney, and Bergeron’s praise finally tipped the scales [ 15 , 86 , 195].

At the press conference, it was obvious why Reebok was willing to make Sidney rich before he even played an NHL game [ 50 ]. “He betrayed little or no nervousness. He fielded questions in English and French. He was the epitome of wholesomeness, well-scrubbed, fresh-faced, self-effacing, painfully polite” [ Taking the Game… , p. 183]. His “prodigious hockey skills and squeaky-clean image” were a safe bet for the company [219].

“Wearing our equipment will be a statement in itself... He’s mature for his age, he thinks before he speaks, and he’s handling the media attention very well. He’s just really down to earth and unpretentious. You’d never know he’s a star.” - Len Rhodes, VP of global marketing at Reebok’s hockey subsidiary [219]

While Sidney stayed calm in front of a media scrum, Troy and Trina watched from the back of the room. Trina looked a little taken aback by it all; Troy “seemed matter of fact” and told reporters that the endorsement deal wouldn’t change Sidney’s life much at home. He would still have to mow the lawn, empty the dishwasher, and take out the garbage like any teen completing their chores. “We try to balance it out quite a bit,” Troy said. “When he’s home, he isn’t treated any differently. [He and Taylor] fight over the TV like every brother and sister do. They have to share the TV, and she’s got to watch her cartoons or her shows and he’s got his” [ 64 , Taking the Game…, p. 184].

Once back in Rimouski, Sidney shared his winnings, having wrangled Reebok sports bags, running shoes, hats, shorts, T-shirts and hoodies for his teammates. “He gave gifts to everyone who was on the bus,” said Michel Germain, the Océanic’s radio commentator. “That he shared his bonus with all the people he had been traveling with for two years impresses me greatly” [15, 321].

“I think the most important thing about Sidney Crosby is his personality and the kind of human being he is. What he exuded, the inner richness he had already developed.” - Michel Germain, Océanic radio commentator [ 321 ]

By the regular season’s end, the Océanic had amassed a 45-20-5 record, helping catapult the team to a first-place finish in the regular season with 98 points, averaging 4.76 goals a game (and also setting a league record with their 28-game undefeated streak) [33, 50]. Winning the Q once again earned them a first-round bye in the playoffs. “It’s been a good run, but we want to keep it going,” said Sidney. “It’s pretty exciting, but I don’t want to talk too soon, though. The playoffs are a whole new season. But you don’t ever get tired of winning. Once you start winning like that, you develop a positive attitude and it becomes contagious” [322, Taking the Game…, p. 191].

Sidney’s second season with the Océanic had been a historic one. He had netted 168 points (66 goals and 102 assists); the only player to score more points during a junior league season was Wayne Gretzky (182 points in 1977-78). He had scored or assisted on just over half of the Océanic’s 333 goals. His 168 points allowed him to capture his second consecutive Béliveau Trophy at the QMJHL Golden Puck Awards in Montreal on April 6, 2005. He was now the recipient of: the Michel Brière Trophy for league MVP, the Telus Offensive Player of the Year award, the Jean Beliveau Trophy for the league's leading scorer, the Michael Bossy Trophy for the top pro prospect, and the Paul Dumont Trophy for the personality of the year. He was also made a right wing on the QMJHL all-stars team. In his two seasons of major junior hockey, he’d won 11 awards. Sidney’s linemates, Dany Roussin and Marc-Antoine Pouliot, finished second and third in the scoring race [16, 33, 50, 66, 252, 275, 311].

“These awards are just a bonus. I just try to go out and do my thing every night. The best way to have a good future is to worry about the present... I’m ready no matter what happens. I want to play in the NHL as soon as possible. I’m confident.” - Sidney Crosby [311]

The Océanic’s winning streak continued in the quarter-finals with a sweep of the Lewiston Maineiacs and then into the first three games of the QMJHL semi-finals against the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. In those three games alone, Sidney notched 10 points. The Sagueneens roared back to life in game 4, stonewalling the Océanic in a 5-0 win. It was the first loss the Océanic had experienced in 35 games. For Sidney, including his World Juniors games, it was his first loss since December 6, “nearly five full months before.” Sidney had been keeping a post-it note on his car’s dashboard because the day he’d put it there had been the day the Océanic’s winning streak started. The Océanic put the Sagueneens to bed the next game and punched their ticket to the QMJHL President’s Cup Finals [50, 148, Taking the Game…, p.  191].

Meanwhile, Sidney got ushered through the back door of a local high school to take exams. He had to squeeze in time to write his papers and earn his diploma. “Believe me,” said Rodrigue Landry, who supervised Sidney’s schoolwork, “there is nothing to worry about. He does homework like he plays hockey.” Sidney also somehow found time to go to prom [ 44 , 341 , 1:25, 227 , 43:05].

One evening during playoffs, Sidney drove past the Colisée Financière Sun Life, the Océanic’s rink, and saw fans camped outside of it hoping to buy tickets for a game. The next morning, the crowd had grown. There was a commotion after a while: “A skinny, mop-haired kid [emerged] at the back of the line carrying a buffet of the holiest of Canadian delicacies: Tim Hortons doughnuts.” The kid was Sidney, a baseball cap tugged onto his curly hair, and he was flanked by teammates carrying jugs of juice and coffee. When fans tried to thank him, his response was “No, thank you for coming out to support our team” [ 44 , 80 ].

As playoffs progressed, Sidney began sporting a gnarly, patchy mustache. This would not escape the attention of the media or Sidney’s teammates. It was “only a fine dusting of peach fuzz,” as one article described it. Sidney’s teammates gave him the gears over it, but he was happy to laugh along. “They’re pretty happy I got this far,” he said. “It’s the fun part of playoffs when you see guys doing this. When you have [facial hair] it means you’ve been around for a while... and we’ve been around for a while if I have even this” [200]

Of course, after the postseason ended in August, he’d admit to Jay Leno on television that he had “touched up” his mustache with an eyebrow pencil [ Taking the Game… , p. 199].

Armed with his bad mustache, Sidney and the Océanic prepared to take on the Halifax Mooseheads for the President’s Cup. Though the Océanic was the biggest name in hockey thanks to Sidney, they’d lagged just behind the Mooseheads in the standings. In the regular season the two teams had split their four games against each other and tension still simmered over the Cabana hit on Sidney. Sidney’s elevated game after World Juniors had helped the Océanic edge out the Mooseheads to capture first in the league. Both the Océanic and the Mooseheads had lost only one playoff game in their path to the Finals [ Taking the Game…, p.  191-192].

Sidney was eager as ever to prove himself when the going got tough. “This is the best part of the season. There’s been a lot of things [going] on this season, but I’m definitely not tired of it,” he said. “I’m really happy and I think we’re all happy to be at this point. Now it’s up to us to do something with it” [200]. The Océanic would host the first two games. 

No one had higher expectations for Sidney than himself, and thanks to that the Mooseheads employed one of their favorite weapons against him: trash talk. Sidney’s normally stoic composure faltered in Game 1—he became “visibly shaken and aggravated” over penalty calls, and the Mooseheads’ Freddie Cabana, Rane Carnegie and Austen Corredato circled like vultures, sharp tongues at the ready [277].

Game 1 was a blowout win for the Océanic, 9-4. During the second period the Océanic led 8-0. Game 2 was much closer, 7-5, and it was the Mooseheads’ turn to get spitting mad. The Océanic had been awarded a whopping 16 power plays during the first two games, and had converted on seven of them. The Mooseheads, meanwhile, had one goal in eleven power plays. The Mooseheads accused the Océanic players of diving, and the refs of indulging the Océanic with power play after power play [277, Taking the Game… , p. 93].

Undaunted, Sidney took several laps around the Rimouski ice after Game 2. He fully intended for it to be his last game in Rimouski wearing the two-toned blue of L’Océanic. It wasn’t a victory lap; he stared out into the crowd, who cheered for their adopted Maritime son. He waved up at the stands, a final salute before he headed back to the rocky coast of Nova Scotia [ Taking the Game …, p. 192-193].

“It’s like he has an appreciation not just for his gift [for the game], but for the way he’s seen by people. Some people would say he has a great politician’s sense of the moment—a flair for the right gesture. We thanked him and he thanked us. He knew that this was his last game in Rimouski, and we knew too. He was respected here—he was a star, but it was never claustrophobic for him. I don’t know if it will ever be that way for him again.” - Suzanne Tremblay, season-ticket holder and former Bloc Québécois MP [ Taking the Game…, p.  192-193]

Back in Halifax, locals flooded the stands to watch their Mooseheads crush the Océanic. They had lined up outside the Metro Centre for tickets and, when that failed, bought tickets from scalpers on Sackville Street. All 10,595 tickets for the 3rd and 4th games in Halifax were sold out [200, Taking the Game…, p. 190-191]. When Sidney skated onto the ice, he wasn’t the prodigal son returning home; he was the dreaded rival. Boos rained down. One fan had brought a 20-foot-tall inflatable baby pacifier to wave around. Halifax hadn’t forgotten or forgiven the Cabana incident [ Most Valuable, p. 127]. 

“I didn’t expect that many boos, but that’s the playoffs. I don’t have anything to say as far as that is concerned. People are getting emotional, and they happened to throw some boos. When I touched the puck, I didn’t expect it to get that bad, but that’s the way it is.” - Sidney Crosby [281]

Sidney, however, had still called around when he’d gotten to Halifax. He often stayed with his parents when he played in his hometown, and had made a habit of calling his old friends to catch up. “He calls every time he’s in town and checks in—wants to know how the Subways are doing, what’s going on in the local leagues,” said Brad Crossley, Sidney’s old Dartmouth Subways coach. “But it’s not just me. I know that there are dozens of people, coaches, players, friends from school that he catches up with. You could never accuse him of forgetting where he came from. It’s clearly real important to him” [ Taking the Game…, p. 193-194].

“You’re young. You don’t know just how special it is at the time. I think Sidney did more than most of us, just because he’s so aware of things. There was so much that he had already done... and he’d have a chance to do a lot more. You knew that. But he understood that it was a special time... This team was only going to get one shot at it and we’d never play together again. We had so much fun. We had to make the most of it. And he led the way. We knew that it meant something special for him being able to play those games in Halifax.” - Mario Scalzo Jr., Rimouski Océanic player [ Most Valuable, p. 128-129]

When the Océanic came to town for the President’s Cup Finals, Sidney didn’t return home to his childhood bedroom. Instead he stayed with his teammates in a hotel [200].

“This time around there was no going home. It’s nice to be with your family and see them after the game, but you spend time with your teammates. Those are the guys you’re battling with on the ice every night.” - Sidney Crosby [200]

He faced massive attention at the Halifax rink, and in the face of it all, he seemed weary, “like he was suffering through the early onset of celebrity fatigue” [ Taking the Game… , p.  200]. When asked about playing potentially his last major junior games in his hometown, he was unusually brusque. “I’m playing a road game, that’s what’s going through my mind,” he said. “I’m playing in the playoffs. I don’t have time to think about anything else” [200].

The Océanic were just as businesslike with their dismantling of the Mooseheads. Before they even took the ice, an NHL scout appreciatively said “I can’t see Rimouski losing. Crosby is on a mission. He’ll do whatever it takes” [ Taking the Game… , p.  193].

In Game 3, Sidney scored 2 goals and 1 assist in the Océanic’s 5-4 win over the Mooseheads. The Mooseheads’ rage at Sidney’s skill mounted, and their tactics shifted. Instead of trying to provoke Sidney verbally, they tried to shut him down physically. “He’s so strong on the puck that some people will think he’s diving anytime he goes down. It’s just a game of keep-away that he plays,” commented an attending NHL scout. “The one downside is that he’ll take a lot more punishment playing his game than Gretzky or Mario ever did—and if you say he’s like Peter Forsberg skill-wise and game-wise, you know [injuries are] part of the bargain” [200, Taking the Game… , p.  201].

Halifax defenseman Franklin MacDonald took initiative, but when he slashed Sidney in the arm, it was so aggressive and powerful that Sidney tumbled to the ice in pain. The crowd hushed. As much as they reveled in rooting against their homegrown superstar, they held their breath until Sidney pushed himself back up onto his skates [ Taking the Game… , p.  202].

“It’s the mistake that people make about Sidney. They think that he’s small. He’s not. He was shorter but now he’s around five-foot-eleven, big enough. But when you see him during the summer, walking around in shorts, his legs are huge... People who don’t know about him would wonder if he’d be able to stand up to the punishment. But he’ll be dealing out punishment, not taking it. If he were any taller, he’d be the most [physically] dangerous player in hockey.” - Rick Bowness, Arizona Coyotes coach [Taking the Game…, p. 202-203]

In Game 4 the Océanic eked out a 4-3 win and the President’s Cup was theirs. Sidney, mindful as ever, skated away from the celebration so he could give an interview to TSN. The whole time, he “looked longingly” at his celebrating teammates, who accidentally broke the trophy into two pieces as they passed it around [ The Story of…, p. 2, Taking the Game… , p.  203].

When it was finally Sidney’s turn to lift the Cup, the crowd cheered. They got even louder when he was named the playoff MVP with an astounding 31 points in 13 games—11 more points than the 2nd place finisher—adding the Trophée Guy Lafleur to the hardware he’d gotten at the QMJHL Awards a month before. The competition was over. Sidney was forgiven for leaving home. He was the Maritimes’ son once more. The obnoxious inflatable pacifier had disappeared from the crowd [281, Taking the Game… , p. 203-204].

It was the last time Sidney would play in Halifax. He had left at 14 to escape the toxicity of a jealous, small hockey community. He would leave at 17 as the local rags-to-riches story, having won the President’s Cup just like his father had twenty years prior. “The hockey gods must have had something to do with it,” said Brad Crossley. “Rimouski played here during the season, but really Halifax had to get one last look at Sidney before he went off to bigger things. But I’m pretty sure that it’s our last look at him as a player, not his last look at this city. He’ll always come back” [ 249 , 7:23, Taking the Game …, p. 204].

The Océanic loaded up for the 8-hour drive back to Rimouski, but management allowed Sidney to stay with his family in Cole Harbour for a few days. The players’ reward was this: a trophy, bragging rights, and three days off. There were only 10 days until the Memorial Cup, where the Océanic would represent the QMJHL [ Most Valuable, p. 128, Taking the Game …, p. 204].

The Memorial Cup was the national championship of the Canadian Hockey League and featured the champions from the WHL, QMJHL, and OHL (in 2005 respectively: the Kelowna Rockets, the Rimouski Océanic, the Ottawa 67’s, and the hosting London Knights [also from the OHL]) [ 102 ]. The tournament was not normally a media frenzy. Typically a dozen or so reporters would show up. The 2005 Memorial Cup in London, Ontario was something else. “[With] no Stanley Cup playoffs, no NHL awards, no entry draft, over 300 requests for media credentials flooded in... twice as many as the turnout for the average Stanley Cup final” [ Most Valuable, p. 129]. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, legendary coach Scotty Bowman, and Wayne Gretzky all came to watch. The hosting 9,100-seat John Labatt Centre had been sold out since December 10, 2004. The arena had put a tent with 1,200 additional seats outside [169, 206].

Everyone wanted to see hockey, and everyone wanted to see Sidney. “ You’ve got the most celebrated player in junior potentially going to the championship, that’s a wonderful thing in terms of audience and in terms of viewer awareness,” said Dave Akande, Sportsnet’s vice-president of programming [206]. Sidney was demure, saying “I don’t think they’re coming to see me. Junior hockey in Canada is huge. The Memorial Cup is a big deal so to see those people, it’s surprising in a way, but at the same time, everyone loves hockey” [169].

His modesty was cute but unwarranted. Hundreds of media professionals wanted a piece of his attention and he tried to accommodate nearly every request. “Every time you see him, he’s got a smile on his face,” said Brian Kilrea, the coach of the competing Ottawa 67’s. “I know sometimes it must wear him down. For him to be that amiable, he’s got to be some special sort of kid. When you have that makeup and mentality, games and pressure aren’t going to bother you” [305].

Océanic coach Doris Labonté proudly proclaimed that Sidney was “born for it.” It wasn’t just Sidney’s physical skills that made him special—his mental gifts elevated him to the next level. “He knows the surroundings of hockey,” said Labonté. “He has known it forever. But he’s not cocky, and he’s not shy. He’s just right, and he wants to be right for all the people” [ Taking the Game… , p. 209].

Still, the media’s natural state was one of skepticism. On a nationally syndicated sports talk radio show, several hosts agreed that Sidney wasn’t the next coming of Gretzky. A Toronto Star writer said he “didn’t see [Sidney’s] supposed generational talent” [ Most Valuable, p. 131]. The head scout for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Greg Malone, disagreed. “[Sidney] was at another level by himself” in comparison to other players at the tournament according to Malone [ 246 ].

The Memorial Cup hadn’t yet begun and already people were scrambling to know what Sidney would do after his major junior career. Sidney and Pat Brisson were both vague to the media, raising suspicions that Sidney was delaying a decision. He insisted that wasn’t the case. “It’s not like I’m putting anything off, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “I’m having a great time and I want to be playing and obviously I’m going to be faced with a decision after the season and a lot of people know that. But my focus [is] in the Memorial Cup, not anything else” [197].

Some were hopeful that Sidney would stay in the Q—he was age-eligible until he was 20. Ottawa 67’s coach Brian Kilrea was among them. “He’s given us all a different level of exposure. It’s the same level of exposure Wayne Gretzky brought to every rink, every town” Kilrea gushed. “What he’s done for junior hockey is remarkable, and I hope we keep him” [305]. 

Sidney’s own coach wasn’t so hopeful. “I’m sure [he’s moving on],” Labonté told reporters, matter-of-fact. “He has proven everything he has to prove in junior. The Memorial Cup would be the top, but it’s a team trophy, not an individual achievement. All the individual trophies—he’s got them. So it’s time for him to go to a higher level... for his own good” [ Taking the Game… , p. 209]. Pat Brisson alluded to as much, saying he was having discussions with various teams and leagues. “I don’t even talk to Sidney much about [it] because he doesn’t want to hear about it at this point, neither does his family,” said Brisson. It would all come down to if the NHL found a resolution to the lockout fast enough. Most European camps would begin in August, so if the NHL was still stagnant by early July, Sidney would likely be leaving the continent [197].

For now, while he was still on Canadian soil, Sidney said he was ready to play for the Memorial Cup. He wasn’t intimidated by the stakes or the media. All he wanted was to win. “I’m not going to change anything in the way I’m going to approach it,” he said. “I’ve kind of gone through some other things before that have prepared me for this. Maybe it is on another level, but I’ll take care of it when I need to” [197].

Labonté, meanwhile, was orchestrating ways to get Sidney away from the oppressive media attention. On May 20, the day before the first game of the tournament’s round robin (in which the Océanic would face the London Knights), Labonté spirited the team away to practice in Aylmer, Ontario, a 40-minute drive from the hosting city of London. The Océanic were blowing off their scheduled practice later in the day, much like they had skipped a Tom Conchrane concert attended by the other teams the night before [309].

Labonté explained himself in plain terms. “It was a decision made for the good of the team, not to challenge anyone or make people talk badly about Rimouski or bring attention to ourselves,” he told frustrated reporters. “We have enough. It seems some people are upset, so it’s my fault.” All he had wanted was for Sidney to get a moment away from the media. Sidney, according to Labonté, was “too polite and kind for his own good” [309].

“The basic thing is, first, to respect all the engagements and duties we have to do as an organization. But, otherwise... it’s everywhere. Last night, at the restaurant, we have to sit him in a special spot because so many people are coming up to him and grabbing napkins and asking him to sign them. There is someone in the team, not a policeman, but who is always near him to keep him moving because there are people who are really respectful but there are others who are not. He would sign for everybody because he feels that he has to be a Beliveau to the people. He feels that. He understands it incredibly for that age... [still] it’s too much for a 17-year-old.” - Doris Labonté, Rimouski Océanic GM and coach [309]

Sidney claimed he could handle the attention. “I understand it’s part of being a hockey player, and I do what I have to do,” he said, even as the media called him “babyfaced” [309]. Sidney was doggedly focused on the first game of the Memorial Cup and said he wasn’t even thinking about the President’s Cup anymore. “We accomplished something, but we still have an opportunity to accomplish something else here. I think it might sink in more after everything is over” [281].

“Just my best. That’s what I want to do. I want to go there and play my best and leave it on the ice. I don’t want to have any regrets, and I think that’s the same with all the guys on our team.” - Sidney Crosby [281]

The Q was considered the weakest out of all the CHL leagues, and hockey fans were eager to see Sidney prove himself against the competition from Ontario and Western Canada. “I’m thinking about going against good teams. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. They’re good hockey teams,” said Sidney. “For sure, they’re physical. For sure, they’re skilled, but I believe we are, too. It doesn’t matter where they’re from, they’re going to be good in all areas of the game and that’s what we have to go in and prepare for” [281].

The tournament’s opener was a showdown between goliaths. The Océanic had scored 333 goals that season ( “We’re an offensive team. We like to run and gun, that’s more of our style,” said Sidney) and had lost only once in their last 41 games [359]. The London Knights had a similarly impressive record: 59-7-0 in the season and 16-2 in the playoffs [ Most Valuable, p. 130]. The game was billed as Sidney vs. the Knights, though Sidney was quick to deny it. “I don’t come here looking for that,” he said. “If that’s the way it’s billed, it’s not going to change the way I play. I’m here to play hockey. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity” [309].

Though Sidney was the biggest name at the event, he was still only 17 years old—now the second-youngest player on the Océanic with 17-year-old rookie defenceman Graham Bona on the team. Of the entire Océanic roster, only defenceman Mario Scalzo Jr. had any Memorial Cup experience. Labonté had traded for Scalzo earlier in the season, and Scalzo and the Victoriaville Tigers had lost the 2002 Memorial Cup Final to the Kootenay Ice [359].

The Océanic’s strategy hinged entirely on Sidney, but it would require a careful balance of enabling him to use his skills and allowing him to be used as bait. Sidney drew infractions wherever he stood on the ice. Elbows, sticks, skates, he got hit with them all. Sometimes the refs would call it and the Océanic’s deadly powerplay would take the ice. Other times the refs overlooked it and Neilson and his ilk would mete out justice in a more violent fashion [199].

Sidney had focused on improving his leg strength during the summer of 2004, so he was “sure-footed and agile, which [allowed] him to break through checks and get away from a player shadowing him,” but he wasn’t always able to escape or fight through the abuse. “You have to be ready to adapt to whatever it is,” he said. “If someone is shadowing you, you have to be ready to use your linemates and if they start taking away your linemates, you have to be able to beat guys one on one and battle through it. You have to find ways to create chances no matter how they defend you” [199].

For all his talk of adaptability, Sidney had a “particular weakness” that only lasted a few seconds but was enough to be exploited. In the seconds after he released a puck, he was vulnerable, and opponents would crash into him or slash at him. If the Océanic was lucky, officials would call a penalty. In this way Sidney could act as bait: “If players are abusing Sidney or are on Sidney, me and Dany [Roussin] have to take advantage of it and try to score goals. That’s why we’re on the first line,” said Marc-Antoine Pouliot. If Sidney was taking too much of a beating, then Neilson would take Roussin’s or Pouliot’s spot and do some damage [199].

The Océanic had to be careful playing this game, however, because an obvious dive by Sidney or an egregious infraction by Neilson would lead to trouble. “It’s always the same story, so he has to take care of himself,” said Labonté. “During the season, we play more aggressive around him, we put maybe a bodyguard, but here at the end of the season, it’s not time to retaliate and get bad penalties that could cost the game...” [199].

“In... the Q league, it’s the same thing. Every guy is on Sidney or they try to hit him hard or high-stick him. He’s a key player for our team. We have to live with that. We have to protect him more, maybe, in this tournament.” - Patrick Coulombe, Rimouski Océanic player [199]

On the evening of May 21, the Knights were “thoroughly unprepared for the pace that [Sidney] brought to the game” [ Taking the Game… , p. 210]. Sidney had been ready for what the Knights threw at him. It was the same thing he’d faced since childhood. “I’m sure they’re going to try and shut me down,” he’d said before the game. “I’m a person on my team who is looked at to make sure things happen offensively. I’m not the only one there to produce offensively. We have other guys. But obviously they’re going to pay attention to our line. It’s up to us to accept that challenge and try and do what we can” [197].

London winger Brandon Prust had been assigned to Sidney. “The plan was clear: wear him down by finishing every check; wrap him up at the end of every play; pin him or knock him down; turn this from short-track speed skating into a wrestling match” [ Taking the Game… , p. 212].

“He’s unbelievable. He can do everything out there. If we can control him, get under his skin early I think we’ll be OK.” - Corey Perry, London Knights player and former World Juniors teammate [197]

At the end of the second period, Sidney was rammed into the boards behind the London net. A Knight’s glove grabbed his helmet and wiped him against the glass. When he was finally able to skate away, he “looked exasperated and disgusted.” The refs didn’t make a call. It was going to be that kind of night [ Taking the Game… , p. 212].

“It was brutal reffing from the first period on,” said one OHL coach in attendance [ Taking the Game… , p. 212]. Undaunted, Sidney fought back. “His second and third attempts are almost more than his first effort,” said London Knight Danny Syvret, who had played with Sidney on the World Juniors team. “He never quits on the puck. He’s very relentless” [197]. 

Despite his efforts, as the game stayed neck-and-neck and then tumbled into overtime, Sidney seemed to falter. The game wore on and he had fewer chances, looked slower on his skates. “He would show a flash of skill here and there but he left a lot of his game in the first two periods” [ Taking the Game… , p. 213].

Sure enough, the London Knights took advantage, scoring the overtime winner and claiming the first victory of the Memorial Cup, 4-3. Sidney seemed uncharacteristically impassive after the loss on the ice and in interviews. It was only after the cameras had turned off, after he’d turned his back on the reporters, that signs of distress surfaced. As Sidney walked away with some of his teammates, something flashed across his face. “[It] wasn’t just anguish. It looked like physical pain” [ Taking the Game… , p. 214].

Sidney was in the pressure cooker of the hockey world now. The first four games of the 2005 Memorial Cup had the largest audiences of all seven years that Rogers Sportsnet had been broadcasting the games. They expected 2004’s ratings of 1.2 million to look paltry in comparison to this year’s. Beyond inherent interest in the Memorial Cup due to the NHL lockout, this was also Sidney’s first showing back on the national stage since winning gold at World Juniors. The country was watching [169]. 

The next day, the Océanic didn’t have a game, but that wasn’t about to keep Sidney away from the rink. Sidney sat with his parents to watch the day’s match between Kelowna and Ottawa. The opportunity to watch hockey together was a rare thing, and not only because Sidney was usually on the ice. Sidney was typically buried under a “mountain of attention,” as Troy phrased it. “It’s fun and sometimes it’s overwhelming,” said Troy. “We wouldn’t change anything. It’s definitely not the life of a normal 15-, 16-, or 17-year- old. There are things he can’t do anymore. It’s hard for us to go to a movie or to McDonald’s or even a hockey game. There’s usually a big crowd of people wanting autographs” [255].

Sure enough, Sidney was spotted in the stands. Yannick Dumais had to coordinate with arena security to form a line for people to approach Sidney during the intermissions. Even when Sidney and his family headed for the exit, Sidney signed autographs as they waited for the elevator [255].

The next day, Labonté was vindicated in his decision to flee London for the teams’ first practice three days prior. When the Océanic left the restaurant they’d eaten at for breakfast, fans lingered next to the team’s bus. At the Océanic’s practice, a group of children and adults gathered with sticks, programs, and ball caps in hand. When Sidney saw them, he asked the Océanic’s staff if he had the time to sign. “I think it’s too big for a 17-year-old kid, but people, they need idols,” said Labonté [255].

Sidney was inundated. “It’s been good,” he insisted. “I’ve had people around me that have helped me handle it. I’ve been able to find time for it, which is good. There has been a lot of people. I’ll do my best to make time for that.” As generous as he was with his time, the fans weren’t always respectful. Ten cars had followed the Océanic’s bus to a restaurant after the Océanic’s loss to the Knights on the 21st. Sidney hadn’t been out and about in London during his free time at all. “I make sure when I’m away from the rink, I try to relax and hang out at the hotel and stuff,” he said with a shrug [255].

On May 24, the Océanic faced the Ottawa 67’s in the round robin. The Canadian Hockey League’s awards banquet took place only hours before the Océanic’s game, and the team and league negotiated over Sidney’s attendance. He’d been nominated for a slew of awards, chief among them the Player of the Year award. Given the fallout from the Top Prospects Game, he couldn’t afford to skip out on his media obligations, dedication to his team notwithstanding [ Taking the Game… , p. 216].

The team and the league negotiated until they found a solution; Sidney would sit at the head table of the banquet for half an hour before escaping back to his hotel. Sidney first won the Canada Post Cup (for most stars-of-the-game points) and then the CGC Sheetrock Top Scorer award (for his 66 goals and 168 points in 62 regular season games) [253]. When he was announced as the winner of the Player of the Year award (and Top Scorer of the Year), he had already left the premises. He accepted the reward via a prerecorded videotape, “just like a rockstar.” At first he thanked his teammates and coaches in French, and then switched over to English for his parents: “This award means a lot to me, but it’s also for you” [46]. He was the only player to ever win Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons and admitted there had been “a little bit of pressure” for him to repeat with the award [148, 275].

“I just want to be known as a player who was honest every night, who showed up every night and never took anything for granted and played for the love of the game. I have a passion for the game and I try to show that every night I play.” - Sidney Crosby [275]

The CHL at least admitted their scheduling gaffe: “We think on a game day we put the Océanic and Sidney in maybe a situation that isn’t totally fair to the tournament and the goals and aspirations of the Océanic and of course Sidney himself,” said CHL commissioner David Branch. “Sidney was gracious as always and said, ‘Maybe I should stay for the whole thing’ and we don’t think that’s right” [275].

That night, the Océanic earned their first victory in the Memorial Cup. It wasn’t an easy win. Ottawa 67’s coach Brian Kilrea had a realistic outlook on his team’s ability to hamper Sidney. “He’s a 17-year-old kid who’s already played in two World Juniors, so he can take a hit,” said Kilrea. “You’re not going to do to him what the whole league couldn’t do to him all season, what [London] couldn’t do to him the other night. If we could figure out a way to stop him in 24 hours, I wouldn’t be coaching junior” [305].

Lacking other options, the 67’s took a physical approach to containing Sidney. It started with a few flying elbows, then a slash, then someone grabbed Sidney’s stick and held on. In the third period, Elgin Reid and Brad Staubitz crushed Sidney between the two of them. The 67’s drew blood when Will Colbert high-sticked Sidney in the mouth—Sidney’s head snapped back and he collapsed before getting his skates back underneath him. The refs took no notice. Sidney was unfazed. He had some of his best shifts in the third period and “had his way” with the 67’s. The Océanic won 4-3, with a goal and an assist from Sidney on the scoreboard [275, 305, 307].

Some thought the Océanic had been too permissive during the game. Sidney had been hammered from start to finish, and the Océanic hadn’t indulged in any nasty hits themselves [307]. Sidney accepted the beating without much protest. “That’s the way teams play against me,” he said. His lower lip was swollen and still bleeding. “I expect that in playoffs and Ottawa is a physical team” [307].

Labonté refused to let the Océanic retaliate. He was convinced the refs would call any hits the Océanic players made. Sidney just had to take it. “All that pressure has been on [Sidney] since the first day we got here, ” said Labonté. “The media. The people who want to talk to him. The banquets. He’s only 17. And it’s all on him. He’s doing well. It’s not the best we’ve seen, but under the circumstances, he’s doing well” [307].

In the final game of the round robin, the Kelowna Rockets started the game flat-footed. Though they’d won the Memorial Cup the previous year, they had lost their first two games of the 2005 tournament. The Océanic had a strong start and the Rockets immediately got violent when their offense couldn’t generate anything worthwhile. Sidney was crosschecked hard enough by Rockets centerman Tyler Mosienko that it earned Mosienko a four-minute high-sticking penalty [323].

Sidney was not so docile this game. He was “testy at times on ice,” and slammed his stick into the glass after a ref overlooked a Kelowna stick that hit his face. The boos rained down from the crowd [ Taking the Game… , p. 218]. In the stands sat Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lower, and Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson. Before the game, Stanley Cup-winning Océanic alumnus Brad Richards had made a visit to the Océanic’s dressing room. Everyone wanted to see how Sidney would perform and how he would handle the pressure [323]. Already he’d been able to “showcase his timing, instincts, and no-look passes despite smothering defences and occasional maulings.” In every game he’d shown his ability to weave around lumbering defensemen with the puck still on his stick [169]. 

“I’m trying to create things out there. There’s not as much space as you might think there is. There’s some tight checking out there and I’m just trying to battle through it. I’ve had a few opportunities and I would have liked to put them in, but I’m happy with the way things are going.” - Sidney Crosby [169]

The second and third periods were a storm that the Océanic just barely weathered. The Océanic was outshot 41-18 in the final 40 minutes of the game and nearly lost the lead. “I think some of our guys just ran out of juice,” said Mario Scalzo Jr. “We forgot to keep it simple and bang the puck out of our end.” By the grace of their goalie, the Océanic won the game 4-3 and earned their way into the semifinal [323]. 

In the media scrum after the game, Sidney was alert. He didn’t seem distracted by the Océanic’s victory, nor did he seem worn down from the on-ice abuse he’d taken over the course of the past five days. The media wanted answers from Sidney about the NHL, and Sidney rebuffed them at every turn. “This is too big of a tournament and too many guys dreamed of this tournament their whole life to be preoccupied with other things right now,” he said. “It wouldn’t be right to lose your focus on things you can’t control, so I’ve got to put my energy towards the things I can control. You put in a lot of time and effort to get to this point, so you should be focused and not waste it” [169].

The London Knights had earned their way into the final with a flawless tournament performance. The Océanic would have to battle through the 67’s in the semifinal first. Sidney and his team were ready for a grueling matchup. “They’re going to come and play physical and they should,” said Sidney. “When they do that, it’s never easy to get to the net. But I have to keep my feet moving, just keep trying to do the things I normally do, and try to find space. I expect [the hitting], but my job is to fight through it. I’d be lying if I said it was not frustrating at times, but the best way to get back is to score goals. If they get me off my game, they’ve succeeded. My job is to go out and make things happen.” [201, 312].

The Océanic, despite their offensive firepower, were a defensively-weak team. Though they’d scored a league-topping 333 goals in the regular season, they’d also given up a franchise-record 239 goals against. Their defense had broken down in their round robin games against Ottawa and Kelowna—both 4-3 wins that were nearly lost thanks to 3rd period meltdowns—and the Océanic couldn’t survive such a catastrophe in every game [201].

Luckily for them, the Océanic offense took the reins of the game, winning 7-4 and sending the Océanic to the Memorial Cup Final [ 102 ]. 

On May 29, the hosting London Knights met the Rimouski Océanic on the ice. The Océanic started the game off on a bad foot; Neilson was penalized for a bone-headed cross-check and the Knights scored on the resulting power play. It was downhill from there for the Océanic. Their defensive woes were exposed and exploited by the London powerhouse, and Sidney alone couldn’t patch up his team’s shortcomings. “He’s playing alone out there,” said an NHL scout [325].

“The first time I saw him [was in] the Memorial Cup. I was watching this kid, almost single-handedly against a really good London team, just going to battle. This kid’s good, but he was battling against Corey Perry and all these [big] names on the London Knights. It was like him against all of them. It was just incredible to see.” - Colby Armstrong [168, 9:49]

As the rest of his team lost their composure, so did Sidney. In the second period he began yapping at the refs in frustration [325]. He attempted to provoke London player Marc Methot into drawing a penalty, and when that failed, he hit the pads of Knights goaltender Adam Dennis when the play was whistled dead. That at least set off a small “melee” between the teams [ Taking the Game… , p. 221].

The Océanic was truly no match for the Knights. While the Océanic was armed with Sidney, the Knights had firepower spread throughout their lines, with the defense to match. They seemed to know exactly how to limit Sidney’s space on the ice, and their fast offense overwhelmed the Océanic’s weak defense. The Knights shut the Océanic out in a perfect performance, 4-0, milking the Océanic’s bad temper for all it was worth. “We were trying to beat them, but we were on mission impossible,” said Labonté. “They had the home building, they don’t make mistakes. Their machine was almost perfect. They do everything well” [325].

After the game, Sidney tried his best to maintain his composure while speaking with the media. “[The Knights are] everything that everyone said they were,” he said [ Most Valuable, p. 134]. He was visibly crushed. Even so, he was named to the tournament’s all-star team and won the Ed Chynoweth Trophy as the competition’s leading scorer with 11 points (6 goals and 5 assists) over 5 games. His old World Juniors linemate and London rival Corey Perry won the Stafford Smythe Memorial trophy for MVP [ 33 , 325]. Sidney had put the Océanic on his shoulders and taken them within one win of the Memorial Cup. Some considered it “one of the most remarkable accomplishments of [his] career” [ 89 ].

“I’m tired,” was all Sidney had to say. “Tired and disappointed” [325].

“We lost the national championship... at least our best shot at it... when he didn’t convert the five-on-three in that opening game. We had done it so many times that season. It wasn’t that the situation was bigger than us or anything like that. A bounce. Some bad ice. A pass that’s just off. Any of that can happen to anyone and it happened with Sid. We were a good team, but not a really great team and we had one of the greatest players ever. As great as Sid is, something so small, like a bouncing puck... that can change everything. Yeah, I’ve thought about that so much over the years—I just had no idea I’d get to play with someone like Sid, not one in a thousand does... and it came up short. But when Sid has won something ever since, it makes a bit of the pain from the Memorial Cup go away.” - Mario Scalzo Jr., Rimouski Océanic player [ Most Valuable, p. 137]

Sidney’s time in major junior hockey had come to an end. The very moment he emerged from the dressing room, reporters wanted to know if he was going to the AHL or Europe or the ill-fated WHA. Sidney had no answers. He hadn’t wanted any distractions during his pursuit of the Memorial Cup. With that dream ground to dust beneath London’s heel, he was adrift [ Taking the Game… , p. 223]. 

Rimouski had been good to Sidney. His talent, his kindness, and his roughshod French had endeared him to the city. “The team is like a family to the town of Rimouski,” said Océanic fan Pierre Blier, “and this is like that time when one of your sons moves away from home—when he goes off to college or to the city for a job... It was an amazing time but it’s junior hockey. It’s not supposed to last forever” [ Taking the Game… , p. 222].

“I really did love my time there. Honestly, I wouldn’t have changed it for anything. Yeah, it was far away from home and I had to learn a new language. But the people there were always so good to me. I wouldn’t have traded those years for anything.” - Sidney Crosby [ 230 ]


Chapter Text

Sidney had earned his ticket out of the QMJHL. Even without the Memorial Cup, he’d accomplished more than most players ever would. He had scoring titles, shelves full of awards, and the President’s Cup. “He’s outgrown the league and I don’t mean any disrespect to the Canadian Hockey League,” said Pierre McGuire of TSN. “Sidney Crosby is that good” [ The Story of… , p. 22].

The path forward was unclear. 

“Sidney is ready to move on to the next level,” said Pat Brisson. “We just don’t know where that might be right now” [ Taking the Game… , p. 177]. The NHL and NHLPA seemed to be in deadlock again, and time was running out for Sidney’s supposed draft to take place. Every time he was asked about the draft he emphasized that it was out of his control, though there was “no hiding [the] fact” that he wanted to go first overall [306].

“It’s not something new, having to make big decisions after a season. It’s always been like that for me whether it was midget to junior. Obviously it’s on a bigger scale now, but really those decisions when I was younger were for the rest of my life, life-changing decisions. This one, in a way, might be a little better because anywhere you can go up is a good thing.” - Sidney Crosby [209]

Gilles Courteau, the QMJHL commissioner, had designs to keep Sidney in the Q. Courteau informed the press that all major junior players signed standard, binding contracts through the age of 19. According to Courteau, with the NHL non-operational, Sidney was obligated to return to Rimouski for at least another year of hockey with the Océanic [209, Taking the Game… , p. 177].

Sidney said he was unaware of such a contract. Pat Brisson acknowledged the contract existed, but said that in the present CBA-less, Wild West hockey environment, the contract could be challenged. “I think the way Gilles is handling the situation, he’s approaching it on a contractual standpoint based on what it had done in the past,” Brisson argued. “You can’t stop an 18-year-old from earning a living. It’s illogical to think that he would go back to Rimouski at this point. As a 17-year-old, he’s leading the league by 45 points. He’s ready for the next step” [206].

Europe was looking like a likely candidate—Brisson was conducting preliminary negotiations with teams in Sweden and Switzerland, and also talked with teams in Russia. Even if the NHL resumed operations, it was becoming clear that playing in Europe could be more lucrative for Sidney [ 17 ]. The NHL was targeting rookie contracts in their negotiations, looking to scale back expenses. In media coverage of the lockout, Sidney was “already cited as the individual who likely stood to be hurt more than any other by the coming collective agreement” [ Taking the Game… , p. 140-141].

Europe would give him better competition than the Q and would pay him more handsomely than even the NHL. It seemed like a clear-cut decision, but that didn’t earn Sidney any sympathy from the media. He was called a “mercenary,” as if he was wielding the superstar power foisted upon him by a hockey-hungry country to hike his asking price. His fellow hockey players were more sympathetic. “It’s not that he thinks he’s too good,” said Ryan O’Marra of the OHL’s Erie Otters. “At this point, he’s proven he’s too good. He’s just in a different class from the rest of us. They’re saying that if he went to Europe he’d be setting a precedent for other juniors to go over there. I know it’s not something that would work for me” [ Taking the Game… , p. 188]

Public speculation became increasingly unhinged. Some theorized that if the lockout kept NHL players from competing in the 2006 Turin Olympics, Canada might send Sidney [183]. Others said that NHL executives would resort to underhanded tricks to better their chances of landing Sidney, like delaying the 2005 draft to rig their chances in a theoretical 2006 draft [159]. 

It had long been suspected that Sidney would be courted by an AHL team. When asked during the President’s Cup Finals if he’d been approached by the Toronto Marlies—the Maple Leafs’ farm team—Sidney “curtly” said, “No, no, no” [200]. 

“He’s a coach’s dream. I’m sure the NHL is going to have some problems sorting out this entry draft to see who gets him because that’s the kind of guy you build your team around for the next 15 years.” - Peter DeBoer, Canadian National Junior Team assistant coach [318]

Sidney flew out to Los Angeles to work out with Mario Lemieux again—arranged once more by Pat Brisson, who wanted to keep Sidney sharp before the draft—and in a stroke of irony, Sidney was seated next to Pittsburgh Penguins TV reporter Dan Potash on the flight. Potash hadn’t recognized Sidney at first, but he clocked Sidney’s enormous hockey gear bag under the seat and made polite conversation until Sidney divulged who he was. “He was just a regular guy,” said Potash. “And we talked about all kinds of stuff, from where he grew up to where I grew up and about Pittsburgh. We finally land and I say, ‘Hey, man, I wish you the best of luck. I’m sure whatever the NHL has in store for you, I’ll see you at some point down the line’” [ 166 ].

California offered Sidney more than just workout opportunities this time around. Sidney talked at length with a movie producer named Jerry Bruckheimer, a friend of Brisson’s [314]. Though nothing would come of it, Sidney’s fame had made life surreal for the entire Crosby family. “It’s difficult because you get people coming to your house, strangers, knocking on the door,” said Troy Crosby. “Sometimes it’s unnerving... you get phone calls from strangers. We have a daughter, she’s nine years old, so you have to watch out. 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” [7].

Sidney was used to it. “I have been through a lot of it, especially in the last couple of years,” he said, “and I’ll never say anything surprises me. It has gone pretty well, having experienced all of it” [314].

In June, the NHL and NHLPA began meeting again, determined to find a resolution [ 103 ]. The NHL wasn’t willing to let Sidney slip through their fingers—he was to be “the poster boy to relaunch the future of the league following the disastrous lockout” [314]. With the resumed bargaining talks came a grain of hope, and the NHL began to shake off the rust, starting with the draft combine.

On June 4, 2005, Sidney limped through the tests at the NHL Central Scouting Service’s draft combine. The combine, three days of physical tests and personal interviews conducted by NHL teams, had drawn its largest media crowd ever thanks to the lockout [ 104 , 108 , 3:48]. The draft had been placed on hold until the NHL and NHLPA came to a new collective bargaining agreement. The combine went on in a Toronto airport’s hotel [ 18 ].

Sidney’s arrival had caused a scene on the conference room floor. Though scouts and general managers usually tried to maintain some facade of indifference around the players, everyone wanted a look when Sidney walked in [ Taking the Game… , p. 226].

Sidney was worn out; he had been in the hospital at 3 a.m. just two days earlier because of a chest cold. Through the Océanic’s long season, the World Juniors tournament, the QMJHL’s playoffs, and the Memorial Cup, his body had taken a beating and he was nursing a lower body injury. He refused to give details but said it was not the injury that had prevented him from participating in the Top Prospects Game. His injury kept him from completing the bike test, but he was still weighed, measured, put through push-up, sit-up, arm and upper-body strength tests. Most of the other players had significantly more time to recover and prepare for the tests, which were so taxing some of the participants vomited afterwards [ 18 , 108 , 5:35].

“It’s been bothering me through the whole playoffs. I was told to take a couple of weeks off. It’s been five days, so I didn’t want to come here and reinjure it.” - Sidney Crosby [ 18 ]

Sidney’s listed height of 5’11” had “always seemed a trifle generous.” Sure enough, in the official Central Scouting report, Sidney was listed at 5’10.3”. He weighed in at 191 lbs with 8% body fat—below the average of 9.6%. In hand grip strength he was five pounds less than average (123) with his right and perfectly average (125) with his left. He did six reps on the bench press (two less than average) and 23 push-ups (three less than average). He was slightly above average in eye-hand coordination. The sole metric by which he stood out was, of all things, his flexibility. He managed a 54-centimeter stretch on the “sit and reach” test. The average was 38 centimeters; only one other forward (and none of the goalies) had managed to score above 43 centimeters [ Taking the Game… , p. 227-228, Most Valuable, p. 247-248].

Sidney was one of 111 players the NHL had invited to the 2005 combine [ 18 ]. His friend Jack Johnson was another. Sidney and Jack partnered up, knowing that their desire to one-up each other would drive them to be better during the gauntlet of tests they were put through [ 32 ].

“We are both pretty competitive, so we go pretty hard against ourselves. But we both try to make each other better. There were times where we’d be mad at each other one minute and then we’re best friends the next minute.” - Sidney Crosby [ 16 ]

“Throwing a baseball around, first one who drops it loses. Or working out, we’ll do sprints and races and whoever loses has to buy lunch. Anything we can think of, really. It helps a lot having a friend here who I’ve known for years. We can talk about it if there’s anything bothering us, but we can also be normal kids together.” - Jack Johnson [ 32 ]

Sidney conducted interviews with 21 of the 30 NHL teams, a significantly higher number than average due to the lockout. With the league’s previous CBA, only the five bottom teams would have had a chance to draft Sidney. Thanks to the new agreement, every team would have a shot at landing Sidney Crosby [ 18 ].

Sidney left an impression on the teams he interviewed with; he was a “mature young man” said Barry Trapp, the director of amateur scouting for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and was “impressive” and “a gentleman” according to Guy Lapointe, coordinator of amateur scouting for the Minnesota Wild [ 18 ].

“What exactly was there to interview him about? He’s everything you’d want in a player and, no disrespect to others in his year, but he was so clearly above them, there was nothing at stake. He could have begged off all the interviews but didn’t. When he came in, everyone on our staff just looked around until someone said, ‘Sidney, is there anything that you’d like to ask us?’ We talked—he knew every player on our roster, a complete hockey-obsessed kid. He knew the league like a GM. We had a great talk. He ended up staying for the full 20 minutes on his schedule and more—he only left when he had to make it to another interview.

“I consider the interview the most important thing that we get at the draft combine—I leave the science to the strength and conditioning guys to assess. As a scout, it’s what’s on the ice first, what the kid’s psychological make-up is like and then the physical science. And the thing was, that year, when Crosby didn’t need to talk to anybody, he was the best interview of the week.” - a director of scouting at the combine [ 104 ]

The New York Rangers asked, “If we could give you a pill that you could take that would guarantee that you would be part of a Stanley Cup-winning team and a Olympic gold medal team, but you couldn’t live past age 25, would you take that pill?” Sidney found the question bizarre, even though he knew the scouts were trying to ascertain if he would do anything for his team. “How do you answer that?” he wondered. “I wouldn’t take the pill,” he told the Rangers, “because I plan to win more than one of those” [ 107 ].

Two separate scouts noted that Sidney was still upset about the Memorial Cup. “He takes losing hard,” said Tim Murray, a scout for the Anaheim Ducks. “[He] still thinks he should have been better and that Rimouski should have won.” The wound was still fresh; it had only been six days since the Océanic fell to the Knights. “You could see his mood change when we went there [discussing the Memorial Cup],” agreed a second scout for an Eastern Conference team. “It was nothing we had to push him on. You know, he’s all sunshine 99 percent of the time but that other 1 percent is important—there’s no danger that he’ll become complacent” [ Taking the Game… , p. 228-229].

“We tried to wind him up in our interview, just to see if we could unnerve him... he handled everything just right—he knew when we were kidding and he knew when we were serious...” - Tim Murray, Anaheim Ducks scout [ Taking the Game… , p. 228-229]

For his interview with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney showed up 15 minutes early, accidentally cutting short the Penguins’ session with another prospect. He “dazzled” in the 45-minute interview. Greg Malone, the Penguins’ head scout, said it was one of his most impressive conversations with a prospect in 15 years of scouting. “As good as he is on the ice,” Malone commented to Penguins general manager Craig Patrick, “he’s just as good or better off the ice” [ 246 ].

Neither Sidney nor any of the teams had any idea where he would wind up. The draft order would remain a mystery until July, and in the meantime Sidney needed to write his high school exams and graduate [ 18 ].

“Your life could change after this year, so that’s the way I’m kind of thinking. I’m just trying to cherish every moment I can at home, and seeing my family and stuff, so this summer I’ll probably try to take a lot of time at home... [I] really don’t know what’s going to happen, but for me I’m kind of preparing for that. This step that I might take in life can be a big one and I’m just gonna try and enjoy this summer and see where it takes me next year.” - Sidney Crosby [ 108 , 7:50]

June slipped away, and with July came hope: the NHL and NHLPA began conducting marathon bargaining sessions on July 4, 2005. A deal seemed near [ 103 ]. 

The next day, Sidney and Gatorade announced a 3-year endorsement deal. Though Brisson would not reveal the exact financial details, this was the most lucrative deal Gatorade had ever signed with a hockey player. The actual endorsement contract had been agreed upon months before, but Gatorade delayed the press release until the launch of their new X-Factor drink. It was a much more demure affair than the Reebok press conference in March. This time, Sidney just did a signing at Sobeys, a grocery store in Cole Harbour [319]. “We’ve been talking with many brands in different categories,” said Pat Brisson. “But also, Sidney doesn’t want to be a walking billboard. He’s not just going to put his name to a brand for the heck of it or the money” [363].

Despite Brisson’s lip service to Sidney’s humility and humble nature, the very next day news broke that the Swiss hockey club Lugano offered Sidney a 3-year, $10-million contract with the added promise of a multimillion-dollar signing bonus [274]. Lugano was prepared to be very generous. “You have to consider all kinds of things, if it’s a net salary, if it includes a car, an apartment, bonuses,” said Beat Kaufmann, the HC Lugano President and General Manager. “It also depends on the player, and the possibility of marketing rights and selling advertising” [362].

Brisson refused to confirm or deny the dollar amount Lugano had offered up. “I can’t deny that we’ve been in serious talks with Lugano,” he admitted from his Los Angeles office. “It’s a serious offer. We’re keeping in mind that Sidney’s goal is to play in the National Hockey League but we have to listen. Not knowing what the entry-level restrictions will be in the upcoming CBA, we need to cover our bases” [274].

Many people thought the reports were just posturing from Sidney and Brisson at this stage. The bargaining sessions were still ongoing between the NHL and NHLPA, and Brisson’s mention of the entry-level restrictions on rookie salaries was a pointed commentary [314]. Moreover, Brisson confirmed that if Sidney were to sign with Lugano or another club overseas, his contract would include an out clause that would allow him to return to the NHL. “We would want some sort of mechanism which would allow him to come back if he wanted, but it could come at a price,” said Brisson [274].

On July 8, the press caught up to Sidney while he participated in Tampa Bay Lightning player Brad Richards’ charity golf tournament at the Brudenell River golf resort in P.E.I. Sidney told a news crew that he would only consider playing in Europe if there was no NHL. “Obviously I’m going to consider other places, but if there’s an NHL [season] that’s where I want to be. Right now, I want to make sure that I have somewhere to go if there is no NHL season, but we’re thinking best-case scenario that there’s going to be one, so that’s what I'm worried about,” he said [ 376 ].

“Sidney’s heart is in playing in the NHL,” Pat Brisson confirmed, though he did say that he’d narrowed down the list of European clubs Sidney could play for to three or four interesting offers. “It’s our right to look for offers,” Brisson noted. “We’d look really foolish if we did not explore other offers and there was no NHL season” [ 376 ].

“It’s one of those things where I can’t be panicking in August if something doesn’t work out. I have to be sure I’ve got somewhere to go.” - Sidney Crosby [360]

Two days later, Sidney looked less like a powerful hockey phenom trying to sway bargaining talks and more like a kid who’d been left behind at summer camp when he was photographed sitting on his suitcase outside of Halifax International Airport alongside his old World Juniors teammate Stephen Dixon. The airport was experiencing some chaos thanks to runway improvements and weather conditions. “It seems like every time we go for Team Canada, something always happens,” Sidney said while waiting for a bus that would take him, Dixon, and 43 other passengers to the Moncton airport instead [361].

Sidney and Dixon were headed for the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, where they’d be honored with a banquet and championship rings. Because of their delayed flight, Sidney and Dixon missed the Molson Indy car race the rest of the team attended [361]. While at the Hockey Hall of Fame, Sidney met with reporters for a brief media session. Rumors were circulating that the NHL and NHLPA were on the precipice of a deal. “Now when they’re getting so close, it’s hard not to get excited for it,” said Sidney. “From what I hear, it’s probably going to be this week that a deal is going to be done. When that happens, we’ll know a lot more what’s going to happen with the draft” [360].

Sidney reaffirmed his commitment to the NHL— “Oh yeah. The NHL is where I want to be. It’s where I’ve dreamed of playing. It’s the best league in the world.” —and said he was excited by the opportunity to go to any of the teams because of the new lottery rules. “It’s good. It’s a special situation I think in my case,” he said. “A lot of guys don’t get that opportunity to go to any team. Usually they have a little bit of an idea with where they are ranked. With me, there’s a little bit of an excitement factor, a surprise factor, not knowing exactly where I’m going to end up. It’ll be fun to see how the lottery works out” [360].

The day after the golden boys were honored in Toronto, the NHL and NHLPA bargaining session lasted from sunup to sundown and through the night until 6 a.m. the next day, July 13. The parties broke for five hours before gathering to confirm the details and sign on the dotted line. Finally a CBA had been reached. The NHL would return, and Sidney would be its prize attraction [ 103 ].

Now it was just a matter of finding out who would win him.

A lottery would be held, nicknamed the Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes. All teams had a shot at drafting him, though the odds would be weighted. “Teams were assigned 1 to 3 balls based on their playoff appearances and first overall draft picks from the past three years” [ 105 ]. On July 22, the same day the new CBA was ratified, representatives from all 30 NHL teams gathered in a conference room at the Sheraton in New York [ 227 , 3:25, Taking the Game…, p. xi].

Over 800 miles away, Sidney sat in his parents’ basement, watching news coverage of the NHL press conferences. “Every few minutes he was able to watch himself watching the news coverage, because a camera crew had joined the Crosby family... He did his best to pretend that he didn’t notice the camera when it zoomed in on him... to appear like he didn’t mind the intrusion. He did his best and he almost pulled it off” [Taking the Game… , p. x].

The Crosby family’s property had been overrun. Fans and media clogged the yard and driveway, hoping to get a photo or interview. TV trucks lined up at the curb of the quiet suburban street, “a hilly road lined with modest homes” . Sidney stayed inside. “The whole front lawn was full of people,” he said. “There were neighbours and TV crews and reporters all here” [370, 371].

Sidney was nervous and trying not to show it. “It’s kind of been a long day, a lot of anticipation,” he admitted. “I’ll just be happy when 5 o’clock comes and they’ll start naming off the teams, and then I’ll have a better idea of what the future might hold, but I’m not gonna look into it too much. I’m just going to enjoy it.” [ 109 , 1:11].

When the time came, the Crosby family gathered downstairs to watch as commissioner Gary Bettman took the stage and began to read off the names of teams in ascending draft order. Sidney and Troy, who had quit his job a few months before the draft so he could help Sidney with some of his hockey-related business, were tense with anticipation; their dream of Sidney playing for the family’s team, the Montreal Canadiens, was still alive [ 72 , The Rookie , p. 173]. It remained an unspoken wish until the 26th envelope was opened to reveal the Canadiens’ logo, and Sidney’s heart sank [ 72 ].

“I remember Sidney kept looking over at me whenever Gary opened another envelope and the Canadiens crest wasn’t on it. Once they were down to only five teams left I knew exactly what Sidney was thinking, but we wouldn’t dare say anything because we didn’t want to jinx it.

“We did our best to contain our disappointment, but to have it come down to the wire like that was unbelievable. We really thought it was going to happen there for a minute.” - Troy Crosby [ 72 ]

Meanwhile, Penguins Vice President of Communications Tom McMillan was wondering if the Penguins’ 1-in-16 chance of landing the first draft pick was the lucky draw. The Penguins were in dire straits ; they were a bad team with even worse attendance [ 106 ]. They hadn’t made the playoffs since 2001, and under the previous CBA they hadn’t been able to financially compete to keep their stars in town [ 240 ]. They’d gone through bankruptcy and had the oldest, most decrepit arena in the league. For years rumors said the Penguins would move to a new city to escape their situation [Taking the Game… , p. xii].  

“Everything was bleak, bleak, bleak, bleak,” said McMillan. “We had lost a year of hockey. What’s the future of hockey? The future of the team? Can’t sell the team. Can’t get a new arena.” No one in the franchise had dared dream aloud of winning the lottery, of bringing the team back from the brink of collapse [Breakaway, p. 48-52].

Greg Malone, the Penguins’ head scout, maintained a realistic but optimistic outlook on things. “We have as many balls [in the lottery] as can be possible, but I also know it’s the luck of the draw,” he said. “My feeling on the whole thing is, no matter what cards they give us, we’ll play them and do a good job. It doesn’t matter which pick we’ll have, we’ll readjust and go with the flow” [ 239 ].

As level-headed as Malone was, he knew the stakes. Sidney was in a league of his own when it came to the draft pool. One of Sidney’s answers from the combine had stuck with Malone; when Sidney had been asked about how he handled the ungodly pressure of his fame and the public’s expectations of him, Sidney said “How many people would love to be in my shoes? I’m ready to accept the challenge.” That answer alone had convinced Malone that Sidney was the real deal. “He knows what he’s gotten himself into, but he’s accepted it because he’s worked hard to put himself in this position,” said Malone [ 238 ].

All the Penguins could do was hope that luck was on their side. Some believed in that luck more than others; Penguins general manager Craig Patrick kept a four-leaf clover on his person when he went to the draft lottery, and had visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral the day before to inquire about some divine intervention. Penguins radio announcer Mike Lange didn’t go to a church or find a lucky token. He simply believed it would work out [ 241 ].

Mike Lange was positive the Penguins would get to draft Sidney. He’d been saying it for four or five months. He believed it was destiny, and most of all he believed in Mario Lemieux’s luck. “Everything he touches really does turn to gold,” Lange said. “I’ve been to a number of appearances with him, and I swear, if there’s a raffle, he’s going to win it. Luck just follows him” [ 241 ].

It was time. “I was in the third row in the sequestered room where the balls came out,” said Craig Patrick. “I couldn’t really see the ball come out, but when it did, everybody turned to me and said, ‘Congratulations.’ I said, ‘What?’” [ 240 ].

And just like that, the Penguins were reborn. 

Cameras on his every move, Tom McMillan bolted up, pumped his fist, and nearly sprinted out of the room. “I was going outside to scream,” he said [Breakaway, p. 48-52].

“I think the sky’s the limit for us. It’s not Cloud Nine, it’s Cloud 87.” - Tom McMillan, Penguins Vice President of Communications and Marketing [ 5 ]

A small ball in a lottery had saved hockey in Pittsburgh. “It’s the day the world changed for us,” said Penguins President Ken Sawyer [372]. With Sidney would come money to pay off debts, the chance to build a new arena, a shot at building a new legacy. The future looked bright. “It is inconceivable to me that this team will be allowed to leave town with the team we’re going to have over the next 20 years,” said Sawyer. “Sidney Crosby, the rights to (2004 No. 2 overall pick) Evgeni Malkin and (2003 top draft selection) Marc-André Fleury—I think this new era will be like the one we had in the 1990s” [ 243 ].

“It’s a very, very lucky day, and it’s about time. People have said [Crosby] has the vision of Wayne Gretzky and the goal-scoring and playmaking ability of Mario Lemieux, and if that’s true, it’s incredible that he’s coming to Pittsburgh.” - Craig Patrick, Penguins general manager [ 240 ]

Mario Lemieux had been at a doctor’s office in Pittsburgh with his daughter when he heard the news. Immediately he called Pat Brisson, who was with the Crosby family in Cole Harbour. Brisson passed the phone to Sidney, and Mario congratulated him and informed him he was going to be a Penguin [ The Rookie, p. 58]. 

Sidney was caught in a tidal wave of questions. TSN hosted a half-hour special on him that day. The NHL set up a satellite truck in the Crosby family’s front yard so Sidney could do interviews. “He was nervous,” said Pat Brisson. “It all made for quite a lot of excitement. But to end up in Pittsburgh is a blessing. It’s an opportunity to start his career with one of the best athletes in all of sports, someone who’s been there, done that who could help him, guide him and protect him. It’s a great situation” [ 238 ].

“He’s happy to be going to Pittsburgh. It’s great for him and the franchise. It’s going to rejuvenate Mario’s career. He has the opportunity to be with one of the best, maybe the best player who has ever played, and Mario is going to absorb some of the pressure. When you think about it, he trained with Mario last summer. There’s a destiny to this. ” - Pat Brisson [314]

As for if he’d be able to save the Penguins franchise, Sidney said that all he wanted was to play. “Definitely there’s pressure there,” he said, “but I’m going to come in and make sure that I’m ready come September. My first goal is just making the team, and after that, we’ll see how things go. I have to set my goals short and just make sure I’m prepared to be the best player possible in September” [ 240 ].

Sidney was bounced from interview to interview, all of it wrangled by Dave Keon Jr., one of the NHL’s main public relations directors who had flown in to help Brisson and the Crosby family manage the media frenzy. “Keon set up a makeshift media control centre in the Crosby rec room where he could coordinate all the interviews. During the busy day, Keon organized live spots with the official lottery broadcaster TSN, set up a conference call to satisfy print reporters from across North America and oversaw a steady stream of TV interviews via satellite” [366].

One of those satellite interviews was for Pittsburgh Sports Tonight, anchored by Dan Potash. It was a pre-taped interview, meaning Potash could see Sidney on his monitor but Sidney could only hear Potash. As they were getting wired up, Potash asked Sidney, “Hey, do you remember a flight from Detroit to Los Angeles from this past summer earlier in the summer? A guy that you met that was a sportscaster?” Sidney smiled and said, “Yeah, I remember! Hey, what’s up, man? I know this guy. How are you? What's going on?” [ 166 ].

By late afternoon, RCMP had blocked off the street to everyone but local residents. The remaining journalists interviewed neighbors until Sidney and his father finally emerged from the front door. Taylor did cartwheels on the lawn while they spoke to the press [371].

“I’m like any dad would be, I’m pretty proud,” said Troy. He was happy Sidney would be under the tutelage of Mario Lemieux [371]. Sidney was still a little overwhelmed from the day, saying he’d done 15 interviews by satellite after the lottery and had missed the throngs of people outside his house earlier. “[It] was a unique day and it was all pretty nerve-racking and exciting,” he said. “It was special and there were a lot of different emotions going on at the same time. It was fun” [370]. 

Sidney did media work into the evening. “It wasn’t too bad but I don’t think this is something you can prepare yourself for,” he said. “I kind of expected this. I knew there was going to be a lot of attention around it and, in the end, I think everything went pretty smooth and I’m happy with how things turned out.” Even so, Sidney was visibly drained by 8 p.m. and finally called it a day [368, 370].

“Honestly, I probably answered the same questions 20 or 25 times,” he admitted. “There was a lot of the same stuff. There was nothing too out of the ordinary... but it was a long day.” He had no plans for the evening, no big celebration party to attend. “I think I’m just going to go to bed. It’s been a long day,” he laughed. “I’m just going to take it easy tonight, but I’ve got to work out tomorrow. I’ll just get back to work in the morning” [368, 370].

For Sidney the day was over. For the Pittsburgh Penguins ticket salespeople, the night was just beginning. Sidney Crosby was coming to the Steel City. The public already knew him by name and they were willing to give money hand over fist to see him play. The Penguins’ sales team originally intended to stay open until 5 p.m. that evening. They stayed on the lines until midnight and were back at it at 7:30 a.m. the next morning. Though the Penguins didn’t disclose any ticket sale information, local reports said over 200,000 tickets had been sold, 3,000 of which were full season tickets. Team President Ken Sawyer said that people from 10 different states—and even Canada—had bought season ticket packages [ 242 , 372].

“It’s been quite a 24 hours as I’m sure you can all imagine,” said Sawyer. “I think we will reflect on this 24-hour period as probably the greatest 24-hour period we’ve had in terms of building a team since 1984 [when Mario Lemieux was drafted]. And it’s quite different from 1984 because we have a great nucleus of players in our system” [ 242 ].

Two years prior, the Penguins had the lowest average attendance of any NHL team: 11,877 people per game. They’d been a failed franchise up for sale. Within days, the Penguins were off the market—all because of Sidney [ 242 , 372, Breakaway, p. 48-52].

Back home, Sidney soaked up the last of Halifax he’d see for a little while with the help of one of his old friends. Jack Johnson, Sidney’s second shadow from Shattuck, bunked with the Crosby family for a week. They had remained close over the last few years, talking on the phone three or four times a week. Back at Shattuck, they’d promised to go one-two in the draft. Their dreams were close to coming true. They had the entire event planned in their heads down to the photo they’d take on the stage, arms slung around each other’s shoulders as they wore their new jerseys. “We’re hoping,” said Jack [ 118 , 364].

Sidney and Jack woke up early each morning to play street hockey or go swimming. Sidney would run a track in the Dartmouth neighborhood where “his grandmother Linda Crosby used to reside, [in] the same house Sidney and his parents lived in when he was just a baby. ‘I liked that. It helped me by reminding me why I was there,’ he said” [ The Rookie, p. 298]. 

Jack found it hilarious that Sidney got stopped everywhere they went. Whether it was at Tim Hortons for a coffee or at the park for a game of catch, someone was always there asking for an autograph. “I’m just the guy next to him,” Jack laughed, but he also enjoyed seeing Sidney get recognized for all his hard work. “I get enjoyment out of it,” said Jack. “The attention he gets, he deserves. He didn’t just roll out of bed and get it. If I’m going to be in anyone’s shadow, I want to be in his” [ 118 ].

The draft was held at the Westin Hotel in Ottawa, Ontario on July 30, 2005 instead of the Corel Centre (home of the Ottawa Senators) on June 25. The 301-day lockout had meant the arena was not prepared in time, so the draft was downsized; only the top 20 prospects were in attendance, and each NHL team was only permitted to have six people at their draft table. The NHL made conference rooms available for teams who wanted to bring more scouts. For the first time since 1980, the draft was not open to the public. It would be a one-day affair, and there would only be seven rounds instead of the typical nine [ 105 , 239 ].

The Friday before the draft, several of the invited prospects held a hockey clinic for Ottawa-area minor hockey players. With the help of Ottawa Senators assistant coach Greg Carvel (and a few Senators players), Sidney, Benoit Pouliot, Bobby Ryan, Gilbert Brule, and Jack Johnson ran drills with the 24 boys and 6 girls in attendance. The kids were ages 7-12 and very excited to play with prospects they’d heard about on the news. “We had a little conversation,” said 11-year-old Andrew Baxter. “[Sidney] just told me to try and keep my stability on my feet.” Over a thousand fans watched from the stands and mobbed the prospects for autographs once they were off the ice. During the weekend, Sidney seemed most at ease during the clinic, always at home on his skates [ 3 , 7 , 109 , 6:50, 118 , 310, 315]. 

It was a busy day. After the clinic, Sidney and the other top 20 prospects did a meet-and-greet at Major’s Hill Park. Reebok, who sponsored both the fan meeting and the youth hockey clinic, handed out 1,500 posters of Sidney at the clinic and 500 at Major’s Hill Park. “Getting a chance to meet some of the fans down here is pretty good,” said Sidney. “Just getting to meet and see the little kids, especially. I think they get a kick out of it” [310, 315]. 

“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]. Definitely sometimes it gets hectic and busy but I realize I’m very fortunate. I don’t look down on it at all.” - Sidney Crosby [ 7 ]

Though he signed a lot of things that day—posters, pucks, hats—Sidney refused to sign any Penguins jerseys. Just like with the Team Canada jersey he’d been offered before making the 2004 World Juniors team, Sidney felt that he had to earn the right to the Penguins jersey [320].

That night, Sidney dined with Mario Lemieux at the Empire Grill [ 32 ]. Mario knew well that the future of the organization would be closely tied to Sidney’s success—and comfort—in the franchise, so the nature of the dinner was more social than business. “We talked a lot about Pittsburgh, and what he’s going to be facing this year in his rookie year,” said Mario. “We had a good talk as far as him staying with me. It’s going to be up to Sidney, whatever he feels comfortable doing. We’ll be there for him, myself and the organization” [320].

Sidney and Jack were rooming together in the hotel, the top draft pick and the top defenseman pick awaiting their futures. When the morning of the draft rolled around, the two of them woke early with excitement rattling in their chests. Sidney said it began as “pretty normal day,” which for Jack and Sidney translated to a morning workout in the hotel gym. “ We just figured we’d go work out because we knew no one else was,” said Jack. “What you’re always looking for as an athlete is to do more than other people. So, we decided what the heck, we’d go work out” [ 32 , 110 , 7:45].

After their workout, Sidney had breakfast with his family (and got shredded by his mother: “The day of the draft,” Trina said, “I saw him trying to shave and I said, ‘Sidney, what are you doing?’” ) [ 40 , 320]. A camera crew was allowed into Sidney and Jack’s hotel room as they got ready for the day, and the reality of the draft set in. Jack was filled with anxiety but smiling for the camera, justifying the messy room by explaining how he and Sidney had a few wrestling matches (they’d had a disagreement over whose things were on whose side of the room). “ We’re usually not this bad,” he said. Sidney laughed, pointing out that the mess was mostly on Jack’s side and proudly explaining that he, on the other hand, had folded his clothes the night before [ 110 , 7:45].

Sidney was still speaking in hypotheticals ( “If I get drafted...” ) as if his future wasn’t certain, but it would only be a matter of time before he was putting on his new jersey [ 110 , 9:38].

Downstairs, the main room was filled with nerves, holding 19 families with unknown futures. Sidney knew his, and that gave him some small comfort as he waited. He was excited both to be drafted and to be heading to his first pro camp within a month. “So I just felt like, finally, it’s here,” he said. “There wasn’t an element of surprise, per se, but at the same time it was just nice to have it and to have that moment” [ 115 ].

“When I first met him, when he was 13, he was asking questions like he was 17. All along, he has wanted to be number one. Since he was seven years old, he has been preparing for this. He’s been preparing for this for 10 years. He has observed how first overall picks have reacted and how they talk.” - Pat Brisson [314]

Despite all his preparations, Sidney was still nervous. “So you’re a young kid and you just want to make sure you do it right. You go to the right place. You follow instructions,” he said. The unusual format of the scaled-back draft meant things went differently from the 2004 Entry Draft Sidney had attended as a guest, but nothing could override Sidney’s happiness over going first... except his happiness over his NHL career being right around the corner. “I was just excited,” he said, “happy to share it with my family and things like that but almost [more] ready to get ready for what was coming” [ 115 ].

“’re happy to go first. But you know what comes with that, right? There’s a lot of expectation and that’s a great step but there’s some pressure that comes with that.” - Sidney Crosby [115]

Just past noon, the Pittsburgh Penguins called out Sidney’s name. He walked across the stage, shook hands with team officials, accepted his new sweater from Lemieux, and pulled it over his head [ 32 ].

At 17 years old, Sidney Crosby was a Pittsburgh Penguin.

Nearly four hours later, Sidney was still being escorted around by NHL media personnel to interviews and photo sessions. He was smiling and polite, though he’d likely been asked the same questions over and over again. “With Sidney, it’s not just one interview,” said Brisson. “It’s 40 at the same time, and we want to make sure he’s prepared for these moments” [314].

“He’s been a superstar in his age group from the time he was 9 or 10 years old; this isn’t something that’s happened in the last couple years. He’s used to the pressure and being the focus of attention. This, for him, is normal.” - Blair Mackasey, Hockey Canada head scout [ 32 ]

Back in Halifax, people were crowded around their TVs or in sports bars, watching their native son earn his place in the show.

“Not too many people from around here go first overall, so it’s pretty huge. Everyone’s really excited. He’s proven himself over and over, every time there was a doubt. He’s played great under pressure his whole life and all the attention and all he’s achieved he definitely deserves.” - Stephen Dixon, World Juniors teammate and 2003 draftee [ 32 ]

Jack and Sidney had not been drafted back-to-back, but it was close; Jack was drafted third by the Carolina Hurricanes, though he would play for the Michigan Wolverines first [ 16 , 105 ]. In the third round, the Penguins selected their own defenseman, a player by the name of Kristopher Letang [ 105 ]. While the draft went on, Sidney continued his interviews. “I’m really excited now ,” he said. “I can’t wait to go to camp now, especially now I know what’s going to happen. I know where I’m going. I know where I want to be” [ 111 , 8:21].

“I’ve seen a lot of kids come and go. This kid gets it. He’s a special kid, but he gets it... He never batted an eye. He never complained. He never had a hiccup.” - Gord Cutler, veteran NHL producer [ 7 ]

It was a day Sidney had waited for since childhood. That same month, the dryer Sidney had beaten up so badly while practicing to make it to the big leagues had stopped working [ 40 ]. He wouldn’t need it anymore. A new chapter was starting. That evening, while Sidney rested on a hotel couch, Troy told a reporter, “All this stuff is just like a dream. It’s hard to put into words really” [ 7 ].

That dream would take the Crosby family to California next; Sidney trained and relaxed on the Golden Coast before courting Hollywood on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, where he demonstrated his puck-shooting skills on a dryer they wheeled out onto the stage [ 3 ].

Sidney had planned to attend the Canadian Junior Development Camp (for the 2006 World Junior Championship) from August 10-15 in Whistler and Vancouver, B.C. On August 5, a day after his primetime television appearance, Sidney was taken off the list of invitees. The Pittsburgh Penguins had claimed his time instead; he was needed in Pittsburgh for the Penguins’ orientation camp [ 236 , 237 ]. 

Before his maiden voyage to Pittsburgh, Sidney spent his birthday at Pat Brisson’s Los Angeles home with his family. “I kicked back and relaxed a bit and played some beach volleyball,” he said. “It was just a relaxing day to spend with friends and family” [ 374 ].

His birthday gift was an iPod. “It was cool,” he said. “I don’t know how I am going to work it because I am not much good with computers” [ 374 ].

He had bigger problems than figuring out his new iPod. On August 9, Sidney had been spotted in Vancouver by fans seeking autographs after a promotional photoshoot. Sidney ducked into a taxi, and the fans followed him across the city, blowing two red lights as they tailed him. “There’s not much you can do when someone is following you like that,” Sidney said, very calmly for a person who’d been chased through Vancouver’s downtown. “It’s just something I’ve learned to deal with, although that’s the first time someone has tried to follow me to that extent. That’s the way it is, hockey is big in Canada” [372].

Hockey in Pittsburgh wasn’t anything to sneeze at, though. Sidney had a full slate of activities waiting for him in the City of Bridges. Sidney—along with five other prospects (Ryan Stone, Noah Welch, Ryan Lannon, Jordan Morrison, and Jean-Philippe Paquet)—would attend the Penguins’ orientation camp from August 11-12 to undergo fitness tests and meet with Penguins’ trainers and coaches. Everything from cardiovascular health, strength, flexibility, agility, body fat percentage, muscle balance, injuries, and concussion baselines would be measured and recorded. Though the prospects wouldn’t skate, it would give the Penguins a better idea of the raw materials the prospects brought to the organization. Sidney would leave a good impression according to UPMC physical therapist Brian Hagen (“He’s impressive, I'll tell you that”) [369, 372, 375 ]. 

Sidney would make it to a private dinner Mario Lemieux held for the prospects in downtown Pittsburgh. Lemieux offered to open up his home to Sidney, and Sidney was enthusiastic. “I’d definitely take that opportunity to be around someone like that,” he said. “I’m going to learn as much as I can on the ice but off the ice I don’t think there’s anyone better. He’s been through a lot of similar things and I can only take good things away from that” [ 236 ].

Exactly a month later, flanked by Craig Patrick and Mario Lemieux, standing in front of a crowd of reporters at the Mellon Arena’s Igloo Club, Sidney would sign his name on his first NHL contract [ 244 ].

That was all to come.

For now, Sidney rode down the escalator to the baggage claim at Pittsburgh International. It was late, just after 7 p.m. on August 10—Sidney had been delayed by both flight problems and immigration. The gathered reporters had waited him out. He was “smiling and relaxed. His dark, curly hair didn’t have a lock out of place. His dress was casual, down to the jeans and flip-flops” [247]. 

He was escorted to a back corner of the airport, where the media pressed in around him. Cameras flashed, reporters jockeyed for position, and fans pushed close [ 247 ]. Sidney still politely refused to autograph Penguins Crosby jerseys. “It’s not really a superstition, it’s just that I’m not with the Penguins yet,” he explained. “I haven’t played for the team, so I don’t think it’s right for me to sign a jersey before I play for them and even wear it myself. That’s just how I look at it” [372].

“It’s nice just to finally be here,” he told the crowd. “It’s been a long day, but now I’m happy to be here.” After a very brief media session, Sidney was escorted to a police facility across the street from the airport. Of the media that had gathered, only a few stayed until Sidney reemerged. A Cadillac pulled up to the curb. Sidney’s bags and hockey sticks were put in the trunk. Sidney climbed inside, and the Cadillac took off for the heart of the city [ 247 ].

It was starting.



Chapter Text

It’s hard to end a project like this. 

The first time I sat down to write this author’s note, it came out comical and put-upon. Oh, how ridiculous am I for writing something this intense and in-depth? That isn’t the final impression I want to leave any readers with. I shouldn’t minimize my own work and passion. I’m so fiercely proud of this biography.

I worked on BOY KING for three years—not consistently; this project lived and breathed in bursts and spurts. I would pick it up and put it down, gathering more sources as they rose to the surface.

During those three years, my life changed dramatically. When you’re my age, three years is a long time. When I wrote BOY WONDER, I was a very lonely, very sad college student. Three years later, as BOY KING hits the internet, I’m in a new city—a new state—graduated and employed and happy. 

In 2018, I procrastinated on my finals by frantically writing a primer, sitting at my cramped dorm desk and wishing I was anywhere else. In 2021, as we emerge from a global health crisis, I sit on my couch, grateful to be where I am. What a treat that is. What a privilege that this project has carried me on its wings for so many nights.

Hockey changed my life. It’s given me friends, community, a new start. Through it all, torchtoburn has remained largely secret. It’s hard to open up about what you really love, and I love doing this. Only a few friends know about it, and even though I’ve bored coworkers to tears talking about Sidney Crosby’s childhood and confused my parents by trying to explain the tangled web of my research, I’ve kept the scope and heart of this project mostly to myself.


I’ve been so lucky to open up to a few cherished friends over the last year. They listened to my fears and worries about this project. They provided happy encouragement and hours of proofreading through four rounds of edits. That’s exactly what has made a lifelong hockey fan out of me: the people I find through this sport. 

Thank you to everyone, from my editors to my friends to my coworkers to each and every one of you reading this biography.

And, of course, thank you to Sidney Crosby.

Gushing is uncouth, isn’t it? It feels immature. It makes me feel exposed. But, in the spirit of being earnest—the same earnest dedication and interest that fueled me for three years—I’ll say this: 

I love boy wonder narratives. I love prodigy narratives. I love stories of young people being placed under unreasonable conditions and seeing if they thrive or crumble. 

And Sidney Crosby is a story. He’s a miracle of placement: right time, right place, right person. His entry into the NHL could not have been better timed. He wouldn’t be who he is culturally if not for the precise timing of his life. What luck that being born on 8/7/87 would literally situate him perfectly to assume the mantle of the NHL’s golden boy in the return of the league after a lockout. The number that he ascribes some sort of magical thinking to actually matters. It’s fantastic. 

Sidney isn’t as much of a divisive figure as he used to be. The Stanley Cup repeat in ‘16 and ‘17 finally cemented him as one of the greats. His past transgressions and temperament were largely overwritten by fawning articles.

That wasn’t quite what I wanted, though. People seemed more inclined to say He’s grown up now, he’s not so immature anymore, as if they wanted to brush aside who Sidney was when he was younger—as if the boy who entered the league was just a whiny kid who needed to become a man.

That wasn’t what I saw. When I looked at that emotional spitfire in the ‘05-’06 season, I saw a person who’d already lived an extraordinary life by the age of 18. I felt like I knew something these people didn’t. There was an exceptional person buried under all the media narratives and popular opinions. Beneath it all, there was the boy who loved hockey so much, more than anything.

He’s grown up now, but he makes so much more sense when you see a glimpse of that boy beneath the surface.

I loved working on BOY KING, even when my wrist started aching from scrolling through newspaper databases, even when I had to purge my hard drive to cram more video footage onto my laptop, even when I went cross-eyed from scribbling on my iPad for hours. This project has meant so much to me, and it’s sort of daunting to release it out into the world.

Nonetheless, here it is. I hope you love it as much as I do. 

And, because I can’t quite bring myself to end this with an entirely straight face, here:

Chapter Text

[1] Penguins Star Sidney Crosby Shoots Pool With Michelle , WTAE-TV Pittsburgh (Youtube)

[2] Walters: Sidney Crosby was no prima donna at Shattuck-St. Mary’s , (Pioneer Press)

[3] Sid the Kid turns 30: Sidney Crosby’s life through the lens of iconic images and family photos , (ESPN)

[4] There’s Something About St. Mary’s , Gare Joyce (ESPN)

[5] Can Crosby really live up to hype?, Scott Burnside (ESPN)

[6] THN Oral History: The 2005 Canadian World Junior Team, A.K.A. the Greatest of All-Time, (The Hockey News)

[7] Crosby handles draft hoopla like veteran , Scott Burnside (ESPN)

[8] Destiny’s Child, S.L. Price (Sports Illustrated)

[9] NHL superstar Sidney Crosby at 30: The can’t miss ‘kid’ who didn’t, Keith Doucette (The Canadian Press)

[10] Crosby’s true nickname … Darryl?, (ESPN)

[11] A League Of His Own, Eric Adelson, (ESPN)

[12] The Next One: Sidney Crosby , Willy Palov (The Hockey News)

[13] When ‘the Kid’ was a Kid: Revisiting Sidney Crosby’s Remarkable 2002 Air Canada Cup Performance , Jason La Rose (Hockey Canada)

[14] Crosby ready for the next step … whenever it is , Chris Stevenson (ESPN)

[15] Crosby scores big Reebok deal, Tim Wharnsby (The Globe and Mail)

[16] Jack and Sidney, Mark Giannotto (The Michigan Daily)

[17] Prospect Is Looking Beyond the N.H.L., Joe LaPointe (The New York Times)

[18] Ailing Crosby skips NHL combine tests, (Canadian Press)

[19] Sidney Crosby’s next stop is greatness, Michael Farber (Sports Illustrated)

[20] NHL All Access: Becoming Sidney Crosby (NHL Network)

[21] Sidney Crosby attends Kings prospect camp, John Logue (Hockey’sFuture)

[22] 2005 prospect Sidney Crosby dazzles, Simon Richard (Hockey’sFuture)

[23] QMJHL Star Sidney Crosby (Nova Scotia) and Nicole Hekle (Manitoba) Recipients of Prestigious Canada Games Award, Canada Games Council (The QMJHL)

[24] It Takes A Village To Raise A Phenom, Terry Jones (The Sun Media)

[25] Shattuck-St. Mary’s, (Wikipedia article)

[26] Sidney Crosby had memorable year at Minnesota prep school , Michael Russo (StarTribune)

[27] Canada Games Celebrates 50 Years , (Historica Canada)

[28] Sidney Crosby and Jack Johnson at Shattuck St Mary’s, (YouTube)

[29] Shattuck-St. Mary’s: Boys to men, Gare Joyce (SportsNet)

[30] The A-Z of Sidney Crosby, Gare Joyce (SportsNet)

[31] Getting to Know Sidney, Staff Writer for the Pittsburgh Penguins (

[32] Crosby taking it all in stride , Karen Price (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

[33] Sidney Crosby, (Wikipedia article)

[34] Crosby’s visit to market makes fans day , Jason Malloy (Truro Daily News)

[35] Crosby headlines CHL All-Star team , Canadian Press (TSN)

[36] Sidney Crosby: An Intimate Portrait (Brother) , Sam Kasan (

[37] Time for Crosby to write Chapter 2 , Robert Dvorchak (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

[38] Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, (Wikipedia article)

[39] When Sid was a kid , Charlene Sadler (Canada National Post) [ PressReader Access , Mediafire download courtesy of Bearsetc ]

[40] What’s in a Name? Crosby Fits His Role to a T, Dave Anderson (The New York Times)

[41] So, is Sidney really The Next One? , Tim Wharnsby (The Globe and Mail)

[42] Passion player, Ken Campbell (Toronto Star) [Mediafire download courtesy of Bearsetc]

[43] Hockey’s next big thing rewriting record books, Shawna Richer (The Globe and Mail)

[44] No Solitudes for Sidney: How does an anglo kid from Nova Scotia become beloved in Quebec’s sovereigntist heartland?, Susan Woodfine (The Globe and Mail) [Mediafire download courtesy of Bearsetc]

[45] Hockey prodigy target of taunts: Other parents are worst offenders, John Meagher (The Gazette) [Mediafire download courtesy of Bearsetc]

[46] The Crosby Show, (The Toronto Star) [Mediafire download courtesy of Bearsetc]

[47] Canadian officials hoping that youth will be served, Tim Wharnsby (The Globe and Mail)

[48] Age just a number for Crosby, Tim Wharnsby (The Globe and Mail)

[49] Crosby’s family ties run deep , Shawna Richer (The Globe and Mail) [ Mediafire download courtesy of Bearsetc ]

[50] Sidney Crosby Profile, (Maclean’s)

[51] Sidney Crosby is the best hockey player since Wayne Gretzky, Tim Wharnsby (CBC Sports)

[52] Crosby’s off-ice life hardly reflects that of a superstar , Jason Mackey (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

[53] A Team For The Ages: Shattuck-St. Mary’s, Harry Thompson (USA Hockey Magazine)

[54] Sidney Crosby: ‘Still a guy from Cole Harbour’, Elizabeth Bloom (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

[55] Sidney Crosby Feature, Scott Burnside (ESPN)

[56] Jackets vs. Penguins: Old friends Jack Johnson, Sidney Crosby meet in playoffs , Aaron Portzline (The Columbus Dispatch) [ courtesy of harleymae ]

[57] Sidney Crosby’s high school teammate now Sochi foe , Dan Marrazza (NBC Olympics) [ courtesy of harleymae ]

[58] Blind-sided: Blue Jackets’ Jack Johnson is bankrupt; who led him there is biggest shocker, Aaron Portzline (The Columbus Dispatch) [courtesy of harleymae]

[59] Hockey’s Other Crosby Toils Outside the Spotlight , Seth Berkman (New York Times)

[60] The Boy Wonder Next Door, Line Abrahamian (Reader’s Digest) [courtesy of The Sidney Crosby Show]

[61] Sid gives Cup one big homecoming, Scott Burnside (ESPN)

[62] The other Crosby , Adam Steiss (International Ice Hockey Federation)

[63] Nothing comes easy for Sid , Shelly Anderson (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) [ Mediafire download courtesy of bearsetc (linked under “he once dyed his hair”) ]

[64]   Crosby’s road to gold , Stephen Snelgrove (CanWest News Service) [ Mediafire download courtesy of bearsetc (linked under “he tries”) ]

[65] Sid’s dad plays every game with his son, Mike Brophy (The Hockey News)

[66] Worth Waiting For, Gare Joyce, Lindsay Berra (ESPN)

[67] Sidney Crosby: An Intimate Portrait (Native Son), Sam Kasan (

[68] Look who’s from D2: Sidney Crosby!, Audrey Kirkpatrick (Achieve)

[69] Get to know your PSO: Baseball Nova Scotia, (Baseball Canada)

[70] Sidney Crosby: An Intimate Portrait (Prodigy), Sam Kasan (

[71] Sidney Crosby: An Intimate Portrait (Friend), Sam Kasan (

[72] Skating to stardom … at 16 , Kevin Allen (USA TODAY)

[73] Sidney Crosby and trainer Andy O'Brien worked their way up together, Cary Castagna (Toronto Sun)

[74] The Other Crosby, Evan Sporer (SB Nation)

[75] Sidney Crosby: An Intimate Portrait (Sid the Man), Sam Kasan (

[76] Shattuck-St. Mary’s Lands 14-Year-Old Wunderkind , (U.S. Hockey Report)

[77] Sidney Crosby Biography, (

[78] Penguins Q&A: A conversation with Sidney Crosby , Shelly Anderson (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

[79] Wild notes: Crosby sticks up for Yeo , Michael Russo (Star Tribune)

[80] Don’t Trust Sidney Crosby with Your Car Keys, Sean Conboy (Pittsburgh Magazine)

[81] Crosby on taking days off, leadership and being a Nova Scotian, (YouTube)

[82] “Didn’t fit in the story, but Walt Burrows and I also discussed the time he decided he wasn’t going to scout Sidney Crosby”, Sean Shapiro (Twitter)

[83] Hockey Night In Canada enjoys ratings boom, Doug Harrison (CBC Sports)

[84] Penguins’ Crosby makes sure it ads up, Shelly Anderson (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

[85] 30 ans et beaucoup d’engouement pour Sidney Crosby , (Radio Canada)

[86] Crosby Inc.: How Sidney Crosby built hockey’s most lucrative brand, Dan Robson (SportsNet)

[87] Penguins’ Crosby does it his way, Josh Yohe (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

[88] Sidney Crosby, Henrik Lundqvist, and Jonathan Toews - SN360 Round Table Interview, (YouTube)

[89] The Sheet: Marek with ‘Hockey Sid-bits’ , Jeff Marek (SportsNet)

[90] Heart and Soul, Craig Eagles (LinkedIn)

[91] Sid vs. The World , (The Hockey News) [ courtesy of The Sidney Crosby Show ]

[92] Marc-André Fleury, (Wikipedia article)

[93] Look back at 2004 WJC final between U.S., Canada , Tim Wharnsby (

[94] Crosby turns down WHA offer, (CBC Sports)

[95] The 2004 NHL lockout: A light look back at a dark day, (Sports Illustrated)

[96] World Hockey Association (proposed), (Wikipedia article)

[97] The subtle secret to Sidney Crosby’s greatness, Adam Kilgore (The Washington Post)

[98] Crosby finds success using unique stick, Staff Writer for the Pittsburgh Penguins (

[99] World Juniors: Remembering the 2005 “All-Star” team, Mark Nadolny (Canadian Olympic Team Official Website)

[100] Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - Team Canada - 2005 World Junior Championship, Kevin Shea (Hockey Hall of Fame Official Site)

[101] Canada’s 2005 roster might be best ever at a world junior, Ken Wiebe (Toronto Sun)

[102] 2005 Memorial Cup, (Wikipedia article)

[103] 2004–05 NHL lockout, (Wikipedia article)

[104] The evolution of the NHL Combine and what teams get out of it, Gare Joyce (SportsNet)

[105] 2005 NHL Entry Draft , (Wikipedia article)

[106] Reliving the moment a decade ago that shifted the Penguins’ history, Jonathan Bombulie (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

[107] Sidney Crosby finds balance in life in the spotlight, Kevin Allen (USA TODAY Sports)

[108] 2005 NHL Entry Draft All Access Pt 1 Sidney Crosby , (YouTube)

[109] 2005 NHL Entry Draft All Access Pt 2 Sidney Crosby , (YouTube)

[110] 2005 NHL Entry Draft All Access Pt 4 Sidney Crosby , (YouTube)

[111] 2005 NHL Entry Draft All Access Pt 7 Sidney Crosby, (YouTube)

[112] The Author Stage | Paul Hollingsworth: Sidney Crosby , (YouTube)

[113] Crosby comes "home", Staff Writer for the Montréal Canadiens (

[114] Teacher and Student Meet Again on the Ice, as Foes, Jeff Z. Klein (New York Times)

[115] Sidney Crosby’s advice to Alexis Lafreniere as he reflects on his own odd draft, Scott Burnside  (The Athletic)

[116] "Darryl" (Episode 1), Beauties Podcast

[117] dracisumperk_official Instagram Post, (Instagram)

[118] Johnson set to jump out of Crosby's shadow, Scott Burnside (ESPN)

[119] Crosby devastated over lost jersey, Shawna Richer and Allan Maki (The Globe and Mail)

[120] Crosby gets missing jersey back (CBC Sports)

[121] ‘Is this real?’: Stories of Sidney Crosby’s year at a Minnesota prep school, Stephen J. Nesbitt (The Athletic)

[122] Crosby shares unique connection with cancer patient, Michelle Crechiolo (

[123] Crosby thrilled to deliver season tickets to Pittsburgh firefighter, Michelle Crechiolo (

[124] No guarantees of success, says phenom: Rimouski's Sidney Crosby trying to stay on even keel after great junior start, John Gillis (The Sault Star) November 1, 2003 ♛

[125] Crosby is Cool as Ice - 17-Year-Old Phenom Handles the Pressure Well, Tim Campbell (Winnipeg Free Press) December 25, 2004 ♛

[126] ‘I Love the Game’ - Rimouski Oceanic Star Sidney Crosby Understands the Responsibility that Comes With Being Considered the World’s Best 17-Year-Old Hockey Player, Mike Ulmer (The London Free Press) November 14, 2004 ♛

[127] Is Sidney Hockey’s Next-ky? Sun Media’s Mike Ulmer Visited the 17-Year-Old Who the Great One Says Will Break His NHL Records, Mike Ulmer (The Ottawa Sun) November 14, 2004 ♛

[128] Eight Called Too Much for Crosby Hit, Donna Spencer (The Toronto Sun) October 8, 2004 ♛

[129] Crosby helped off after collision, Canadian Press (Standard-Freeholder [Cornwall, Ontario, Canada]) October 2, 2004 ♛

[130] The Kid Can Definitely Play - Crosby Lights Fire for Canada in 5-2 Win Over Czechs, Terry Koshan (The Edmonton Sun) January 1, 2004 ♛

[131] Next Big Goal: World Juniors, Terry Koshan (The Winnipeg Sun) November 23, 2003 ♛

[132] Team Monitors Crosby for Burnout, Donna Spencer (The Daily Herald-Tribune) November 7, 2003 ♛

[133] Oceanic brass keeps eye on rookie star, Donna Spencer (Waterloo Region Record) November 6, 2003 ♛

[134] ‘Next Great One’ having great time - Phenom Crosby enjoys life in Faribault, Michael Rand (Star Tribune: Newspaper of the Twin Cities) January 10, 2003 ♛

[135] Odd Couple: Bergeron, Crosby friendship paying off for Canadian juniors, Canadian Press (The Chatham Daily News) December 27, 2004 ♛

[136] Crosby Canada's top junior player: Hockey phenom picks up four CHL honours at age 16, Donna Spencer (The Expositor) May 20, 2004 ♛

[137] Gretzky-esque Expectations Begin To Land On Crosby, Erik Erlendsson (The Tampa Tribune) December 26, 2003 ♛

[138] Bruins owner harsh on players - He says some high-priced talent doesn't always work hard enough to deserve big salaries., Ted Kulfan (The Detroit News) December 28, 2004 ♛

[139] Hello, Halifax: WHA Introduces Icebreakers to Nova Scotia; Crosby’s Agent Says he Probably Not Interested In Playing for It, Canadian Press (The Daily-Herald Tribune) July 9, 2004 ♛

[140] Drop the mask?: Abandoning the full-face cage is a rite of passage for many young men. But some coaches are starting to question whether an unobscured sightline should trump safety, Maria Calabrese (The Sault Star) January 10, 2004 ♛

[141] Crosby a national force: Young phenom to play leading role on Canadian junior squad, Canadian Press (The Barrie Examiner) August 8, 2003 ♛

[142] Canada-Russia Challenge, (Waterloo Region Record) November 17, 2003 ♛

[143] Russian junior star skips Canadian trip, Canadian Press (The Expositor) November 13, 2003 ♛

[144] Hot Russian goalie stones QMJHL stars, Canadian Press (The North Bay Nugget) November 21, 2003 ♛

[145]   Game report , Canadian Hockey League

[146] All eyes are on phenom: Nova Scotia's Sidney Crosby has scouts drooling at Canada Winter Games, Canadian Press (The Barrie Examiner) February 28, 2003 ♛

[147] He’s Just At A Different Level,” Sonny Sachdeva (Sportsnet)

[148] Top five moments from Sidney Crosby’s junior career with Oceanic, Ryan McKenna (Sportsnet)

[149] A day when the Atlantic son did not shine , Shawna Richer (The Globe and Mail) Jan 6, 2004 

[150] A few extra feet on the ice could make a world of difference, William Houston (The Globe and Mail) Jan 2, 2004 ♛

[151] Crosby a victim of teammates, Tim Wharnsby (The Globe and Mail) Jan 3, 2004 ♛

[152] Crosby awaits Russians: All-star matchup. ‘These games are special,’ sniper says, Pat Hickey (The Gazette) Nov 20, 2004 ♛

[153] Crosby makes world junior history, Tim Wharnsby (The Globe and Mail) Dec 29, 2003 ♛

[154] Crosby shrugs off Cherry’s remarks, Tim Wharnsby (The Globe and Mail) Dec 2, 2003 ♛

[155] Hockey Day broadcast a ‘lovely whirlwind’ for CBC’s MacLean, William Houston (The Globe and Mail) Feb 25, 2004 ♛

[156] In Brief, Canadian Press (The Globe and Mail) Feb 14, 2004 ♛

[157] In Brief, Canadian Press (The Globe and Mail) Nov 22, 2004 ♛

[158] Injury keeps Crosby out of all-star game, Bill Beacon (The Globe and Mail) Nov 24, 2004 ♛

[159] Lure of Crosby could spark funny business, David Shoalts (The Globe and Mail) Oct 8, 2004 ♛

[160] Making an early impression on ice crucial, Canadian Press (The Globe and Mail) Aug 19, 2004 ♛

[161] Sports Briefing, Canadian Press (The Globe and Mail) August 12, 2003 ♛

[162] Teenaged hockey tournament, complete with loonie ritual, delivers feel-good moments, Roy MacGregor (The Globe and Mail) Jan 1, 2004 ♛

[163] WHA offer rejected by Crosby, Tim Wharnsby (The Globe and Mail) Aug 26, 2004 ♛

[164] Fledgling league eyes teen superstar Crosby, Ken Campbell (The Toronto Star) Jul 9, 2004 ♛

[165] Young gun gets another shot, Donna Spencer (The Toronto Star) Dec 14, 2004 ♛

[166] Teammates, Staff and Media Share Their Favorite Crosby Games/Stories, Michelle Crechiolo (

[167] The Consummate Teammate, Captain and Ambassador, Michelle Crechiolo (

[168] Colby Armstrong and Max Talbot on The Scoop: Crosby's 1,000 Games, The Scoop

[169] Memorial Cup and Crosby draw hockey heavyweights, record numbers on television, Donna Spencer (Canadian Press) May 26, 2005 ♛

[170] Star rises in the east, Cory Wolfe (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) December 12, 2003 ♛

[171] Crosby, 16, doing a number on record book, John Meagher (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) March 19, 2004 ♛

[172] Canada’s focus locked on Sidney, Donna Spencer (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) December 24, 2004 ♛

[173] Upstart WHA targets Crosby, Ken Warren (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) May 20, 2004 ♛

[174] Greatness thrust upon him, Donna Spencer (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) July 30, 2003 ♛

[175] Talk of the town, Dave Deibert (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) April 29, 2002 ♛

[176] Stick with the program, Stephen Snelgrove (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) December 27, 2004 ♛

[177] Crosby fulfills promise in first junior season, Canadian Press (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) April 1, 2004 ♛

[178] Crosby carries big expectations for Canada, Stephen Snelgrove (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) December 14, 2004 ♛

[179] Tough Love, (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) December 8, 2003 ♛

[180] Canada lineup will be filled with familiar faces, Donna Spencer (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) December 16, 2004 ♛

[181] Say cheese!, John MacKinnon (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) December 29, 2003 ♛ 

[182] Junior hockey player has touch of magic, John Meagher (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) November 1, 2003 ♛ 

[183] Hockey Canada wants non-NHLers to have international playing time, Pierre Lebrun (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) October 27, 2004 ♛ 

[184] Junior team blends size, speed, experience, Donna Spencer (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) December 17, 2003 ♛ 

[185] Canadian juniors push, and shove, themselves, Randy Turner (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) December 31, 2004 ♛ 

[186] Rabbit adds goal in opening win for Canada, Canadian Press (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) August 12, 2003 ♛ 

[187] Canada pounds Finland 6-0, Canadian Press (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) December 21, 2004 ♛ 

[188] Richards is genuine captain material, Stephen Snelgrove (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) December 20, 2004 ♛

[189] Rabbit tallies again, Czechs up next, Canadian Press (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) August 13, 2003 ♛

[190] Silver lining shines through for returning juniors, Jeremy Sandler (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) January 7, 2004 ♛

[191] Captain marvellous, Stephen Snelgrove (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) December 28, 2004 ♛

[192] Competition heated in junior camp, Scott Cruickshank (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) August 21, 2004 ♛

[193] Junior hopefuls roll over university squad, Canadian Press (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix) December 13, 2003 ♛

[194] Sidney Crosby's Team Canada hockey jersey arrives in Halifax, Ruth Davenport (Canadian Press) January 13, 2005 ♛

[195] Sidney Crosby joins A-list athletes and celebrities with Reebok, Donna Spencer (Canadian Press) March 9, 2005 ♛

[196] Sidney Crosby more than holding his own at Canadian junior team's selection camp, Donna Spencer (Canadian Press) December 12, 2003 ♛

[197] Rimouski's Sidney Crosby prepares for bright lights of Memorial Cup, Donna Spencer (Canadian Press) May 18, 2005 ♛

[198] Prospect Sidney Crosby enjoying life at 16, not worrying about NHL, John Gillis (Canadian Press) October 16, 2003 ♛

[199] Sidney Crosby a target at Memorial Cup as opposition tries to shut down top scorer, Donna Spencer (Canadian Press) May 25, 2005 ♛

[200] Sidney Crosby a phenom at hockey but a novice at sprouting playoff beards, Steve Macleod (Canadian Press) May 9, 2005 ♛

[201] Sidney Crosby and the Oceanic prepare for Ottawa in Memorial Cup semifinal, Donna Spencer (Canadian Press) May 27, 2005 ♛

[202] Sidney Crosby doesn't want to let this chance at world junior gold slip away, Donna Spencer (Canadian Press) January 3, 2005 ♛

[203] Young phenom Sidney Crosby gets ready for Quebec League semifinals, Pierre LeBrun (Canadian Press) April 15, 2004 ♛

[204] Expect to know Eric Neilson better if you mess with Sidney Crosby, Lori A. Mayne (Canadian Press) January 22, 2005 ♛

[205] Sidney Crosby closing in on Rimouski Oceanic rookie records, Don Morrison (Canadian Press) January 16, 2004 ♛

[206] Memorial Cup boosted by addition of junior star Sidney Crosby, (Canadian Press) May 10, 2005 ♛

[207] Sidney Crosby clarifies statements regarding replacements players in NHL, (Canadian Press) December 27, 2004 ♛

[208] Crosby croons at chance to make world juniors, insists he's no hotdog, Bill Beacon (Canadian Press) December 2, 2003 ♛

[209] Crosby to look at pro options for next season if NHL isn't operating, Donna Spencer (Canadian Press) March 8, 2005 ♛ 

[210] Crosby stung by Giants owner's comments on his withdrawal from game, Donna Spencer (Canadian Press) January 18, 2005 ♛ 

[211] Cherry dubious on Crosby's reasons for pulling out of Top Prospects Game, (Canadian Press) January 25, 2005 ♛ 

[212] City eagerly awaits Crosby-Brule match,Grant Kerr (The Globe and Mail)

[213] 2003 Canada Winter Games (

[214] Sidney Crosby got caught with the classic shaving cream pie in the face from goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, Jim Ross (Toronto Star/Getty Images)

[215] Canada wants hockey sweep, Stephen Snelgrove (Vancouver Sun) January 4 2005 ♛ 

[216] Canada’s Next One belongs, John MacKinnon (Edmonton Journal) December 2, 2003 ♛

[217] Canadians shoot down sputtering Finns,Stephen Snelgrove (Edmonton Journal) December 21, 2004 ♛

[218] Crosby back home, and lovin’ it, Keith Bonnell (Edmonton Journal) January 16, 2005 ♛

[219] Reebok banking on ‘Next One,’ Andrew Mayeda (Ottawa Citizen) March 9, 2005 ♛

[220] Russians smother American dream, Ed Willes (Vancouver Province) January 3, 2005 ♛

[221] Scouts drooling over 16-year-old, Ken Warren (Edmonton Journal) December 26, 2003  ♛

[222] Tambellini a tonic for Crosby’s nerves, John MacKinnon (Edmonton Journal) December 18, 2003 ♛

[223] U.S. favoured to win world championship, but Canada, Russia, Czechs no pushovers, John MacKinnon (Edmonton Journal) December 24, 2003 ♛

[224] West Coast whining is unwarranted, John MacKinnon (Edmonton Journal) January 19, 2005 ♛

[225] Hockey, but make it fashion, Michelle Crechiolo (

[226] NHL Revealed: A Season Like No Other, Episode 5 (YouTube)

[227] Spittin' Chiclets Interviews Sidney Crosby In Halifax, Nova Scotia (YouTube)

[228] Great expectations Sidney Crosby (YouTube)

[229] HOW DOES HE DO IT?, Charlie Gillis (Maclean’s)

[230] On Sidney Crosby’s special trip to Rimouski, where tears fell and time stood still, Josh Yohe (The Athletic)

[231] Forty of Canada's best invited to Canada's national under-18 summer team development and selection camp (Hockey Canada)

[232] Selection camp details for Canada’s national junior team announced; selection camp roster to be announced on December 1st (Hockey Canada)

[233] A death in the 'family', Shawna Richer (The Globe and Mail) 

[234] Thirty-two players invited to Canada's 2005 national junior team selection camp in Winnipeg (Hockey Canada)

[235] Penguins Report (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) December 15, 2003 ♛

[236] Notebook: Crosby has chance to live with Lemieux, Karen Price (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) 

[237] Sidney Crosby will not attend Canada's junior camp in Whistler, BC in August (Hockey Canada)

[238] Accolades follow Crosby on and off the ice, Karen Price (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) 

[239] Pens holding breath for Crosby, Karen Price (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) 

[240] Patrick: It's a very, very lucky day, Karen Price (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) 

[241] Fate smiles on Penguins once again, Joe Starkey (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

[242] Crosby making immediate impact on Penguins, Karen Price (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) 

[243] Jackpot!, Rob Rossi (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) 

[244] It's official: Sidney signs on the dotted line, Karen Price (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) 

[245] The Evolution of The Next One, Chuck Finder (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) [via blackandgoldworld]

[246] Pen's Top Scout Sold on Crosby at 14, Chuck Finder (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) [via blackandgoldworld]

[247] Sidney Crosby Arrives in Pittsburgh, Shelly Anderson (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) [via blackandgoldworld]

[248] Lemieux gets his fill of training for World Cup, Chuck Finder (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

[249] Sidney Crosby speech at Rimouski jersey retirement ceremony (YouTube)

[250] Sidney Crosby de passage à Magog (Réseau des sports)

[251] CHL Award Winners announced (Ontario Hockey League)

[252] Crosby earns five QMJHL honors, Associated Press (ESPN)

[253] CHL announces 2004-05 Award Winners (CHL)

[254] This is unbelievable: and the meeting with Sidney Crosby was still to come, Randy Pascal (Sudbury Sports)

[255] ‘Sign this, Sidney’, Canadian Press (The Halifax Daily News) May 24, 2005 ♛

[256] A cut above the rest: Talent, passion elevated Crosby, Jim Reyno (The Halifax Daily News) June 7, 2003 ♛

[257] AAA midget final to feature clash of scoring titans, Neate Sager (The Halifax Daily News) March 22, 2002 ♛

[258] Age-old question: Cole Harbour hockey association bars peewee player from bantam tourney, Chris Kallan (The Halifax Daily News) April 5, 2000 ♛

[259] Another year, another chance: But this year’s collapse still weighs on Crosby’s mind, Jim Reyno (The Halifax Daily News) January 7, 2003 ♛

[260] Bearcats scoop up 13-year-old Crosby, Jim Reyno (The Halifax Daily News) June 17, 2001 ♛

[261] Boy Wonder: 15-year-old standout has ‘all the tools,’ scouts say, Julie Scott (The Halifax Daily News) February 28, 2003 ♛

[262] BRIEFS: Halifax dominates Dartmouth, Daily News Sports Staff (The Halifax Daily News) November 20, 2000 ♛

[263] Buddy steps in when going gets rough, Jamie Nicholson (The Halifax Daily News) October 17, 2003 ♛

[264] Crosby adapting very well, Ryan Van Horne (The Halifax Daily News) September 10, 2001 ♛

[265] Crosby back on home ice tomorrow, Jody Jewers (The Halifax Daily News) October 15, 2003 ♛

[266] Crosby back on ice—in bantam, Ryan Van Horne (The Halifax Daily News) October 10, 2000 ♛

[267] Crosby deserves special treatment; The Cole Harbour prodigy has brought exceptional talent, intense publicity and sold-out rinks to the Quebec league, John MacNeil (The Halifax Daily News) February 15, 2004 ♛

[268] Crosby getting the message, John MacNeil (The Halifax Daily News) January 2, 2005 ♛

[269] Crosby goes south to Minnesota, Ryan Van Horne (The Halifax Daily News) June 17, 2002 ♛

[270] Crosby goes under microscope, Mike Brophy (The Halifax Daily News) November 9, 2003 ♛

[271] Crosby going to the Dogs, Carl Fleming (The Halifax Daily News) May 25, 2002 ♛

[272] Crosby has the best seat at world jr. hockey camp, Ryan Van Horne (The Halifax Daily News) August 16, 2002 ♛

[273] Crosby has time of life in home debut, Jim Reyno (The Halifax Daily News) October 17, 2003 ♛

[274] Crosby looks to Switzerland, Canadian Press (The Halifax Daily News) July 7, 2005 ♛

[275] Crosby makes CHL history, Canadian Press (The Halifax Daily News) May 25, 2005 ♛

[276] Crosby plays despite losing grandfather, Dave Stewart (The Halifax Daily News) November 3, 2004 ♛

[277] Crosby reaches rock-star status, Pat Connolly (The Halifax Daily News) May 8, 2005 ♛

[278] Crosby relishes world experience: Phenom enjoyed U-18s, but is now focused on major junior debut, Philip Croucher (The Halifax Daily News) August 21, 2003 ♛

[279] Crosby strikes again, Subways in final, Jody Jewers (The Halifax Daily News) April 28, 2002 ♛

[280] Crosby wins four awards (The Halifax Daily News) May 20, 2004 ♛

[281] Crosby: one more to go, Philip Croucher (The Halifax Daily News) May 19, 2005 ♛

[282] Crosby’s agents: ‘They don’t call anything’; While Rimouski plans to sit Crosby out, his reps plan to sit down with the league, Jim Reyno (The Halifax Daily News) February 15, 2004 ♛

[283] First-round choices: Early in his career, hockey phenom Crosby and parents face big decisions, Peter McLaughlin (The Halifax Daily News) March 9, 2003 ♛  

[284] Fundraising lets Crosby ‘give back’, Jim Reyno (The Halifax Daily News) November 19, 2003 ♛  

[285] Game rife with unfulfilled promise, Jim Reyno (The Halifax Daily News) January 14, 2004 ♛

[286] Halifax, Rimouski mum on Bell: Crosby takes in event as spectator, Ryan Van Horne (The Halifax Daily News) June 15, 2002 ♛

[287] Let Sidney play midget, Ryan Van Horne (The Halifax Daily News) September 22, 2000 ♛

[288] Minor hockey bars Crosby: Peewee star not allowed to play AAA midget, Ryan Van Horne (The Halifax Daily News) September 16, 2000 ♛

[289] Mooseheads face tough test in stopping Crosby, Jim Reyno (The Halifax Daily News) October 16, 2003 ♛

[290] Oceanic take Crosby first overall, Jim Reyno (The Halifax Daily News) June 8, 2003 ♛

[291] Oceanic wooing Cole Harbour’s Crosby, John Moore (The Halifax Daily News) March 7, 2003 ♛

[292] Oceanic’s Crosby doesn’t mind move to wing, Philip Croucher (The Halifax Daily News) December 6, 2004 ♛

[293] On the slow track: Hockey council rejects peewee's bid to move to midget, Ryan Van Horne (The Halifax Daily News) September 27, 2000 ♛

[294] PHENOM: Dartmouth AAA midget star Sidney Crosby is ready to take his game to the next level at the Air Canada Cup, Jody Jewers (The Halifax Daily News) April 21, 2002 ♛

[295] Sidney Crosby: Life in Rimouski: Billets: 'He's a normal kid', Jim Reyno (The Halifax Daily News) November 19, 2003 ♛

[296] Sidney Crosby: Life in Rimouski: Master of the ice: Crosby stands out to rivals, fans alike, Jim Reyno (The Halifax Daily News) November 19, 2003 ♛

[297] The return of El Sid: Tickets for Crosby's first QMJHL game in Halifax are a hot commodity, Jim Reyno (The Halifax Daily News) October 14, 2003 ♛

[298] Those were the days, Charlene Sadler (The Halifax Daily News) July 23, 2005 ♛

[299] Turn pro, Sidney, for your own good, Carl Fleming (The Halifax Daily News) October 5, 2004 ♛

[300] Wild trade rumors include Crosby, John MacNeil (The Halifax Daily News) December 19, 2004 ♛

[301] What is Your Most Embarrassing NHL Moment? | Puck Personality (YouTube)

[302] Inside Penguins Hockey Clip (Vimeo)

[303] Shattuck-St. Mary's readies for family-friendly haunt, Pauline Schreiber (Faribault Daily News) 

[304] A shoulder to lean on, John MacKinnon (The Vancouver Sun) December 17, 2003 ♛

[305] Kilrea chimes in on Crosby, Cam Cole (The Vancouver Sun) May 25, 2005 ♛

[306] Déjà vu for Sidney Crosby, Ken Warren (The Ottawa Citizen) November 10, 2004 ♛

[307] Océanic hold off 67’s, Allen Panzeri (The Ottawa Citizen) May 25, 2005 ♛

[308] Crosby kept in check, Gord Holder (The Ottawa Citizen) February 12, 2005  ♛

[309] Océanic coach takes one for El Sid, Cam Cole (The Ottawa Citizen) May 21, 2005 ♛

[310] Crosby makes their day, Ken Warren (The Ottawa Citizen) July 30, 2005 ♛

[311] Crosby scores big on awards night, too, John Meagher (The Ottawa Citizen) April 7, 2005 ♛

[312] 67’s attempt to turn up heat on Océanic, Allen Panzeri (The Ottawa Citizen) May 28, 2005 ♛

[313] The hottest prospect since Mario, Ken Warren (The Ottawa Citizen) November 25, 2003 ♛

[314] NHL’s poster boy is a star on, and off, the ice, Ken Warren (The Ottawa Citizen) July 30, 2005 ♛

[315] Penguins must break new ground, Allen Panzeri (The Ottawa Citizen) July 24, 2005 ♛

[316] Hurricane Sidney cuts wide swath, Darren Desaulniers (The Ottawa Citizen) November 14, 2004 ♛

[317] Twelve minutes to ruin, Darren Desaulniers (The Ottawa Citizen) November 14, 2004 ♛

[318] “C’est le but! Crosby scores on two fronts, Tim Campbell (The Ottawa Citizen) December 31, 2004 ♛

[319] Crosby signs lucrative Gatorade endorsement, Donna Spencer (The Ottawa Citizen) July 6, 2005 ♛

[320] The time is now for Crosby, Allen Panzeri (The Ottawa Citizen) July 31, 2005 ♛

[321] Crosby : un bel héritage au Québec (Réseau des sports) December 15, 2006

[322] Crosby helps Océanic raise QMJHL bar, John Meagher (The Montreal Gazette) April 9, 2005 ♛

[323] Crosby kills Kelowna’s dream of defending Cup title, Tim Wharnsby (The Globe and Mail) May 26, 2005 ♛

[324] For Bergeron, it’s all about naps, Stephen Snelgrove (The Montreal Gazette) December 27, 2004 ♛

[325] Great as he is, Crosby couldn’t do it all by himself, David Shoalts (The Globe and Mail) May 30, 2005 ♛

[326] Crosby’s just a kid, eh?, John MacKinnon (The Montreal Gazette) January 2, 2004 ♛

[327] He wants to be great, John MacKinnon (The Montreal Gazette) January 2, 2004 ♛

[328] Once-in-a-generation talent, Ed Willes (The Montreal Gazette) January 2, 2005 ♛

[329] Crosby’s ‘amazing’ feeling, John Meagher (The Montreal Gazette) January 6, 2005 ♛

[330] Crosby has recovered his voice, too, John Meagher (The Montreal Gazette) January 13, 2005 ♛

[331] Criticism jars junior star, Donna Spencer (The Montreal Gazette) January 19, 2005 ♛

[332] More than living up to the hype, John Meagher (The Montreal Gazette) March 13, 2004 ♛

[333] Nothing is normal about Crosby, Ed Willes (The Montreal Gazette) May 24, 2004 ♛

[334] Hope & Crosby, John Meagher (The Montreal Gazette) November 27, 2004 ♛

[335] A Sweet 16 on skates, John Meagher (The Montreal Gazette) October 4, 2003 ♛

[336] League is looking out for Crosby, John Meagher (The Montreal Gazette) October 8, 2004 ♛

[337] Crosby returns to Océanic lineup, Donna Spencer (The Montreal Gazette) October 14, 2004 ♛

[338] Quicker, stronger Crosby ready and able to fill any role, Tim Wharnsby (The Globe and Mail) December 14, 2004 ♛

[339] So, is Sidney really The Next One?, Tim Wharnsby (The Globe and Mail) January 1, 2004 ♛

[340] Sidney Crosby is never out of season, Lyle Carter (Truro News) August 16, 2008

[341] Sidney Crosby on TSN's Off The Record doing Next Question (YouTube)

[342] Quebec sovereignty movement, (Wikipedia article)

[343] Rimouski confirms that Sidney Crosby will be in the lineup tomorrow night in Lewiston,  Lewiston MAINEiacs News Release (OurSportsCentral)

[344] Rimouski Océanic 2003-2004 Regular Season Schedule (HockeyFights)

[345] The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League issued its fourth Attendance report (QMJHL)

[346] NHL ROUNDUP : Neutral Site No Problem as Rangers Beat Devils, 4-1, Associated Press (Los Angeles Times)

[347] Mon ami Sidney Crosby, Eric Neilson (Radio Canada)

[348] La détermination de Sidney Crosby, au-delà du talent, Maya Arseneau (Radio Canada)

[349] Canadian junior hopefuls arrive at selection camp, Donna Spencer (The Canadian Press) December 12, 2003 ♛

[350] Decisions, decisions: 10 must go, Stephen Snelgrove (Vancouver Sun) December 16, 2004 ♛

[351] Gold Fever, Donna Spencer (The Canadian Press) January 4, 2005 ♛

[352] Golden Boys, Stephen Snelgrove (Vancouver Sun) January 5, 2005 ♛

[353] Kid Sid gets first goal out of way, John MacKinnon (Edmonton Journal) December 29, 2003 ♛

[354] 10 players to watch, John MacKinnon (Edmonton Journal) December 24, 2003 ♛

[355] Nervous Crosby puts on a show for team selectors, John MacKinnon (Edmonton Journal) December 16, 2003 ♛

[356] On the verge of greatness, Donna Spencer (Edmonton Journal) December 24, 2004 ♛

[357] Puck prodigy, John MacKinnon (Edmonton Journal) December 20, 2003 ♛

[358] Cole Harbour Cardinals, 1997 — BASEBALL: Mosquito Atlantic Champions (Maritime Sport Hall of Fame)

[359] Rimouski runs and guns - phenom Sidney Crosby turned the Oceanic around in two short years , Ryan Pyette (The London Free Press) May 17, 2005 ♛

[360] Crosby excited about prospect of NHL draft; Reports say all teams will have a chance at draft lottery , Donna Spencer (The Halifax Chronicle Herald) July 12, 2005 ♛

[361] Just plane stuck; Tensions rise, jets don't, as Halifax airport woes continue , Judy Myrden (The Halifax Chronicle Herald) July 11, 2005 ♛

[362] Swiss club confirms Crosby talks , Pierre Lebrun (The Halifax Chronicle Herald) July 8, 2005 ♛

[363] Crosby quenches thirst with new deal , Donna Spencer (The Halifax Chronicle Herald) July 6, 2005 ♛

[364] Buddies aim for 1-2; There's a tight friendship between Crosby and possible No. 2 Johnson , Willy Palov (The Halifax Chronicle Herald) July 30, 2005 ♛

[365] Meet the parents; Troy and Trina Crosby talk about raising Sidney , Willy Palov (The Halifax Chronicle Herald) July 29, 2005 ♛

[366] Kid Crosby knows a thing or two about the spotlight , Willy Palov (The Grande Prairie Daily Herald-Tribune) July 29, 2005 ♛

[367] All in the family; Crosby boasts family tree rich in hockey talent , Willy Palov (The Halifax Chronicle Herald) July 28, 2005 ♛

[368] Under the microscope; Crosby copes with constant attention from media, fans, Willy Palov (The Halifax Chronicle Herald) July 27, 2005 ♛

[369] Crosby skips junior camp for Pens, The Canadian Press (The Halifax Chronicle Herald) August 6, 2005 ♛

[370] Sidney-mania hits Cole Harbour; TV crews, fans flock to hockey star's house for draft lottery, Willy Palov (The Halifax Chronicle Herald) July 23, 2005 ♛

[371] Neighbours enjoy media spotlight, Greg Macvicar Michael Lightstone (The Halifax Chronicle Herald) July 23, 2005 ♛

[372] Sidney stays cool as Crosby-mania hits Pittsburgh, Pierre Lebrun (The Halifax Chronicle Herald) August 12, 2005 ♛

[373] Wouldn’t mind playing for Penguins, Lemieux says, Dave Molinari (The Pittsburgh Press) January 29, 1984 ♛

[374] The hockey world’s biggest names tell us lessons learned, advice given and favorite memories from their fathers, Scott Burnside (The Athletic)

[375] Crosby Makes Impression on Fellow Pens Rookies, Chuck Finder (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

[376] Sidney Crosby commits to NHL (CBC Sports) 

[377] Obituary (Nova Scotia Obituaries) 

[378] Sidney Crosby (QMJHL)

[379] Episode 6: Mike Chiasson, Rode Trips

[380] Episode 8: Paul Mason, Rode Trips

[381] CHRISTIAN BOUCHARD, ce Rimouskois qui a hébergé Sidney Crosby pendant ses années juniors, nous raconte quelques anecdotes! , Le retour d'Éric Duhaime [translation provided by crooked-silence]


The Rookie: A Season with Sidney Crosby and the New NHL, Shawna Richer

Breakaway: The Inside Story of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Rebirth, Andrew Conte

Sidney Crosby: Taking the Game by Storm, Gare Joyce

Hockey Card Stories 2 , Ken Reid

Most Valuable: How Sidney Crosby Became the Best Player in Hockey's Greatest Era and Changed the Game Forever , Gare Joyce

Sidney Crosby, Hat Trick Edition: The Story of a Champion, Paul Hollingsworth 


And a special thanks to the following blogs for their amazing resources and helpful tags: 



the freckledbutt847 Sid primer on LJ


♛ — [accessed via databases, PDF copies uploaded for your perusal here]


There are also a few articles that were not cited in BOY KING, but are included in the PDF folder.