One of my favorite things about the playoffs is the ability to watch teams I don't get to see regularly during the season. Throw in the extra heat and passion of post-season play and you're almost always seeing them at their best. (Sorry, Calgary and Atlanta.) It's during this time that I end up forming attachments to players who don't play for the Sabres. It's when I first took notice of Jarome Iginla. It's when I fell in love with Scott Niedermayer. It's just so fun to see other players in a new and different light. Well, the same thing has happened this year and the new love is... Sidney Crosby.
Yeah, I said Sidney Crosby.
First of all, it's made a HUGE difference watching the Ottawa/Pittsburgh series on CBC instead of NBC or Versus. On the latter two networks, they never stop talking about Crosby. Never, ever, ever, no matter how well or not well he's playing. At the end of the season a Pittsburgh/Buffalo game was on Versus and even though Crosby had no points, a -1, and got suckered into a really bad, poorly timed penalty, he was the center of every conversation. The Sabres played a very good game, their best in a while at that point, almost completely shutting down the Pens' vaunted offense, and won the game 4-1. About all they got from the broadcasters was, "Whoa, Henrik Tallinder saw Sidney Crosby coming and fell right over! Hahahahahhahah!" Gimme a break, dudes. I've always had the sneaking suspicion that I would enjoy watching Crosby more if people would shut up and let me watch him and lo and behold, it was true. On CBC they point him out when he's involved in the play and of course comment on how talented he is but if he's not on the ice they do a pretty good job of leaving him out of things. And they don't go on incessantly about Sid and Mario having pancakes and eggs together every morning. Thank you for that, CBC.
And you know what? Having the chance to watch him without having him shoved down my throat has really allowed me to see that he's pretty damn good. He's skilled, he's strong, he has the ability to take over the ice no matter who's on the ice with him. I have to keep reminding myself that he's 19 years old. Nineteen! I'm also super impressed with his maturity level. He's so young (19!) and he came into the league with so many expectations: He was expected to be great right away, he was expected to give the league a marquee star, someone who could compete with LeBron James and Tom Brady and Albert Pujols on the pro sports scene. For the most part, he's done it and done it with a semblance of grace not found in a lot of young athletes. He seems to patiently and happily answer question after question from reporter after reporter. Yeah, there's usually a hint of media training in his answers which tends to stop him from saying anything overly interesting but he's more than accepted his part in putting the NHL out there. I mean, I could only handle situations like the below so many times before I started grumping at people to just leave me the heck alone.
Does he sometimes embellish? Yeah, maybe. But let's be honest, people, we all have that guy on our team. Even if we don't like it, have you ever been upset when it drew a penalty that led to a powerplay goal? Is he whiny? Yeah, sometimes. But I'm willing to cut him a little slack for a couple of reasons. One, he's young (1!9!) and I think he'll learn to deal with officials better with experience and maturity. Two, he is getting the stuffing pounded out of him. I never really understood what Pittsburgh fans were complaining about in this regard but now that I've watched their playoff series, I'm starting to get it. Don't get me wrong... The opposing team should absolutely be targeting Crosby, especially if it's going to put him off his game. But the "new NHL" (how long before we can quit calling it that?) is supposed to be protecting quick, skilled players and the maddeningly inconsistent officiating must be extremely frustrating. It ticks me off and I'm only watching. Crosby's getting grabbed, hooked, and tripped all over the place. While I was writing this, number 5 for Ottawa practically latched on to Sid's back and Sid carried him halfway around the rink, keeping possession of the puck the whole time I might add. Are you kidding me? That's not a penalty? I might whine too.
My very favorite thing about Sidney Crosby though is that he plays with a very clear fervor and love for the game of hockey. Considering that he's been the next great one since he was 8, it would've been really easy for hockey to become a job, something he merely worked at. It would've been really easy for him to lose touch with the little boy who started playing hockey because he loved it. But he hasn't. And I hope he never does.
So yeah... I love Sidney Crosby! Wanna make something of it?!
(x-posted to HLoG)