Sid the Kid vs. the World

The arrival of Sidney Crosby in Western Canada, at least from media reports, seems largely akin to the arrival of the Pope, or the introduction of a new Tim Horton’s anywhere. It’s rather amazing, to me, to see him called an “ambassador” for the NHL. I guess it’s one of those things you don’t realize because it’s always in your backyard, sort of like how I’m surprised not everyone else in the world is 70 years old and considers french fries to be a standard sandwich topping.

I’m a late convert to hockey, and I won’t pretend it’s not because of the Crosby Crush. I mean, sure, I watched hockey back during the Penguin’s back-to-back Stanley Cup finals (as an aside, it is a legal requirement within the jurisdiction of Pittsburgh to, when mentioning the phrase “Stanley Cup,” to precede it with the phrase “back-to-back.”) and Mario Lemieux and the communist traitor Jaromir Jagr was winning games. But then the intervening teenage years prevailed, and hockey was ranked on my list of important things to worry about right above new Kool-aid flavors and right below choosing a new Trapper Keeper cover. And who knows? Had the network Vs. been around back then, I probably would have been a faithful follower of the NHL, at least if I wanted to listed to play-by-play announcers that actually made me feel smarter about myself the more they talked.

Hockey is the least watched of the four major sports, which is why hockey loves soccer so much. The strike a few years ago was, in many ways, the best thing to happen to the industry, since it allowed both players and owners to revamp the game into something people would actually watch. Hockey games in the late 80’s and early 90’s eventually descended into scoreless ties or UFC matches on frozen ponds, neither of which was very attractive to the parents of children that just spent ten thou on hockey equipment just to have them go to junior hockey camp to practice dodging left hooks and passing the biscuit back and forth with the second round draft choice for three twenty-minute intervals. At one point, all but a handful of hockey franchises were losing money each season, forcing them into the realm of business models equivalent of domestic car manufacturers.

It was into this situation that Sidney strode gallantly in, with all expectations by hockey fans, franchise owners, media outlets, and Malaysian garment workers making jerseys that he will single-handedly revitalize the sport, even if a little bit of help is needed from property tax forgiveness and the fall of communism. The first team to get the draft lottery the year he was eligible to enter was a lucky team indeed, since the anticipation of his arrival bordered on the orgasmic—the post-strike draft of 2005 was dubbed the “Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes.” Of course, the Pittsburgh Penguins were planning on this highly anticipated event, so they deliberately played about a decade’s worth of lousy hockey previous to the lockout to secure the draft pick.

Thus prepared, the Pens drew the first pick, and gladly plucked Crosby as their first draft choice. The previous year’s first draft choice, Alexander Ovechkin, was also a young, promising player destined to jump start the league, but the lockout prevented him from getting any ice time in the NHL. Consequently, both young players entered into sort of a competition as to who could be hockey’s savior and phenom. Crosby had a few distinct advantages to this friendly contest, notably 1) being Canadian and 2) not being Russian.

Much of the attention lavished on Crosby isn’t just about talent, of course. A lot of it has to do with age, something that he has common cause with in supermodels, where being young is, in fact, the actual talent involved. Crosby holds about a dozen major landmarks in hockey history, all of which start with “The Youngest Player To…” His youth doesn’t define him, one hopes, but it’s still amusing to realize that left wing Gary Roberts was drafted into the NHL a full three years before Crosby was even born. There’s a pairing that one suspects they can trade complexes over.

Crosby is currently on a three-game stretch of western Canada, the parts with more natural gas and whaling and less French-speaking separatists. It’s the last cities (Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver) that Sid hasn’t played in, so his arrival was met with frenzied media attention unparalleled in quite some time. Cameras followed him everywhere, reporters fought for exclusive interviews and he was treated with celebrity status throughout his trip, something he would only get in Pittsburgh if he had shot union agitators or ran over Ben Roethlisberger with a Hummer.

So far, he’s won two of the three scheduled games, both in dramatic comebacks late in the game. It’s tailor-made for sports drama, not quite to the level of the Miracle on Ice but at least better than Marc Crawford’s self-worth. Some may predict that Crosby will sweep all three games; most residents know he already has.

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