When he enters his 30s, Sidney Crosby is still on the NHL. (Patrick Smith / Getty Images)
On Saturday afternoon, Sidney Crosby skated off the practice ice into the cramped locker room in the Capital One Arena, placing his black CCM stick in a rack and shaking it until it fitted. He drove a horde of notebooks and cameras in front of his locker, sat down and put on a black Pittsburgh Penguins cap. At the end of a brief media meeting, Crosby paused to ask a question – which he could perhaps answer better than anyone on the planet – does he think the hockey instinct could be sharpened by repetition?
"Mmm," said Crosby. "Maybe."
He twisted his answer, indicating how one of the greatest hockey players ever watched the game. Crosby, 30, plays at the highest level in these Stanley Cup playoffs after scoring seven goals and eight assists in eight games. He either controls games by hopping sticks with muscle or planting himself in front of the net. All four Penguins goals in their second round against the Washington Capitals, tied back to Pittsburgh at 1, have come down with Crosby on the ice. If the penguins win a third cup in a row, a distinction no team has ever won since their fourth title win 35 years ago in New York, Crosby will be the engine again.
After overcoming the shock of his mid-20s, Crosby has reached the pinnacle of North American sports, a player so embedded in the tip of his game and so regularly awarded, it becomes tempting to take him for granted, or to look past him to newer, fresher stars. Crosby often ends up on a secondary level of awareness of the hockey world. Edmonton's Connor McDavid, 21, won last year's Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player. Auston Matthews, 20, is the face of one of the League's most legendary franchises, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The sport is growing faster and younger, and Crosby does not do either, probably in the first case and certainly in the latter case. Nevertheless, players within the game have no doubts about his Eminence. Like Mike Trout of Baseball, Crosby is a metronomic example of all-round skills. Like basketball player LeBron James, he has always built good bona fides as he remains at the peak of his performance.
Sidney Crosby goes out on the ice. (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)
"He was the best player in recent years," said Capitals defender Matt Niskanen.
"I really think he's the best player in the world," said NBC analyst Jeremy Roenick.
"Still the best in the league," said former teammate Brooks Orpik.
The quality that allowed Crosby to stay in the league, say coaches and teammates, is his unique work ethic, an ability to specify subtle areas for improvement, and to work with meticulous precision until she joins the other elite elements of his career Match game. While his natural ability – powerful skating, pistol hands, unusual feeling – made him a phenomenon, his creative, distinctive ability to work has enabled him to stay on the NHL.
"He's a generation talent," said Pinguins coach Mike Sullivan. "He's doing things that you can not teach, and that's part of what makes him what he is, and what differentiates him from other elite players is his appetite for being the best, his willingness, and his Striving to Be the Best. "
Center Craig Adams, now retired, arrived in Pittsburgh in 2008 and trained in the same position with Crosby for seven years. When he came to Pittsburgh, he knew that Crosby worked hard. But, well, it was the NHL. Everyone worked hard. "It does not make you special," Adams said. The peculiarity of Crosby's work hit him. He noticed a habit: If Crosby missed a scoring chance one night, he would repeat the identical situation in practice the next day.
"He is able to choose things that he thinks he needs to get better, and he is very conscious of practicing those things and constantly working on those things," Adams said. "He does it daily methodically."
"There is not much luck in it."
Former penguin coach Dan Bylsma recalled one night when a puck from the endboard crashed into Crosby and arrived in front of the net. Crosby missed the chance to score and it ate him. The next day, Crosby discussed the game with the coaches and then asked for pucks that were knocked off the endboard in the same way.
"He will do it 100 times until it becomes second nature," said ex-teammate Pascal Dupuis. "Trust me, he can analyze his own game better than anyone else, and if he sees something of his own game that's not where he sees fit, he'll work on it and work on it until he's really good at it. As far as he's feeling better, I've never seen anyone else doing it. "
For Crosby, the idea of extremely reproducing game situations came naturally. Missed chances gnawed at him, and by purposeful work he irons perceived mistakes.
"I do not know if you call it a mistake, or you call it something you wish you could do it again, but yes, he always did," said Troy Crosby, Sidney's father Saturday afternoon outside the changing room of the penguins in the Capital One Arena. "He's done this a long time since he was a kid, as long as I can remember."
"It's an instinctive game," Crosby said. "Sometimes things are easier than others, and when you are aware of what they are, in which you do not feel well or in which you do not feel well, just try to develop those things, it's not something It seems pretty natural to come in. If you play so many games during the year, you will get stuff again and again. "
At the beginning of his career, Crosby collected assists with modest scores, so that he arrived 10 to 15 minutes earlier for training shots from certain spots on the ice. The next year he led the league in goals. In his first three seasons he sat on penalties despite being on penalties – he just wanted to be ready in case. A year later, he decided he needed to improve the draw, and he became one of the best callers in the league.
"He made a lot of changes," said Capitals Center Jay Beagle, a frequent faceoff from Crosby. "I mean, it's no surprise that if he does not like a small part of his game, he'll come back next year."
"He is still the hardest working guy I've ever played with," said Orpik, now a defender of the capitals. "That's probably the one thing people overlook is how he achieves his success , Many people are simply gifted by nature. He obviously has many natural gifts. But I mean, I've never seen anyone who feels committed to getting better than him.
Sidney Crosby scored seven goals in the 2018 playoffs. (Tom Mihalek / AP)
At the end of this season and in the playoffs, Crosby scored a torrent of fall-from-coach-and-scream goals, pucks off They seemed to be masterpieces of the improvisational genius, the product of instinct and divine hand-eye coordination, and to some extent they were. "Me Do not know, "said Crosby." It's just instincts. "
Teammates believe otherwise, recalling how Crosby played pucks, saying" the chances of the goals being a result of training are 100 percent. " "
" He practices such funny things, "Niskanen said," of course he's very intelligent. Really, I think his consciousness on the ice is so high, he always knows where the puck is. Many people do not have the consciousness to try anything like that at all. "
Orpik recalls how Crosby would ask teammates to stand in the corners and make high-waisted shots at him as he stood near the net, so if the pucks started on him, Crosby would take the shaft of his cane use it to throw them into the net, like a baseball ball.
"Just stupid little stuff like that," Orpik said. "You'd think it would never happen in a game. He would work for hours if he could score. … Many people call it luck. With him, people who train with him know that there is not much luck there. "
Of course, if you want to achieve a goal to improve a certain ability, it helps to be Sidney Crosby to him to create and execute pieces in practice that others can not.
"I try to do a few exercises where he is like on the goal line, and there comes a shot and he steers them under the Stay tuned, "said Pittsburgh winger Tom Kuhnhackl," We've tried that many times before. It's either somewhere on the rafters or on the ice. I never managed to get it online. "
And do those extra hours create instinct or does the instinct make up the hours?"
"It must be both," Crosby said. "One without the other, you probably do not have that chance."
Tomorrow I'm feeling better. "
Over the years, Crosby has built a complete game, and his collection of skills makes Crosby skate in a skeleton, and since Pittsburgh has changed his roster, Sullivan often places new players on the same line Crosby has her own strengths, Crosby can take her in. Teams often build superstars, Crosby's game is well developed to suit all team members.
"We ask her to play her game and not to try to do something outside of their game, and Sid will make the adjustments, "Sullivan said sadly." Sid has the ability to adapt and adjust depending on who we use next to him. He's one of the easier guys he can play with, because he can adapt to the guys we put next to him.
The work also made him a natural leader who would not have earned the "C" on his chest not the best player in the team, let alone the league, Sullivan called him the best leader he has ever met Hockey or otherwise, when Crosby devotes himself to himself, the players have no choice.
"He practices the way he would play in a playoff game, and he does it every day," said Jim Rutherford, general manager of Penguins. "When he's on the ice, he does not take a day off. He is only driven by perfection. So he drives our team. "
" The way he works on things after workouts is something new every day, "said Jake Guentzel, second year winger." But he's usually one of the first and one of the last to leave the ice to have. I think everybody realizes that. He's the guy we all look up to. "
Over the last two years, Crosby has shown a constant icy calm that was sometimes lacking in previous playoffs, facing greater expectations and burdens than any other Canadian player since Wayne Gretzky, and when combined with his perfectionism However, observers are no longer seeing any action that has led some rivals and experts to call him a "whimper."
According to NBC analyst Jeremy Roenick, Sidney Crosby has mastered the physical game with a flatter head . (Nick Wass / AP)
"He is as mature and mature as I am – I do not want to say ambassador or leader – but he was able to handle the negative attention on the ice so much better," said Roenick , an NBC analyst who has criticized Crosby's behavior on the ice in the past. "He's not bothered by anything. A few years back against Boston, he goes to [Zdeno] Chara, he yells at the refs, he's visibly frustrated with being exploited on the ice. Which stars get. They are cut up, they are hit in the face. You get the attention you do not like from other players. Sidney was able to let that go and understand and use it almost to his advantage.
Roenick added that he has never denounced Crosby's behavior out of the ice, where his surroundings consider him the ideal avatar of the sport Capitals coach Barry Trotz served as assistant to the Canadian World Cup team in 2016, which led Crosby to the gold medal while leading the tournament in points.
One evening, Team Crowby saw his team-mate Crosby sitting next to his son Nolan, who lives with Down syndrome, watching Crosby start a conversation and play with him on Nolan's iPad even though Crosby Nolan had never met.
"I know he is pulled in many different directions, but he is very personable, in many ways very sincere," said Defiance. "He is a good representative for the game . "
And still, in his 13th season, he's still best at playing it, he has work and instinct like no other player in the game, and like no one else in every sport unites Lent into the league than anyone else in a generation, but it's the work that makes him the best player.
"Some people are talented, but they use their talent and that's it," said Dupuis. "He's talented and wants to be there every day, he feels like the better version of Sidney Crosby, it's going to be tomorrow." Tomorrow I'll be better. Tomorrow I will be better. & # 39; "