Crosby talks the talk

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:22 AM ET

DETROIT -- Playing the part of Hockeytown crier, Ryan Whitney walked through the Pittsburgh Penguins dressing room yesterday morning and announced for everyone to hear: "Sidney Crosby will be on the podium in two minutes."

He said it again and again, just in case anyone hadn't heard.

Whitney said it as an inside and outside joke, a part of Stanley Cup dressing room levity.

Only it's not that funny. Welcome to Crosby's hockey life in the brave new expanded media world of the National Hockey League.

Playing is what he does on the ice. Talking is what he does off of it. Talking on the morning of games. Talking after games. Talking on the off-days. Talking between periods. It's all Sid, all the time.

No one in the sports world -- not Tiger Woods, not Kobe Bryant, not Peyton Manning -- does as many news conference interviews per capita, is as readily available, and never takes a day off or a night off complaining of a headache.

Crosby, for the record, leads the Stanley Cup playoffs in two categories -- assists and trips to the podium.

One of those categories is close. The other basically is no contest.

Henrik Zetterberg leads the playoffs in scoring and is a definite Conn Smythe Trophy candidate. But he does only the occasional press conference. Nicklas Lidstrom, who is just beginning to be recognized for his unparalleled career, makes the odd podium appearance, if need be. Evgeni Malkin, whose English is challenged, would prefer never to have to sit behind a microphone.

But it's all part of Crosby's day. Every day. Wayne Gretzky didn't have to live in this kind of fishbowl when he played. Neither did Mario Lemieux. The hockey world and the media world was way different back then. They could pick and choose on their own availability, the way a Mats Sundin still does. They could speak without microphones and cameras in their faces. They could control their schedules.

Crosby is the Energizer Bunny of the NHL: The young man is non-stop.

When asked yesterday if it ever gets to him, being Mr. Available every single playoff day, Crosby just smiled and answered, the way he usually smiles and answers.

"I don't have to time to think about that, to be honest with you," Crosby said. "I try not to complain about it. It's not a terrible situation to be in the Stanley Cup final and have to go to the podium every day. So I'll take it.

"I try not to look down upon that. It's a good opportunity to play in the NHL and a whole lot of people would want to be in my position. So I'm not going to complain about it."

Which begs the question: Is this kid for real?

And according to Tom McMillan, the Penguins vice-president of communications and at one time a decent sports writer himself, what you see with Crosby is what you get. He's not an actor, not a phony, not a pitchman. He is what he is, born to do this, franchise saviour, face of hockey.

Maybe he isn't the best player in the NHL, although he is certainly close. Maybe Alexander Ovechkin is more fun, Lidstrom is more game affecting. But Americans -- and maybe Canadians -- don't cuddle up to those who aren't of North American descent the way we should. It means Crosby has to live by different rules than the rest of them, with more responsibilities and fewer freedoms.

"He doesn't fight it," McMillan said. "He just accepts this as part of the job. We've had to learn to deal with almost more than he has had to learn to deal with. He seemed to know how to deal with it right from the beginning."

McMillan tells a story from Crosby's first year in Pittsburgh. The Penguins had brought in some veteran players with the hopes of making Crosby's rookie year easier. It didn't exactly work out as planned. Many of the veterans bombed out in Pittsburgh and the team was a disaster.

RESPONSIBILITY

"But every night, Sid was in the dressing room after games, answering for our awful defeats," McMillan said. "The veterans were hiding in the back of the room. He could have joined them. It would have been easy. But he wanted to answer for the team. Watching him that first year was impressive."

You knew then he was ready to accept whatever podium came his way.


Videos

Photos