Crosby embracing challenge of Vancouver repeat

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The gold medal, the one that electrified a country and cemented Sidney Crosby as part of Canadian hockey royalty forever, is “tucked away” somewhere out of sight and - Crosby insists - out of mind.

No need to have it displayed on the mantle or a coffee table. No wearing it around the house on a rainy day.

While he’s brought it out once or twice upon request, Crosby doesn’t sit around holding it in his hand.

Sure, it was a “nice moment” - Crosby’s go-to phrase when asked to describe his golden goal 7:40 into overtime in the final against the United States - but it was just that, a moment.

“I’ve kind of moved on,” Crosby said.

Fate didn’t give him much of a choice.

Crosby’s glove-flinging celebration in the corner of Rogers Arena as Maple Leaf flags draped the stands in a sea of red and white capped his ascendant rise from Sid the Kid to Sid the Savior. His wrist shot by Ryan Miller provided a fitting bookend to Crosby’s triumphant hoisting of the Stanley Cup eight months earlier, when the youngest captain in NHL history led the formerly moribund Penguins to their first title in 17 years.

Four years later, on the surface not much has changed.

On the ice the 26-year-old remains one of the top players in the world. He’s the NHL’s leading scorer for one of the league’s premier franchises and is the unquestioned face of the Canadian team as it looks to defend its gold medal in Sochi next month.

Off it he remains the ever-polite, ever-humble son of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, the one who refuses to get caught up in his own hype.

It all looks so normal these days, it’s easy to forget just how close Crosby came to nearly losing it all. The launching pad Vancouver was supposed to provide for Crosby’s evolution from superstar to icon instead turned into a cautionary tale.

Less than a year removed from his golden goal, Crosby’s career was at a crossroads.

Concussion-like symptoms sustained in a loss to Washington in the NHL’s Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2011, turned him into a reluctant touchstone for head injuries. As weeks turned into months and 2011 turned into 2012 and the symptoms persisted, the world’s best player was forced to watch the game go on without him.

He missed two years in his prime, playing just 28 games during a 744-day span between Jan. 5, 2011-Jan. 19 2013, a bystander of sorts as teammate Evgeni Malkin, Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin tried to wrest away Crosby’s unofficial title of the game’s best player.

It seems like a long time ago now. The questions that lingered when Crosby declared himself symptom free at the end of the NHL lockout last January have vanished. Ironically, he’s now one of the few players on the Penguins who have remained healthy this season as injuries have cost nearly a dozen regulars - including Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang - significant playing time.

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