Crosby's off-ice life hardly reflects that of a superstar
Sidney Crosby parks his Chevy Tahoe outside of the Hilton Garden Inn and jumps out. While talking about how dynamic he thinks the Steelers offense will be, he volunteers to help unload camera equipment.
Inside, front-desk staffers begin to gather, wondering whether their eyes deceive them.
“That was Sidney Crosby, wasn't it?” one asks. “My son's going to be so jealous.”
COLE HARBOUR, Nova Scotia
Troy and Trina Crosby sat side-by-side on the same blue couch they've owned for more than a decade. Cards celebrating their son's recent birthday were displayed on the mantle. Photos of their hockey-playing children framed the room.
Now an empty nester and looking every bit the part in capri lounge pants, bare feet and a pair of glasses pushed above her forehead, Trina Crosby seemed genuinely surprised she has spent about one-fifth of her life as the mother of an NHL superstar.
“I think for some people it will always be ‘Sid the Kid,' ” she said. “But it doesn't really stick as much as it used to.”
Ten years into his career, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is no longer a kid. He's a mature 28, celebrating his birthday on the final day of his first hockey camp for kids held to much acclaim in his hometown, at his home rink.
Crosby also is the proud owner of college credits for a World War II history course he completed online last season. He's a philanthropist and has started thinking about his legacy outside of hockey, something he hopes to shape through charity and his foundation.
No longer Mario Lemieux's tenant, Crosby is a homeowner twice over, including lakefront property in rural Nova Scotia that he showed off recently to a Trib Total Media reporter and photographer.
Yet Crosby, the NHL's top earner who pulled in about $17 million last season in salary, endorsements and memorabilia, remains most comfortable in sandals or sneakers, athletic gear and a cap.
“I don't ever want to be seen as a guy who's forgotten where he's from,” said Crosby, who has earned about $75 million in salary alone in his first 10 seasons. “I have an appreciation for the people around here, and that's the best way I can show it, by making sure I stay grounded.”
Crosby may no longer sport that boyish look from when he took the NHL by storm, his every move compared to Wayne Gretzky or Lemieux. His 102-point rookie season did little to temper expectations, but some things remain the same. He still is unfailingly polite, patient and humble — traits he attributes to his working-class hometown of Cole Harbour.
Whether it's playing hockey, performing charity or shopping at the grocery store, Crosby takes nothing for granted. He doesn't like change, and he's not extravagant.
Lunch on that day occurred at Pete's Fine Foods, a Halifax grocery store similar to Whole Foods. The bill was a little more than $10. Around Nova Scotia, Crosby tools around in a 6-year-old Chevy Tahoe. And his biggest recent undertaking outside of the hockey school? Paddleboarding.
“He wants to be one of the guys and doesn't really seek to separate himself or get special treatment in any way,” said Andy O'Brien, Crosby's trainer for the past 15 years. “He takes a lot of enjoyment in the regular, simple things in life and having a normal, ordinary routine.”
Golf clubs and a new pair of hockey pants are in the trunk. Pop music is playing quietly on satellite radio. Crosby has with him a bottle of Fiji water, a banana and a bottle of Aquafina — for mixing amino acids later.
Talk soon turns to how expensive hockey sticks have become.
“I wouldn't know,” Crosby says. “Haven't bought one of those in a while.”
Crosby had known for a couple of years that he wanted to do something. Only about a year ago, however, did plans crystallize for what it would be.
The Sidney Crosby Hockey School, held Aug. 3-7, welcomed 160 kids to Cole Harbour Place from as far away as Japan.
Instead of making a few cameo appearances, Crosby spent every afternoon on the ice. He also scheduled meet-and-greet time so every camper received an autograph, a photo and a chance for one-on-one chitchat.
“It meant a lot to me to have the hockey school,” Crosby said, “especially to have people come from different places, see Cole Harbour and experience what I did as a kid. It was really special.”
Counselors included NHL players such as Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon. Any proceeds benefitted the Sidney Crosby Foundation, which was started in 2009 and raises money for children-focused charities.
“He's not making money off of it,” MacKinnon said. “I'm sure he's spending money to put it on. Plus, all the proceeds go to his foundation.
“He could have had it in a big city, but he had it right in his hometown. He's such a good advocate for this area. He's always giving back.”
Crosby signed off on every detail and talked Soccer Canada into giving a presentation on the benefits of kids playing multiple sports.
“If he's putting his name to something or involved with something, he wants it to be first class or something you can respect,” said his father, Troy Crosby. “He's very conscious of that.”
Shane Bowers, 16, is Nova Scotia's next up-and-coming talent. He grew up idolizing Crosby, not only for his play but also for how he represents his home province.
“Growing up here, we don't have a ton of NHL guys,” Bowers said. “For Sid to be the best player in the world, come from Cole Harbour and to act the way he does, he's a big role model. Every kid around here looks up to him.”
After winning the Art Ross Trophy in 2006-07, Crosby took his bonus money and donated it to Cole Harbour's youth hockey association. Paul Mason, who coached Crosby in youth hockey and baseball and ran the hockey part of Crosby's camp, used the money to make more than 600 jerseys and repurpose them into travel bags. The money Crosby earned for Canada going undefeated at the 2015 IIHF World Championships went to Halifax Forum. In late July, Crosby and MacKinnon dropped in on Bryan Carroll, a 7-year-old boy with leukemia in nearby Dartmouth. They stayed for more than 90 minutes.
“As you get older, you realize the effect that you can have,” Crosby said. “When you're younger, you don't necessarily understand that quite as much.”
Inside Pete's Fine Foods in downtown Halifax, Sidney Crosby has just finished a make-it-yourself salad, egg whites and orange juice for lunch, consumed around a small table on a publicly accessible balcony overlooking the cash registers.
On his way out, Crosby is offered a sample of a chocolate cookie. He can't resist.
“Now those will get you,” Crosby says.
Too much writing. That was Crosby's takeaway from his recent college course, which he found through the NHL Players' Association and studied via Southern New Hampshire University.
“I'd call my sister (Taylor) and be like, ‘Do you know how to do a works-cited page on Microsoft Word?' ” Crosby explained. “She had to help me, but it was cool. You interact with other students. Every other student would read your papers. You would read their papers and comment on it.”
The reading wasn't difficult, Crosby said, often being handled on flights or in hotel rooms on the road. The crunch came when it was time to write a paper while Crosby was consumed with hockey.
“The material was easy, because you're traveling and you can read,” Crosby said. “If you have to write a paper and it's not coming that quickly and you don't have that much time, you don't enjoy it as much. You're just trying to get it done.
“It was nine years since I had done anything school-related. It was a pretty big wakeup call.”
Crosby's final exam was writing a paper on the influence of radar in World War II.
“We had a way better radar detection than Germany,” Crosby said.
His love of history and quest for knowledge dates to Crosby's childhood, when he would volunteer at a hospital for veterans where his aunt worked.
“A lot of guys didn't want to talk about (their service) as much,” Crosby said while driving past Citadel Hill, a historic site in downtown Halifax. “But there were some guys who loved talking about it. It was pretty interesting.”
Crosby doesn't know whether he'll take another college course. If he does, it probably would focus on business. What he's more certain about is what he plans to do after hockey.
“I don't know if I want to be involved in the NHL necessarily, but I'd like to be involved in hockey in some capacity,” Crosby said. “I don't think I would want to be a head coach. I don't think I would want to be a GM, at least as of today, but I'd want to be involved in hockey. … I like the developmental side.”
Sidney Crosby admits to being a bandwagon fan for the Toronto Blue Jays, and the question comes up in conversation, asking what year Joe Carter hit his walk-off World Series-winning home run.
“Nineteen ninety-three,” Crosby says.
“That was a good year for Canada,” he continues, also referencing the Montreal Canadiens winning the Stanley Cup in '93.
Crosby's parents still live in the same-split level house where their son grew up.
It's in suburban Nova Scotia, a few blocks from a shopping plaza where young Sidney would rollerblade if Trina needed him to pick up something for dinner.
The couches remain because, as Trina Crosby explained, “It's hard to find a Chesterfield that you really like and is comfortable.”
“We're creatures of habit,” Troy Crosby said. “If you like something, you stick with it. You don't just change for the sake of changing.”
Crosby's childhood room remains intact, still decorated with Canadiens gear because, as Trina said, “We're not in any rush. We don't really need the space right now.”
About the only thing different are Crosby's dinner requests. No longer does he devour Trina's Shepherd's Pie or meatloaf. These days he prefers only healthy foods.
People often ask Taylor Crosby about her famous brother. She offers the same answer every time.
“I ask someone if they have a brother or sister,” she said. “They say, ‘Yeah.' And I say, ‘It's about the same thing.'
“Once I say that, they're like, ‘Oh, yeah, I guess, but he's really good at hockey, right?' ”
Taylor calls Sidney “an old soul.” He's not on Twitter, wishes he still carried a Palm Treo smartphone and does his own grocery shopping — he loves the idea of finding new, healthy foods.
Crosby's distaste for change has made him the perfect ambassador for his Atlantic Canada hometown, one that's equally as blue collar as Pittsburgh.
Tanya Walker, 28, attended Colonel John Stuart Elementary School with Crosby. She was impressed then but even more so a couple of years ago when Crosby showed up at the gym where she works to film a Reebok commercial.
“He asked all kinds of questions about the gym, how long we were there,” Walker said. “He wanted to know about us, which was awesome.
“I really don't think you could ask for anyone better to represent Nova Scotia.”
Gaetan Tremblay, 49, also of Cole Harbour, met Crosby when the latter was a teenager. Tremblay handles Crosby's equipment and ice procurement during the summer.
At the end of workouts, it's Crosby who returns the nets to storage spots and gathers pucks, Tremblay said. He later told a story of Crosby, early in his career, refusing to drive his car too often because he feared exceeding the lease's miles limit.
“I was like, ‘They might give you double what the car's worth anyway because they can resell it to someone and say, ‘Sidney Crosby drove this,' ” Tremblay said. “But that's the type of guy he is.”
A man is waiting for Crosby outside of Halifax Forum.
Crosby stops and chats for 10 minutes, later explaining the man takes care of the ice there. After Crosby agrees to donate money to the rink, the man wants to discuss with Crosby where it should go.
“That was a good brainstorming session,” Crosby explains.
Intense as ever
Crosby's summer home, purchased in June 2006, suits him. It's polished but not showy. Located off a dirt road and through two security gates, it's about a 40-minute drive to downtown Halifax, a little less to Cole Harbour.
A stone walkway leads from the back patio to the 14-kilometer lake. It's in a cove, Crosby points out, gesturing toward a small beach area. The water's filled with bass, chain pickerel and trout.
“You can see the chain pickerel coming 10 feet away,” Crosby said proudly.
There are dark hardwood floors throughout and a large, granite countertop in the kitchen with seating for six. There's a sophisticated feel with modern furniture and decorations, yet there's hockey, golf and tennis equipment piled by the door next to barrels of protein powder.
“Being here definitely allows me to get away, be somewhere where I'm pretty comfortable, whether it be with surroundings or the people, that kind of thing,” Crosby said.
The three months or so he spends here every summer might relax Crosby, but that doesn't mean he escapes hockey.
In the largest open area on the main floor, Crosby has a pass-back machine with a stick positioned in front. There's a separate shooting area out back, slightly different from the one he constructed in his Pittsburgh home that perfectly matches his parents' basement — only without the dryer he used to fire pucks into.
This lakefront home has everything Crosby needs and offers all the privacy anyone could want. However, he hardly disappears for weeks at a time.
“It would be pretty easy for him to clam up around here and try to avoid everything,” said Philadelphia Flyers defenseman and friend Andrew MacDonald. “We grab lunch from time to time at Pete's. People approach. He takes it in stride.”
Crosby's memorabilia is confined to the downstairs, a man-cave of sorts where there's a chair made to look like his Penguins sweater and team photos from various levels of his career. No individual accolades are celebrated.
The most striking display is a painting of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final next to an L-shaped leather couch, a not-so-subtle reminder of what ultimately drives Sidney Patrick Crosby.
“He wants to win more Cups,” Mason said. “His focus is still on hockey. He wants his team to win more Cups. And when that (focus) leaves him, he's not going to be playing hockey anymore.”