Crosby mirrors idol Yzerman
Marian Hossa sat on a bench inside Boston University's Agganis Arena on a crisp morning in late February, less than 24 hours removed from a trade to the Penguins that rocked his world, and an unfamiliar team trainer handed him a cell phone.
"He said, 'This text message is for you,'" Hossa recalled. "It said: 'Welcome. Hope we can play together soon. - Sid.'
"I felt like part of the team right away."
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has a way of doing that for teammates. From an incoming star such as Hossa to a training-camp invitee like forward Adam Hall, Crosby helps out where he can to make everybody feel they are his equals.
They are not, of course. But Crosby knows no other way to lead.
His acknowledged hockey idol, Steve Yzerman, was equally unknowing as longtime captain of the Detroit Red Wings.
Now a vice president with Detroit, Yzerman is well aware this Stanley Cup is an introduction for many casual sports fans to Crosby - the NHL's one-man marketing machine.
Yzerman's introduction to Crosby was brief.
"I've only shaken hands with Sidney on the ice one time," Yzerman said. "He's handled himself really well. Mostly, what I'm impressed with is that he's all about hockey."
Crosby's Yzerman-like performance Wednesday in Game 3 - he scored twice in the Penguins' 3-2 victory at Mellon Arena - suggests a proper sit-down between the two is unlikely for a few more days, maybe longer.
Detroit leads the best-of-seven series, 2-1. But Game 4 is Saturday at Mellon Arena, where the Penguins have won 17 consecutive games.
As was the case for Yzerman during his 19 seasons as Red Wings captain, Crosby is focused only on that next hockey game.
That steely focus is one of Crosby's many attributes Yzerman finds appealing.
"I've watched how he conducts himself, and I like the way he plays," said Yzerman, who retired in 2006 as the sixth-leading scorer in NHL history and a three-time Cup champion. "He's an extremely talented kid, but he competes hard.
"I've been very impressed watching from afar."
Yzerman impressed Crosby when he watched from afar in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, as a pre-teen hockey prodigy with dreams of one day winning the Cup for which the Red Wings were a consistent contender in the late 1990s.
"He brought everything," Crosby said of Yzerman. "He was a guy who stood out as a two-way player. I remember seeing him out there in the last minute of games blocking shots. I was just drawn to him because he was so complete, and that's the type of player I wanted to be.
"And the way he handled himself off the ice - he was himself."
Defenseman Ryan Whitney, one of Crosby's closest friends on the Penguins, said that description also applies to Crosby.
"It's funny, you get these requests from buddies asking for Sidney Crosby's autograph, and it reminds you how much of a superstar he really is," Whitney said. "But he comes to the rink every day and we (joke around), and you forget how good he really is."
A quick reminder:
As a 14-year-old, Crosby was so advanced that NHL all-time leading scorer Wayne "The Great One" Gretzky did not dismiss suggestions he might be "The Next One."
As an 18-year-old, Crosby was so impressive during his first training camp with the Penguins that Mario Lemieux said Crosby could break every one of his franchise records.
As a 20-year-old, Crosby is tied for the individual playoff scoring lead with 23 points, and the Penguins are three wins from the Cup in his first season as the youngest captain in league history.
"You look at the guy, and it's, like, amazing - what he does," forward Max Talbot said. "He's been the center of attention since he was (14). Yes, the kid has got skill, but that's not what impresses me the most. At practice he is always 110 percent. He's got that fire in his eyes. He's all about the game, and he wants to win.
"He's one of the best players in the game. But it's not about the skill that he brings. It's about everything else. He's the best."
Yzerman was always among the most skilled players, but his fierce competitiveness set him apart as a definitive captain.
Understanding the complex dynamic of a dressing room was paramount to Yzerman's leadership style.
"I've had a lot of people ask about that," Yzerman said. "I always laugh because I never felt like, 'This is my team.' I always thought I was just one of the guys. You just can't take yourself too seriously.
"All I tried to do as a captain was compete hard, do the right thing and help out where I could."